“Climategate” was bogus, and the media’s inept handling of the matter undermined the science of global warming.
In November 2009, hacked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were leaked, prompting a controversy that the media dubbed “Climategate”.
Massive headlines, endless column inches, gigabytes of web copy all trumpeted this supposed scandal. The media treated the 1,000 emails and roughly 3,000 documents ineptly, while global warming denialists blogged gleefully about climate scientists behaving badly and manipulating data.
In March, April, and July 2010, three independent reviews concluded that the serious accusations leveled against CRU had no merit, that there was no proof of fraud, and that in no way was the evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) undermined.
No fraud, no cover-ups, no manipulation of data. No scandal.
But where were the massive headlines and spilling of ink and hasty retractions by media and bloggers who were quick to seize on “Climategate” in the first place?
The media are prone to sensationalism. If it bleeds it leads. But this yellow journalism manufactured a crisis, and the media were complicit in the spread of disinformation.
This bogus scandal also highlighted scientific illiteracy on the part of both the public and the media.
We live in a society where science is shaping and reshaping our lives. But we lack, especially in newsrooms, people who can translate complex scientific concepts into understandable language for the layperson.
And the highest level of government sets a miserable example – we no longer have a national scientific advisor, and our science minister doesn’t understand evolution.
Global warming is the most important challenge facing our planet. It affects all living things. It will lead to increased poverty, species extinction, drought, crop failure, emptied oceans, flooded coasts and islands, migration of disease, and more wild weather events.
The media’s poor reporting (including its flaccid follow-up on the investigations exonerating CRU) and scientific illiteracy are undermining climate science. About half of Americans now believe that there is significant disagreement in the scientific community with respect to AGW. But almost no scientists disagree with AGW. For example, the 22,000-member Geological Society of America issued a statement in April 2010 saying that humans are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The only dispute among scientists is how many degrees the Earth will warm and by what date.
Yet the media, in its treatment of the CRU emails, helped sow the seeds of doubt, and it compounded matters by not asking denialists for data and alternate models or for peer-reviewed publications, and not asking what happens to surplus CO2 molecules. AGW denialists cannot offer these things, so why are they treated as experts? And why aren’t red flags raised when we know that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil spent $16 million to create confusion around AGW, where none should exist?
The media continues to undermine the science behind global warming, the most important issue of the late 20th and early 21st century, and it has helped to erode the public’s trust in science.
The greatest scandal of 2010 was that there was no global warming scandal and no Climategate.