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Environment

The Upside to Climategate

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorDecember 2, 2009 11:10 PM

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The most immediate one is the vigorous debate Climategate has engendered between individuals of all political, ideological, and scientific stripes. Judith Curry from the Georgia Institute of Technology deserves much of the credit for kickstarting this, first in speaking directly to Steven McIntyre's audience at Climate Audit, and then shortly after that with another essay posted over at Climate Progress. Following this, Andy Revkin at Dot Earth generated a lively exhange by also highlighting Curry, as well as Mike Hulme, another distinguished climate scientist. Unlike the majority of their peers, Curry and Hulme have not downplayed the significance of the CRU email controversy. On this note, I'm disappointed that William Connolley has failed to use his influential corner of the climate blogosphere to foster a healthy discussion of the salient issues, be it the integrity of the peer review process, FOIA evasion, CRU data storage, or the "tribalism" that Curry notes. Connolley appears to be taking a nothing to see here, move along attitude. That seems to be the position taken by many environmental and science journalists as well. (Notable exceptions include George Monbiot and Tom Yulsman.) Incredibly, nobody at Columbia University's The Observatory has yet commented on Climategate. The journalism site's motto is: "A lens on the science press." I guess their "lens" has found nothing noteworthy (or lacking) about the media coverage thus far. More typical are the shrugs exhibited by Kevin Drum ("As near as I can tell, ClimateGate is almost entirely a tempest in a teacup") and David Roberts, who can't be bothered to see what all the fuss is about:

I haven't read the emails. I'll leave it to others to determine whether a few scientists or a few papers deserve a newly critical eye.

Contrast this willful ignorance with Megan McArdle's serious grappling of the affair. After exploring the most serious charges (some of which, McArdle acknowledges, merit further investigation), she concludes:

I see an indirect problem, which is that these scientists allowed themselves to become politicized and hostile to outsiders in a way that may have compromised the quality of their work.

As near as I can tell, liberal pundits like Drum and important voices like Connelley and Roberts are wearing blinders, while press watchdogs like The Observatory have gone MIA on the biggest global warming story of the year. As for a larger upside to the scandal, Will Wilkinson provides a good guess here:

I predict that the overall response from the scientific community will be healthy and invigorating. Climate science will become more transparent and more rigorously by-the-book because climate scientists are becoming more fully aware that the impulse to jealously protect a public perception of consensus can undermine itself by producing questionable science and a justifiably skeptical public.

Well, if that happens, it won't be because of the role played by liberal journalists or (with the notable execption of Revkin and a few others), the science media. UPDATE 1: Mike Hulme has an absolute must-read op-ed in WSJ Europe. UPDATE 2: Bud Ward wrote a prescient post on the then emerging controversy on November 22, in which he said:

Take those who see this event as the end of days when it comes to anthropogenic climate change with a huge grain of salt. And take those dismissing it as much ado about nothing with an equal dose.

UPDATE 3: Curtis Brainard at The Observatory has posted a lengthy article analyzing coverage of Climategate.

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