“Climategate”: a manufactured controversy

Recent headlines about "climategate" were predictable enough - but the "revelations" do not undermine the overwhelming evidence that climate change is manmade.

The headlines were predictable enough – “New worries over Climategate data” railed The Express, “Climate scientists manipulated and hid data” screamed Fox News. But when The Sunday Times writes “The great climate change science scandal” and The Guardian headlines, “Leaked climate change emails scientist hid data flaws,” and when even George Monbiot is calling for resignations, it sounds serious right?

If you were just going on the headlines of the past couple of weeks, you could be forgiven if you were left with the perception that the whole climate crisis has now been exposed as a fraud, a theory based on falsified data manipulated by dodgy scientists hell bent on getting increased research funding from a government that wants any excuse to raise our taxes.

Most of the revelations in this manufactured controversy have focussed on jealousies and tribalism among some scientists, cock ups by others, or alleged misdoings by one scientist – Phil Jones at UEA. However, crucially, none of the ‘revelations’ have undermined the theory that global warming is real and that it is being driven by human-caused increases in greenhouse gas emissions. This theory remains unscathed and based on an overwhelming amount of solid evidence.

In December, 1,700 leading scientists in Britain signed a statement from the Met Office in agreement with the IPCC’s central findings that:

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal…

“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”

In a strongly worded statement, the US based Union of Concerned Scientists says:

“Climate contrarians are inflating the importance of an erroneous reference to Himalayan glaciers in a 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to attack the scientific body and its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) expects ideological bloggers, some members of Congress, and fossil-fuel industry front groups to try to exploit this relatively small error in the report to bolster conspiracy theories about the IPCC and climate scientists.”

At least The Guardian has the decency to add this sentence within its coverage, “The revelations on the inadequacies of the 1990 paper do not undermine the case that humans are causing climate change, and other studies have produced similar findings.” The same cannot be said of almost any of the other recent coverage.

Chris Mooney of MIT was spot on when he wrote in the Washington Post:

“The central lesson of Climategate is not that climate science is corrupt. The leaked e-mails do nothing to disprove the scientific consensus on global warming. Instead, the controversy highlights that in a world of blogs, cable news and talk radio, scientists are poorly equipped to communicate their knowledge and, especially, to respond when science comes under attack.”

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