WaPo Puts ClimateGate at the Top of Page One

The Washington Post put ClimateGate on the front page, top left in Saturday’s edition. It’s also the top story at washingtonpost.com. The headline is "In e-mails, science of warming is hot debate." The website summary: "E-mails stolen from British research center show climate-change leaders noting flaws in their own data and seemingly scheming to muzzle critics."Wow. The story is breaking. Here’s paragraph two of the David Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin story:

Now it has mushroomed into what is being called "Climate-gate," a scandal that has done what many slide shows and public-service ads could not: focus public attention on the science of a warming planet. Except now, much of that attention is focused on the science's flaws. Leaked just before international climate talks begin in Copenhagen -- the culmination of years of work by scientists to raise alarms about greenhouse-gas emissions -- the e-mails have cast those scientists in a political light and given new energy to others who think the issue of climate change is all overblown. The e-mails don't say that: They don't provide proof that human-caused climate change is a lie or a swindle. But they do raise hard questions. In an effort to control what the public hears, did prominent scientists who link climate change to human behavior try to squelch a back-and-forth that is central to the scientific method? Is the science of global warming messier than they have admitted?

Eilperin covered this story before, but it's never been on the front page until now. The alarmist lobby gets plenty of play, but when both sides get play, it seems shocking. After the ClimateGate players defend themselves, it's back to this: Why would scientists hype data?

But recent debate -- some scientists say the Earth hasn't warmed as predicted over the past 10 years -- show that climate science is still science, with researchers drawing different lessons from the same data. The problem is that it plays out before an audience that won't wait for certainty.

Politicians say, " 'We need to reduce the uncertainty,' and I think that's contributed to a certain mind-set where [climate scientists] try to reduce the uncertainty" when they talk about their research, said Judith Curry, chair of the school of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech. "I'm a little bit worried about that political pressure," she said.

Are dissenters muzzled? Yes, even if they don't deny warming caused by humans:

"To me, it's unambiguous . . . humans are altering the climate system," said Roger Pielke Sr., a research scientist at the University of Colorado. "It's just that, it's much more than CO2." Pielke said his research shows that, in addition to carbon dioxide and other factors, Earth's warming is affected by how people alter the land. When a forest becomes a farm, or a farm becomes a suburb, that changes the amount of heat and moisture coming off the ground, he said. But Pielke said he has seen some papers rejected and has felt so marginalized that he quit a U.S. panel summing up climate change a few years ago. One of the stolen e-mails seems to confirm the idea that he was being excluded: In 2005, Jones wrote to colleagues about some of Pielke's complaints, "Maybe you'll be able to ignore them?" "These individuals, who are very sincere in their beliefs, have presumed that that gives them permission to exclude viewpoints that are different from their own," Pielke said.

But the Post makes sure to emphasize that the side they generally favor are not liberals or activists for government intervention, but "top scientists" and "mainstream scienists" -- just like the Post is a top, "mainstream" paper.

Mainstream climate scientists say they have kept an open mind but have rejected papers that lack proper evidence. In Pielke's case, "the literature doesn't show" his ideas about the importance of land use are correct, said Tom Karl, head of the NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Top climate scientists say that in recent years most of the new, worthy research has only made the threat of climate change seem bigger and faster. But the current debate over what's happening to global temperatures shows the noisy, confusing disagreement of scientists trying to make nature make sense. These are the facts: After an increase in 1998, the world has been historically warm, but its average temperatures have not climbed steadily. Does that mean climate change has stopped? Many mainstream scientists say no: This is just a tic of nature, as cycles of currents in the Pacific Ocean and a decrease in heat coming off the sun have temporarily dampened warming. Some researchers, though, have said the models -- and, by extension, the human researchers that built them -- could be missing something about how the climate works. That point was made in one stolen e-mail, in which climate researcher Kevin Trenberth wrote it was a "travesty" that models could not explain why the Earth hadn't warmed more. "We're simply not tracking where the heat is going," said Trenberth, who heads the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

If the objective of conservative media monitors is simply to open a space that forces liberals into a debate, this is a sign of success.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis