I am often critical of the near-death Newsweek — see Why has a Newsweek economics editor, Stefan Theil, written “basically a condensed version of the climate denier viewpoint”?
A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on, as Mark Twain said (or “before the truth gets a chance to put its pants on,” in Winston Churchill’s version), and nowhere has that been more true than in “climategate.” In that highly orchestrated, manufactured scandal, e-mails hacked from computers at the University of East Anglia’s climate-research group were spread around the Web by activists who deny that human activity is altering the world’s climate in a dangerous way, and spun so as to suggest that the scientists had been lying, cheating, and generally cooking the books.
But not only did British investigators clear the East Anglia scientist at the center of it all, Phil Jones, of scientific impropriety and dishonesty in April, an investigation at Penn State cleared PSU climatologist Michael Mann of “falsifying or suppressing data, intending to delete or conceal e-mails and information, and misusing privileged or confidential information” in February.
Of course it bears pointing out that Newsweek blew the Mann story (see “Newsweek staff who play fast and loose with the facts are imperiling not just their profession but the planet“).
In perhaps the biggest backpedaling, The Sunday Times of London, which led the media pack in charging that IPCC reports were full of egregious (and probably intentional) errors, retracted its central claim””namely, that the IPCC statement that up to 40 percent of the Amazonian rainforest could be vulnerable to climate change was “unsubstantiated.” The Times also admitted that it had totally twisted the remarks of one forest expert to make it sound as if he agreed that the IPCC had screwed up, when he said no such thing.
It’s worth quoting the retraction at some length….
You can find it all here: Sunday Times retracts and apologizes for shameful and bogus Amazon story smearing IPCC.
… In another retraction you never heard of, a paper in Frankfurt took back (apologies; the article is available only in German) its reporting that the IPCC had erred in its assessment of climate impacts in Africa.
The Times‘s criticism of the IPCC””look, its reports are full of mistakes and shoddy scholarship!“”was widely picked up at the time it ran, and has been an important factor in turning British public opinion sharply against the established science of climate change. Don’t expect the recent retractions and exonerations to change that. One of the strongest, most-repeated findings in the psychology of belief is that once people have been told X, especially if X is shocking, if they are later told, “No, we were wrong about X,” most people still believe X.
For a discussion of those findings, see Memo to “Reality” Coalition: Don’t call coal ‘clean’ seven times in your ad.
As Twain and Churchill knew, sometimes the truth never catches up with the lie, let alone overtakes it. As I wrote last summer in a story about why people believe lies even when they’re later told the truth, sometimes people’s mental processes simply go off the rails.
Having an active, well-funded disinformation campaign and a status quo media doesn’t help either!