The Real Scandal: The Endless Effort to Smear Climate Scientists

This year has already witnessed multiple events that break climate records: the drought in East Africa, the worst drought in Texas’ recorded history, and record breaking storms and floods in the US south. Those events, anticipated by climatologists decades ago, should remind us that those who persecute and harass scientists, or mendaciously misrepresent their actions and findings, have no sense of decency.

by Stephan Lewandowsky, in a Conversation cross-post

Emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit have once again been hacked and released on the internet. The timing is similar to the “climategate” scandal of 2009, with emails published just before an important UN climate conference. Does this mean the science is in doubt? Quite the opposite, says Stephan Lewandowsky.

An ambulance pulls up behind you. You know it’s an ambulance because you can read AMBULANCE in your rear view mirror. But you can also read it when you look at the vehicle directly; because the human visual system has the ability to quickly correct complete inversions or left-right reversals of letters. In fact, a complete inversion is easier to read than letters that are rotated only partially.

This human ability to process complete inversions more quickly than just partial distortions, alas, lends itself to exploitation by ruthless propagandists who seek to create a chimerical world in which up is down, left is right, and good is smeared as evil.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the netherworld of attacks on climate scientists.


Remember “climategate”? The illegal hack of personal emails released just before the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 that some columnists pronounced to be the (approximately 132nd) “final nail in the coffin” of global warming?

Remember the “errors” in the IPCC’s 2007 report? “Amazongate”, “Himalayagate”, and so on?

What has happened to “climategate”?

What’s happened is this.

First, the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee exonerated the scientist at the centre of the tempest, Professor Phil Jones, finding he has “no case to answer” and that his reputation “remains intact.”

Then Lord Oxburgh (former chairman of Shell-UK) and his panel likewise exonerated the researchers, finding their “work has been carried out with integrity, and that allegations of deliberate misrepresentation” are “not valid.”

Another enquiry, chaired by Sir Muir Russell, found the scientists’ “rigour and honesty” to be beyond doubt.

Two enquiries by his university also cleared Professor Michael Mann – who presented the first of now innumerable “hockey stick” graphs – of all allegations.

Ultimately the (conservative) UK Government concluded “the information contained in the illegally-disclosed emails does not provide any evidence to discredit … anthropogenic climate change.”

Not one, not two, but by now nine vindications.

This comes as no surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the distinction between private chat and public actions.

And what has happened to the IPCC “Whatevergates”?

What’s happened is this.

First, the Sunday Times apologised and retracted its “Amazongate” story. There is no “Amazongate”; there is only the Amazon rainforest threatened by climate change.

Then the Dutch government accepted responsibility for erroneously informing the IPCC that 55% of the Netherlands are below sea level. In fact only 26% are at risk of flooding because they are below sea level, whereas the other 29% are, err, at risk of flooding from rivers.

And about a year after “climategate” broke, the BBC finally apologised to the University of East Anglia for its misleading coverage of the “climategate” pseudo-scandal.

All that’s left of the “Whatevergates”, therefore, is red-faced apologies and one indubitable IPCC error: the incorrect projection of the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers to 2035, as opposed to the more likely 2350. This error was drawn to the public’s attention by, wait for it, an IPCC author.

Can we now forget about “gate” in connection with “climate”?


Because there are too many real climategates that must not escape attention.

First, there was another batch of private emails posted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a “think” tank notorious even by American standards. Those emails — yes, a second hack — revealed the real climategate by being truthful, with one scientist stating: “Those who deny the biophysical facts of the world would deny … gravity” and “we’re not in a gentlepersons’ debate, we’re in a street fight against … merciless enemies. Colleagues … are getting threatened with prosecution by … [US Senator James M.] Inhofe.”

That is the second real climategate: the McCarthyite attempts by Senator Inhofe to criminalise climate scientists — attempts to criminalise those who, 35 years ago, predicted the temperature rise by century’s end to within 1/10th of a degree.

This is no isolated incident: Virginia’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, has launched several frivolous lawsuits — despite losing an earlier one — against the University of Virginia in what the Washington Post called a “war on the freedom of academic inquiry”“. And Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman evoked Pastor Niemoeller’s cry against the erosion of humanity under the Nazis: “First, they came for the climate scientists…”.

The real climategate involves active censorship within NASA by Bush appointees, which the agency’s Inspector General later found to have “reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science”.

The real climategate involves Bush White House staff replacing assessments of the National Academy of Sciences with a discredited paper by two individuals with no expertise in climatology. This paper, funded by the American Petroleum Institute, was so flawed its appearance in a peer-reviewed journal led to the resignation in protest by three editors and the publisher’s unprecedented acknowledgement of mishandling.

Those are not merely historical episodes because the real climategate encompasses the ongoing complicity of some media organs.

In Canada, the real media climategate involves the ongoing list of defamatory articles by the “National Post.” The tabloid is finally being sued by Professor Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria.

In Australia, the real media climategate involves the national daily newspaper, whose misrepresentations of science are legendary and, sadly ongoing.

Those real climategates are the tip of an iceberg of venality enveloping anti-science interests and their enablers.

And just a few hours ago, another illegal release of personal emails among scientists was dumped on to the world in the lead-up to the next climate conference in Durban. First Copenhagen, now Durban. When the science is so rock solid that it can no longer be reasonably doubted, all that is left is to steal private correspondence in a desperate attempt to disparage those who are trying to protect the world from the risks it is facing.

Joseph Welch famously brought down Joe McCarthy with a simple question: “Have you no sense of decency?”

This year has already witnessed multiple events that break climate records: the drought in East Africa, the worst drought in Texas’ recorded history, and record breaking storms and floods in the US south. Those events, anticipated by climatologists decades ago, should remind us that those who persecute and harass scientists, or mendaciously misrepresent their actions and findings, have no sense of decency.

That is the real climategate.

— Stephan Lewandowsky is a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia whose research examines people’s memory and decision making, with particular emphasis on how people respond to corrections of misinformation. This piece was originally published at The Conversation website.

15 Responses to The Real Scandal: The Endless Effort to Smear Climate Scientists

  1. climatehawk1 says:

    Great article, thanks. Have tweeted previously from The Conversation, tweeting again from here.

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Needless to say, Murdoch’s ‘The Fundament’ (The Fundamental Orifice of the Nation)has run with these e-mails, with, what I see as trademark slipperiness.And, as you can see from visiting Deltoid and its excellent ‘The Australian’s War on Science’, in part 3,889, they also misreported the IPCC Report on weather extremes as saying that there was no proof of a role for anthropogenic climate destabilisation in weather disasters. This had ‘The Fundament’s’ core readership emerging from ‘neath rocks and flocking to crow. Six out of six letters pushing a crude denialist triumphalism, with one prize specimen declaring that Ian Plimer would be chanting ‘I told you so!’. One never knows whether to laugh or cry. No doubt The Fundament chooses its published letters on ideological criteria, like every other facet of its baleful existence, but the display of massed idiocy allied to arrogant presumption is certainly nauseating.

  3. james corbett says:

    The wonder in all of this is that anyone could believe that scientists were in a “conspiracy” to claim that global warming was the result of anthropomorphic factors. Why would they do that? To believe that absurdity, you must also believe that scientists have an irrational desire to lie in such a way that the world economy will be impacted. That the right wing has managed to get people to believe this drivel, is a testament to Goebbels “big lie” propaganda technique. Millions never bothered to ask themselves,”Why would scientists lie?.” because propagandists told them to “ignore the man behind the curtain.” The earth is getting warmer, and mankind is a large part of the cause–can you handle the truth or would like like another shot at believing in the Easter Bunny. It’s not that the right is stupid, but they’ve bred a hostility to reason and science that leads their myrmidons to love Jesus, but hate reason.

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Matthew 13:14
    And the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in them, which says, ‘Hearing you will hear, and you will not understand, and seeing you will see and you will not know.

    Doomsayer can quote the Bible as well as quoting George Carlin.

  5. sailrick says:

    And the Inspector General investigation makes 10 vindications of the scientists.

  6. mulp says:

    The sign of a advocate of a policy with the facts in opposition is their focus on attacking the persons presenting the facts, attacking the persons arguing the opposing point of view, attacking the people who have been convinced by the facts.

    At one time, the conservative movement had the integrity to censure those who engaged in ad hominem attacks, or the other blatant logical fallacies.

    No more.

  7. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Excellent post.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Supplemental (just watched this movie for the first time… excellent motion picture…)

    The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

    The original version of the film was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative. Dreyer himself attempted to reassemble a version from outtakes and surviving prints, but he died believing his original cut was lost forever. In one of the most important discoveries in cinema history, a virtually complete print of Dreyer’s original version was found in 1981 in a janitor’s closet of an Oslo mental institution

    Philippe-Alexandre Le Brun de Charmettes is the first historian who wrote Joan of Arc’s complete history[70] in 1817, in an attempt to restore her family’s reputation from Joan’s status as a relapsed heretic

  9. Lionel A says:

    The readers of Murdoch’s ‘seventh-rock from the sun less you are’ are like Tolkien’s Orcs with every climate related piece of news revealing a new horde.

    If they are allowed to proceed unchecked then the planet will, in time, resemble that Tolkienesque nightmare.

  10. prokaryotes says:

    Parts of earth already resemble the darkest places of Tolkien’s universe. IMAGE

    New: Mordor 2.0 Alberta’s tar sands even more environmentally disastrous than previously thought’s-tar-sands-even-more-environmentally-disastrous-than-previously-thought/

    Notice the “ring” as a metaphor for addiction, hence fossil fuel addiction.

    Tolkien wrote the following about the idea behind the One Ring: “I should say that it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or lesser degree, out of one’s direct control.” (Letter #211, 1958).
    Tolkien always strongly held that The Lord of the Rings was not allegorical, particularly in reference to political events of his time such as World War II or the Cold War. At the same time he conceded “applicability” as being within the “freedom” of the reader,[7] and indeed many people have been inclined to view the One Ring as a symbol or metaphor. The notion of a power too great for humans to safely possess is an evocative one, and already in the 1930s there were technologies available to suggest the idea. By the time the work was published, though not when most of it was written, the existence of nuclear power and nuclear weapons were common knowledge, and the Ring was often taken as symbolic of them.[8] The effect of the Ring and its physical and spiritual after-effects on Bilbo and Frodo are obsessions that have been compared with drug addiction; actor Andy Serkis who played Gollum in the film trilogy cited drug addiction as an inspiration for his performance.

  11. catman306 says:

    Carbon dioxide doubling impact has limit

    Global warming likely won’t reach extremely catastrophic temperatures even if carbon dioxide levels double, climate researchers suggest.

  12. cervantes says:

    Err, Pro? I think you may have posted to the wrong blog.

  13. prokaryotes says:

    Then maybe you should start reading here…

    Nature Pens Scathing Editorial On Virginia A.G. Cuccinelli Witch Hunt of Michael Mann

  14. Some initial observations and thoughts from me on

    — frank

  15. DontRun! says:

    If you read the last paragraph of the article you quote from, it becomes a bit more interesting(Schmitter scientist whose work research is the basis for the article):

    Even a 3.1 degree rise isn’t a cause for celebration, Schmittner says. “Temperatures were just about that much colder during the Ice Age and the world was a completely different place, with ice sheets covering continents and plants and animals completely different from today dominant,” he says. “Small changes in global temperatures mean large changes on land.”