Nick is a Justmeans staff writer for the Climate Change and Energy & Emissions categories, with a background working on climate and energy issues both on the ground and online. Nick is particularly interested in the interplay between the written word and the creation of on-the-ground change, which he examined in-depth in his senior thesis while at Pacific University. Since graduating from col...
Investigation Shows Climate Change Deniers are Wrong (Again)
What do you do if you want to disprove the reality of climate change, but don't have any scientific evidence to support your claims? Apparently you try to confuse the public by hacking into a major database on climate research, publishing thousands of emails from scientists out of context, and accusing scientists of distorting the truth about the causes of climate change. Then you sit tight and hope no one will look too closely at what the stolen emails actually say, because it might turn out they contain nothing that disproves climate change after all. At least, that's what you do if you're one of the unknown perpetrator's of last year's "Climategate" media stunt.
If you're unfamiliar with the story of Climategate, here it is short and sweet: last year, a group of climate change deniers intent on digging up dirt on scientists hacked into computer servers at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, which is a major hub for information about causes and effects of climate change. Counting on the fact that most laypeople aren't particularly well-versed in scientific jargon, the hackers published the emails online, claiming certain passages pointed to climate scientists covering up data or attempting to make climate change look more real than it is.
In fact when taken in context, statements made in the emails in no way cast doubt on the validity of climate science or the existence of global warming. Yet some major media outlets, themselves not very well versed in the language of scientists, swallowed the story. There was enough publicity around "Climategate" that some universities decided to cover their bases by launching official investigations into whether the implicated scientists had in fact engaged in wrongdoing.
One such investigation centered on Michael Mann, a respected climate scientists at Pennsylvania State University. In response to allegations made after Climategate, the university launched a four-month investigation into Mann's scientific work, to see how the claims of deniers stood up to reality. Today the results of the investigation were released. The conclusion? Mann is not guilty of attempting to hide evidence or of any other academic wrongdoing. In other words, the allegations against him are just what many of us long believed they were: trumped-up charges with little actual substance, made by climate change deniers trying to confuse the public about climate research.
In a fair world, every media outlet that granted page space to Climategate would now publish a follow-up story clearing Mann of any charges. Of course this won't happen: mainstream media sources are out to get a good headline, and a global conspiracy on the part of climate researchers makes a better story than the boring old truth that Climategate was nothing but a manufactured media stunt. Similarly, the clearing of Mann's name isn't likely to convince hard core climate change deniers they're wrong: these people are already so determined to believe what they want to, one more university investigation isn't going to make much difference to them.
Yet for the general reader trying to make sense of the debates over climate change, Pennsylvania State University's investigation should help to clear up the fog. This investigation was carried out by tenured professors from a variety of academic fields; their conclusions ought to be reliable, certainly more so than those of the mainstream media. These people, with their backgrounds in academia and a detailed understanding of the methods of science, concluded Mann's findings about climate change were not in any way out of line. They thus re-affirmed the dependability of climate science, and the high academic standards of climate researchers. If you're looking for a trustworthy and honest assessment of the work of one of the world's key climate researchers, I can't think of a better one than this.
Photo credit: Applesauce blog