NBC adopts right-wing's "climategate" smear

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

NBC Nightly News repeated the unsupported claims that recently stolen emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia "show climate scientists massaging the data" and asked if the "books [have] been cooked on climate change." However, NBC reporter Anne Thompson made no attempt to evaluate the truth of the allegations which are based on a series of discredited smears.

NBC repeats baseless allegations that emails "show climate scientists massaging data and suppressing studies"

Brian Williams: "Have the books been cooked on climate change?" NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams asserted: "Climategate they're calling it. A new scandal over global warming and it's burning up the Internet." Williams continued: "Have the books been cooked on climate change?" Later in the broadcast, Williams stated: "There's a new scandal that's burning up the net these days." [NBC Nightly News, 12/04/09]

NBC's Thompson: Critics say emails "show climate scientists massaging data and suppressing studies." During the segment, correspondent Anne Thompson reported: "Those that doubt that man-made greenhouse gases are changing the climate say these emails from Britain's University of East Anglia show climate scientists massaging data and suppressing studies by those who disagree."

Thompson quotes GOP Rep. claiming "junk science" and "fraud." Thompson then quoted Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's [R-WI] claim that "[i]t's junk science and it's part of a massive international scientific fraud."

Thompson quotes CATO critic: "Clear problems with these records." Thompson reported that "critics say the emails show catastrophic predictions of countries and people devastated by warming need to be reconsidered." Thompson then quoted CATO Insitute's Patrick Michaels commenting that "[t]here are clear problems with these records that deserve investigation and not providing them to people because they're going to quote find something wrong with it is just not the way we're supposed to do science."

No evidence to support claim that emails "show climate scientists massaging data"

"Decline" in widely distorted email referred to unreliable tree ring data, not actual global temperatures. As Media Matters noted, in a November 26 article, The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, reported that Penn State scientist Michael Mann "said his trick, or 'trick of the trade,' for the Nature chart was to combine data from tree-ring measurements, which record world temperatures from 1,000 years ago until 1960, with actual temperature readings for 1961 through 1998" because "scientists have discovered that, for temperatures since 1960, tree rings have not been a reliable indicator." Jones has also stated that it is "well known" that tree ring data "does not show a realistic trend of temperature after 1960," and the CRU has said that "[t]he 'decline' in this set of tree-ring data should not be taken to mean that there is any problem with the instrumental temperature data." In a November 20 post, RealClimate.org's staff, which is comprised of several working climate scientists, including Mann, similarly stated:

As for the 'decline', it is well known that Keith Briffa's maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the "divergence problem"-see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while 'hiding' is probably a poor choice of words (since it is 'hidden' in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

Several scientists have stated that the word "trick" is being misinterpreted. The (UK) Guardian reported in a November 20 article that Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said of Jones' email: "It does look incriminating on the surface, but there are lots of single sentences that taken out of context can appear incriminating. ... You can't tell what they are talking about. Scientists say 'trick' not just to mean deception. They mean it as a clever way of doing something -- a short cut can be a trick." RealClimate also explained that "the 'trick' is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term 'trick' to refer to ... 'a good way to deal with a problem', rather than something that is 'secret', and so there is nothing problematic in this at all."

Thomson provided no evidence to support claim that scientists are "suppressing studies by those who disagree"

Mann email cited specific paper that Climate Research editors and publisher conceded should not have been published. Thompson gave no explanation of the purported suppression she was referring to but one such allegation as been discredited. In the March 11, 2003, email, director of Penn State University's Earth System Science Center Michael Mann wrote that the paper by astrophysicists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas "couldn't have cleared a 'legitimate' peer review process anywhere. That leaves only one possibility -- that the peer-review process at Climate Research has been hijacked by a few skeptics on the editorial board." The New York Times reported on August 5, 2003, that the Soon-Baliunas paper "has been heavily criticized by many scientists, including several of the journal editors. The editors said last week that whether or not the conclusions were correct, that analysis was deeply flawed." The Times further noted that the "publisher of the journal, Dr. Otto Kinne, and an editor who recently became editor in chief, Dr. Hans von Storch, both said that in retrospect the paper should not have been published as written" and that von Storch resigned, "saying he disagreed with the peer-review policies":

Advocates for cuts in emissions and scientists who hold the prevailing view on warming said the hearing backfired. It proved more convincingly, they said, that the skeptical scientists were a fringe element that had to rely increasingly on industry money and peripheral scientific journals to promote their work.

The hearing featured Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a co-author of a study, with Dr. Sallie Baliunas, also an astrophysicist at the center, that said the 20th-century warming trend was unremarkable compared with other climate shifts over the last 1,000 years.

But the Soon-Baliunas paper, published in the journal Climate Research this year, has been heavily criticized by many scientists, including several of the journal editors. The editors said last week that whether or not the conclusions were correct, the analysis was deeply flawed.

The publisher of the journal, Dr. Otto Kinne, and an editor who recently became editor in chief, Dr. Hans von Storch, both said that in retrospect the paper should not have been published as written. Dr. Kinne defended the journal and its process of peer review, but distanced himself from the paper.

"I have not stood behind the paper by Soon and Baliunas," he wrote in an e-mail message. "Indeed: the reviewers failed to detect methodological flaws."

Dr. von Storch, who was not involved in overseeing the paper, resigned last week, saying he disagreed with the peer-review policies.

The Senate hearing also focused new scrutiny on Dr. Soon and Dr. Baliunas's and ties to advocacy groups. The scientists also receive income as senior scientists for the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington group that has long fought limits on gas emissions. The study in Climate Research was in part underwritten by $53,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, the voice of the oil industry.

Mann: "I support the publication of 'skeptical' papers that meet the basic standards of scientific quality and merit." In response to the controversy surrounding the emails, Mann said that his email "[w]as in response to a very specific incident regarding a paper by Soon and Baliunas published in the journal 'Climate Research.' " Mann further stated: "I support the publication of 'skeptical' papers that meet the basic standards of scientific quality and merit. I myself have published scientific work that has been considered by some as representing a skeptical point of view on matters relating to climate change."

Scientists say the illegally obtained emails do not undermine climate change science

Nature: "Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real." A December 2 editorial in the science journal Nature stated: "Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real -- or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails." Also from the editorial:

The stolen e-mails have prompted queries about whether Nature will investigate some of the researchers' own papers. One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a 'trick' -- slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results. It is Nature's policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies.

NASA's Gavin Schmidt: "There's nothing in the e-mails that shows that global warming is a hoax." Wired's Threat Level blog reported on November 20 that Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: "There's nothing in the e-mails that shows that global warming is a hoax. ... There's no funding by nefarious groups. There's no politics in any of these things; nobody from the [United Nations] telling people what to do. There's nothing hidden, no manipulation. It's just scientists talking about science, and they're talking relatively openly as people in private e-mails generally are freer with their thoughts than they would be in a public forum. The few quotes that are being pulled out [are out] of context. People are using language used in science and interpreting it in a completely different way." Schmidt is a contributor to the Real Climate blog, which has stated that some of the stolen CRU emails "involve people" at Real Climate.

AMS: Impact on climate change science of emails "very limited." Following the release of the stolen emails, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) reaffirmed its Statement on Climate Change, stating that it "is based on a robust body of research reported in the peer-reviewed literature." AMS further stated: "For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true -- which is not yet clearly the case -- the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited."

UCS: "The e-mails provide no information that would affect the scientific understanding of climate change." The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has stated that "[t]he e-mails provide no information that would affect the scientific understanding of climate change, as many contrarians are falsely claiming. For years, thousands of scientists working at climate research centers around the world have carefully and rigorously reached a consensus on the extent of climate change, the urgency of the problem, and the role human activity plays in causing it." UCS further stated: "The findings of the USGCRP, IPCC and other scientific bodies are based on the work of thousands of scientists from hundreds of research institutions. The University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) is just one among many such research institutions. Even without data from CRU, there is still an overwhelming body of evidence that human activity triggering dangerous levels of global warming."

Peter Kelemen: "[A]lleged problems with a few scientists' behavior do not change the consensus understanding of human-induced, global climate change." Kelemen, a professor of geochemistry at Columbia University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, wrote that "I think it is important for scientists to clearly state that if basic data were withheld, or if there was unprofessional tampering with the peer-review process, we do not condone these acts. It is equally essential to emphasize that alleged problems with a few scientists' behavior do not change the consensus understanding of human-induced, global climate change, which is a robust hypothesis based on well-established observations and inferences." Kelemen further wrote: "Outspoken critics often portray climate science as a house of cards, built on a shaky edifice of limited data and broad suppositions. However, it's more realistic to think of the science as a deck of cards, spread out, face up. Some data and interpretations of those data are more certain than others, of course. But pulling out one or two interpretations, or the results of a few scientists, does not change the overall picture. Take away two or three cards, and there are still 49 or 50 cards facing you."

NYT: "Hacked material is unlikely to erode the overall argument." The New York Times' Andrew Revkin reported on November 20 that "[t]he evidence pointing to a growing human contribution to global warming is so widely accepted that the hacked material is unlikely to erode the overall argument. However, the documents will undoubtedly raise questions about the quality of research on some specific questions and the actions of some scientists."

UCS: Our understanding of climate science is based "on the rigorous accumulation, testing and synthesis of knowledge." Peter Frumhoff, the director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and an IPCC author stated, "We should keep in mind that our understanding of climate science is based not on private correspondence, but on the rigorous accumulation, testing and synthesis of knowledge often represented in the dry and factual prose of peer-reviewed literature. The scientific community is united in calling on U.S. policymakers to recognize that emissions of heat-trapping gases must be dramatically reduced if we are to avoid the worst consequences of human-induced climate change."

Yale Project on Climate Change director: "[T]here's no smoking gun in the e-mails from what I've seen." Reuters stated that Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change said, "It shows that the process of science is not always pristine ... But there's no smoking gun in the e-mails from what I've seen." The Reuters article further noted that "the researchers involved were only a handful out of thousands across the world that have contributed to a vast convergence of data that shows the world has warmed." The article also quoted Piers Forster, an environment professor at the University of Leeds stating, "Whilst some of the e-mails show scientists to be all too human, nothing I have read makes me doubt the veracity of the peer review process or the general warming trend in the global temperature recorded."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Brian Williams
Show/Publication
NBC Nightly News
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