Memo To Media: Research First, Then Report On Climate Emails

Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

Another batch of emails purportedly from the Climatic Research Center at the University of East Anglia has been released by unknown parties, no doubt with the intention of attracting media attention and discrediting climate scientists before the upcoming U.N. climate conference in South Africa.

The previous release of hacked emails triggered a storm of ill-informed media coverage in December 2009, with news outlets rushing to quote the documents without taking the time to research the context or ask experts to translate the scientific language. (As we know, terms used in scientific discussions often have a different meaning than when used in normal public conversation.)

As a result, numerous mainstream news outlets repeated allegations that the emails showed scientists doctoring data to exaggerate global warming. That claim has become part of the version of history told by conservative media even after multiple investigations found it to be false. But the damage had been done. A study conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason University found that "Climategate deepened and perhaps solidified the prior observed declines in public beliefs that global warming is happening, human caused, and of serious concern." This contrasts with the views of the vast majority of climate scientists.

Last month an independent study set up by physicist Richard Muller -- and funded by the Koch family -- investigated criticisms of the prevailing global land temperature records, including the record produced by the University of East Anglia. Announcing the results, Muller stated:

When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn't know what we'd find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.

There are individuals, corporations and interest groups who seek to distract from the mounting body of evidence indicating that humans are changing the climate. In fact, an action plan created by the American Petroleum Industry outlined a strategy to manipulate media outlets in order to create confusion among the public about climate science.

The question is: will mainstream media outlets allow themselves to be made part of a campaign to distract the public from the big picture on climate change? Or will they fulfill their responsibilities as journalists? Looks like we'll find out if they've learned their lesson to research first, then report.

UPDATE: The Guardian reports that the emails are all dated before the past couple of years: "The lack of any emails post-dating the 2009 release suggests that they were obtained at the same time, but held back."

UPDATE2: Print news outlets are already quoting the emails out of context.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
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