Network and cable news outlets -- led by Fox News -- advanced the right-wing smear, which they dubbed “Climategate,” that emails stolen last year showed climate change scientists engaged in wrong-doing, such as, they alleged, “fudging data.” Will these media outlets now report on the latest investigation clearing a scientist at the center of the controversy of any wrongdoing in the matter?
Investigation clears scientist of any wrongdoing over email controversy
Penn State investigation: “No substance to the allegation against” climate scientist Mann. In November 2009, emails were stolen from the servers of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and posted online. Climate change skeptics distorted these emails in order to falsely claim that the emails undermined the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring. Specifically, skeptics distorted CRU director Phil Jones' statement that he had used a “trick” invented by Penn State scientist Michael Mann to “hide the decline” to claim that Jones and Mann had been “doctoring” or “fudging” data. Penn State subsequently assembled a committee of scientists and department heads to investigate whether Mann engaged in “research misconduct.” In a June 4 report obtained by The Washington Post on July 1, the committee stated that “there is no substance to the allegation against” Mann:
The Investigatory Committee, after careful review of all available evidence, determined that there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann, Professor, Department of Meteorology, The Pennsylvania State University.
More specifically, the Investigatory Committee determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scolarly activities.
The decision of the Investigatory Committee was unanimous.
Republican former House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert: “This exoneration should close the book on the absurd episode in which climate scientists were unjustly attacked.” On July 1, Washington Post reported:
“This exoneration should close the book on the absurd episode in which climate scientists were unjustly attacked when in fact they have been providing a great public service,” Boehlert said in a statement. “The attacks on scientists were a manufactured distraction, and today's report is a welcome return to common sense. While scientists can now focus on their work, policy makers need to address the very real problem of climate change.”
Fox led charge in pushing “Climategate” smear against Mann and other scientists
Varney distorted stolen emails to announce “Climategate.” On the November 24, 2009, edition of Fox News' Your World, Stuart Varney stated, " 'Climategate' set to break wide open today ... hacked emails from Britain suggesting scientists are fudging data to make their case for global warming."
Fox News' Kellogg baselessly claimed stolen CRU emails suggested climate scientists “were trying to manipulate the data.” On the December 10, 2009, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer said that the stolen emails “suggested researchers manipulated some of that data that support the theory of manmade warming.” Later during the segment, Fox News' Amy Kellogg stated that “the story is widely being called 'Climategate' and that the stolen emails suggested that scientists ”were trying to manipulate the data."
Hemmer falsely claimed CRU emails show scientists hiding “evidence of a decline in global temperatures.” On the December 3, 2009, edition of America's Newsroom, Hemmer falsely claimed that “recently leaked emails reveal that scientists use, quote, 'tricks' to hide evidence of a decline in global temperatures over the past, say, few decades.”
Wallace called climate scientists “fudgers” who “tried to suppress opposition.” On the December 6, 2009, edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace claimed that the stolen emails showed that “some of the climate scientists were apparently fudgers and tried to suppress opposition comments.”
Hannity falsely claimed that emails show scientists “were certainly fudging” climate data. On the December 4, 2009, edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity falsely claimed that the emails show that the scientists “were certainly fudging” climate data."
Fox & Friends celebrated Earth Day by pushing “Climategate” falsehoods. On April 22, after wishing viewers a “Happy Earth Day,” Fox & Friends devoted a segment to pushing falsehoods about “Climategate,” falsely claiming the emails showed that climate scientists “manipulated data.”
CNN, network news shows also pushed “Climategate”
CNN's Cafferty: “It's been dubbed Climategate.” On the December 2, 2009, edition of CNN's The Situation Room (accessed via Nexis), Jack Cafferty stated: “Al Gore called global warming 'an inconvenient truth.' But suddenly a lot of people are asking what the truth really is. Suddenly, it's been dubbed Climategate.” He then stated:
A climate scientist at the center of a growing controversy over hacked e-mails is stepping down from a British University's climate research unit under a cloud of suspicion. Critics point to 1,000 pages of leaked e-mails and documents between this scientist and others which they say prove that global warming is not a threat. They say researchers are ignoring data that questions whether global warming is real and have conspired to discredit those who question the phenomenon.
CNN's Lemon: “It may be called climate-gate -- look for that term to be used a lot.” On the December 6, 2009, edition of CNN Newsroom (accessed via Nexis), host Don Lemon said: “Well, the talks in Copenhagen opened with a cloud of controversy hovering over the conference. It may be called climate-gate -- look for that term to be used a lot -- a series of stolen e-mails that may cast some doubt on global warming research.”
On ABC's World News, Wright advanced misleading claims about the emails. In a December 9, 2009, report on ABC's World News, correspondent David Wright advanced misleading claims about the stolen emails, including the claim that a scientist called it a “travesty” that they couldn't explain a temporary lack of warming." Further, despite airing Penn State scientist Michael Mann stating, “Imagine somebody going through all of the emails you've ever sent looking for a single word or phrase that could be twisted,” Wright reported: “One of the most damning email exchanges credits Mann with a 'trick' to 'hide the decline' in temperatures.”
NBC's Nightly News adopted “Climategate” smear. On the December 4, 2009, edition of NBC's Nightly News, host Brian Williams stated “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.” Later 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.”
CBS' Glor: "[D]id some scientists fudge the numbers to make climate change look worse than it is?" Introducing a report on the December 5 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, anchor Jeff Glor asked, "[D]id some scientists fudge the numbers to make climate change look worse than it is?" During the ensuing report, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier claimed that the reportedly stolen CRU emails “have cast doubts on the very science” that a climate change summit in Copenhagen “is based on,” and asserted that the emails “seem to show that some of the world's top experts decided to exclude or manipulate some research that didn't help prove global warming exists.”
Attacks on Mann were false
REALITY: “Hide the decline” refers to unreliable tree-ring data, not actual temperature readings. The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, reported that Mann -- whose “trick” was referenced in Jones' email -- “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."
Temperature records show there was no “decline” in actual temperatures to hide. In a December 8 London Times column, Andrew Watson, research professor at the University of East Anglia explained, “The tree-ring measure declines, but the actual temperatures after 1960 go up.” Jones has similarly explained that “it was absolutely necessary to remove the incorrect impression given by the tree rings that temperatures between about 1960 and 1999 (when the email was written) were not rising, as our instrumental data clearly showed they were.” Indeed, measurements from each of the major climate centers show the clear warming trend.
Scientists have stated that the word “trick” is being misinterpreted. Scientists say the word “trick” is a commonly used expression and does not indicate deception. Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, is quoted in a Guardian article as saying of Jones' email: “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 "[s]cientists 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."
FactCheck.org: “Not the case” that email indicates “sneaky manipulations to mask a decline in global temperatures.” FactCheck.org examined the claims by climate skeptics with regard to the emails and found them “unfounded.” With regard to the Jones email that references Mann, FactCheck.org reported:
Claims that the e-mails are evidence of fraud or deceit, however, misrepresent what they actually say. A prime example is a 1999 e-mail from Jones, who wrote: “I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.” Skeptics claim the words “trick” and “decline” show Jones is using sneaky manipulations to mask a decline in global temperatures. But that's not the case. Actual temperatures, as measured by scientific instruments such as thermometers, were rising at the time of the writing of this decade-old e-mail, and (as we've noted) have continued to rise since then. Jones was referring to the decline in temperatures implied by measurements of the width and density of tree rings. In recent decades, these measures indicate a dip, while more accurate instrument-measured temperatures continue to rise.
Scientists at CRU use tree-ring data and other “proxy” measurements to estimate temperatures from times before instrumental temperature data began to be collected. However, since about 1960, tree-ring data have diverged from actual measured temperatures. Far from covering it up, CRU scientists and others have published reports of this divergence many times. The “trick” that Jones was writing about in his 1999 e-mail was simply adding the actual, measured instrumental data into a graph of historic temperatures. Jones says it's a “trick” in the colloquial sense of an adroit feat -- “a clever thing to do,” as he put it -- not a deception. What's hidden is the fact that tree-ring data in recent decades doesn't track with thermometer measurements.
Previous inquiries found “no evidence” that scientists manipulated data
AP: U.K. investigation shows “no evidence” that CRU scientists “had tampered with data.” The Associated Press reported on March 31 that "[t]he House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee said Wednesday that they'd seen no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming -- two of the most serious criticisms levied against the climatologist and his colleagues." The House of Commons issued the report on March 31.
Penn State: "[N]o credible evidence" that Mann “engaged in, or participated in ... any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data.” In February, Penn State released the results of its initial inquiry, led by a panel of department heads and scientists, into whether Mann -- based on alleged evidence in the emails -- manipulated data or destroyed records. Among its conclusions was that there was “no credible evidence” that Mann had “ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data” and “no credible evidence” that Mann had “engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data.”
Independent panel: "[N]o evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice." An independent panel in the U.K., led by former industry scientist Lord Oxburgh, released a report in April finding “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention.” The (London) Guardian reported that Oxburgh said “many of the criticisms and assertions of scientific misconduct were likely made by people 'who do not like the implications of some the conclusions' reached by the climate experts,” and quoted him saying, 'Whatever was said in the emails, the basic science seems to have been done fairly and properly.' "