Investigative report: Climate science e-mails ugly, science is correct; “skeptics'” response even uglier

December 14, 2009

Associate Press put a team of five reporters on the e-mails purloined from the Hadley climate science group in England.  AP sought advice on interpreting the messages from other scientists involved in ethical science issues.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only group that has gone through the entire mass to see what is really shown — more than a million words, the AP story estimated.

Veteran climate issue reporter Seth Borenstein wrote up the story:  Scientists in the heat of research and interpretation, on deadline with government policy makers, often attacked unfairly — one received death threats for his work on climate change.  Under those conditions, one might understand that the scientists were defensive and rude, in private, about their critics.  One of the critics harassed scientists with repeated FOI requests, then didn’t use the data.  In one case, a critic published a paper based on bad data — what the critics accused the scientists of doing.

But in the end, there was no pattern of data fixing.   Independent reviews today confirm that independently-generated studies confirm the warming the scientists wrote about.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the hecklers of the scientists from complaining, either about the science or the way it’s reported.  Rather than deal with the material AP reported, for example, warming blogger Anthony Watts attacked the reporter who wrote the story, complaining that he is “too close” to the story, since he seems to have been covering the story long enough that his e-mail appears in the purloined e-mails.

‘You can’t report the news because you know too much,’ is Watts’s complaint.

In the e-mail cited, Seth Borenstein wrote to some of the world’s best scientists in the field and asked their opinions about a paper making some contrary claims.

To Watts, seeking information from the experts is beyond the pale.  He calls it an ethical infraction.

Watts is unbound by such ethical rules, however, and so can make up stuff like this with abandon.  Watts’ charge is hooey, foul play, and stupid.  In the headline to his post, Watts wrote, “AP’s Seth Borenstein is just too damn cozy with the people he covers – time for AP to do something about it.”

That’s right, AP — it’s time Borenstein got a promotion for doing the legwork, honestly, that critics of the science have refused to do.  Borenstein’s reporting is important.  The story goes beyond mere repeating of press releases, beyond the mere “he-said/he-said” norm.  Borenstein, in unemotional, clear and cool terms, indicted the critics of warming, by factually reporting the events.  Give that man and his team a Pulitzer Prize.

Why shouldn’t reporters go to the experts?  Why shouldn’t they ask the opinions of all sides in a science debate?

Think about it for a moment:  Watts’s complaint is that Borenstein sought fairness in reporting on Watts’s side’s claim.  Because Borenstein refused to show the bias Watts wants, Watts went after Borenstein.

Could there be a more clear and dramatic illustration of why the scientists’ ire is raised by such silly criticism?

Watts quotes at length from the Associated Press Statement of News Values and Principles, slyly implying by doing so that Borenstein violated the rules somewhere.  Not so.

Watts worries about “getting too cozy with sources.”  Read his blog.  Watts prefers to be the source — but he also reports on the debate.

Watts would do well to read that AP ethical statement again, and take it to heart.

His charges are groundless, scurrilous in the light of the AP team’s going to great lengths to be fair to all sides.  Watts and other critics bank on people being shocked that scientists get angry.   Watts and his colleagues have campaigned across the web, on television and in print, to have these scientists tarred and feathered, and their science dismissed — though there is not handful of feathers to weigh against the mountains of evidence the scientists accumulated and published over the past 50 years.

Do not take my word for it.  Read the AP storyRead Watts’s rant.  Read the e-mails, if you wish (you can find them from my opinionated take on the flap).  Check with the scientists you know and trust on their views of the science done and reported.

I won a couple of minor investigative journalism awards in college.  I have been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists off and on since 1974 (not much since I quit doing that stuff full time).  I have worked with some of the best investigative journalists and Congressional investigators in my duties with the Senate.  I’ve been a member of the FOIA committees in Utah and Maryland.  I’ve lobbied in three states for freedom of information.  I know a little bit about investigative reporting and fairness.  And yes, IAAL.

Borenstein’s piece is solid and good.  In light of the firestorm Watts hopes to bring down on it, Borenstein’s article is a shining example of high ethics in journalism.  It deserves your reading.

If the critics had data denying warming, or denying human causation of warming, why are they hiding it so well?  If they have the data to prove the scientists are in error, why not publish it, instead of sniping at a wire service reporter who merely tells the story?

Critics don’t have the data to contest the hard work of the scientists.  They don’t have the data to make a case against either warming or human causation.  And now we all know.

Post Script:  Um, and , you know, it’s not like Borenstein hasn’t done some stuff over the years to make it look like he’s been on Watts’s side:  Stoat, Mooney’s Intersection, Island of Doubt.  Watts’ fit may put a gloss on Borenstein’s work that wasn’t there to begin with.

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Slight fluctuations from 1998’s record heat doesn’t mean warming is done

December 14, 2009

Sometimes you find rational discussion and good information in the newspaper.

This story moved on the McClatchy wire last August (I just recently came across it):

Drop in world temperatures fuels global warming debate

By Robert S. Boyd | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Has Earth’s fever broken?

Official government measurements show that the world’s temperature has cooled a bit since reaching its most recent peak in 1998.

That’s given global warming skeptics new ammunition to attack the prevailing theory of climate change. The skeptics argue that the current stretch of slightly cooler temperatures means that costly measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions are ill-founded and unnecessary.

Proposals to combat global warming are “crazy” and will “destroy more than a million good American jobs and increase the average family’s annual energy bill by at least $1,500 a year,” the Heartland Institute, a conservative research organization based in Chicago, declared in full-page newspaper ads earlier this summer. “High levels of carbon dioxide actually benefit wildlife and human health,” the ads asserted.

Many scientists agree, however, that hotter times are ahead. A decade of level or slightly lower temperatures is only a temporary dip to be expected as a result of natural, short-term variations in the enormously complex climate system, they say.

McClatchy’s story would be accurate today, even after the records show that the last decade is the hottest ever — such a long shelf-life shows good research and writing by McClatchy’s reporters.  McClatchy’s story doesn’t contradict this press release last week from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO):


Geneva, 8 December 2009 (WMO) – The year 2009 is likely to rank in the top 10 warmest on record since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850, according to data sources compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for 2009 (January–October) is currently estimated at 0.44°C ± 0.11°C (0.79°F ± 0.20°F) above the 1961–1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.2°F. The current nominal ranking of 2009, which does not account for uncertainties in the annual averages, places it as the fifth-warmest year. The decade of the 2000s (2000–2009) was warmer than the decade spanning the 1990s (1990–1999), which in turn was warmer than the 1980s (1980–1989). More complete data for the remainder of the year 2009 will be analysed at the beginning of 2010 to update the current assessment.

This year above-normal temperatures were recorded in most parts of the continents. Only North America (United States and Canada) experienced conditions that were cooler than average. Given the current figures, large parts of southern Asia and central Africa are likely to have the warmest year on record.

If only all reporting were so accurate.

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