"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, May 7, 2010

TIME on CRU for Keith Kloor

Keith seems to have an odd position on the CRU-water episode (more like Whitewater than like Watergate, some minor embarrassments irresponsibly spun into a criminal conspiracy by political opponents). He says the press has no choice but to cover it, but that we participants in the field shouldn't get worked up about it because it doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. At least, that's if I understand correctly, though of course I probably don't. (Generally people whose positions you find baffling don't much care for the summaries you provide, I've noticed. But really, that's the best I can do.)

Well, here's what TIME has to say about it today:

Has any field suffered a faster drop in public confidence than climate science? Two and a half years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was finishing up its widely acclaimed fourth assessment on global warming, which made an unequivocal case for the threat of man-made climate change. For its work, the IPCC was rewarded with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize — shared with Al Gore for his green advocacy — and polls showed strong concern over global warming, even in the U.S. By the time of President Barack Obama's election in 2008, the stage seemed set for climate science to go from the professional journals to the stuff of legislation.

But that was then. Thanks in part to the events of Climategate last November — when someone hacked into and released thousands of e-mails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain's East Anglia University — climate scientists now find themselves under fire. The Climategate e-mails revealed that scientists used terms like trick while discussing climate modeling techniques, which was enough to set off skeptics, who considered it proof that scientists were bending data to reach their conclusions, and making climate change seem worse than it really was. In the aftermath of Climategate, critics also uncovered factual errors — small and few, but real — in the IPCC's fourth assessment. (See how alternative energy sources were discussed at the World Energy Technologies Summit.)

It energized global-warming skeptics. Most recently, on April 23, Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli launched a civil investigative demand (CID) with the University of Virginia (UVA), searching for information on the climate scientist Michael Mann, who once worked at UVA. Mann, who now runs the Earth Systems Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, authored many of the controversial e-mails at the center of Climategate.

The cost of these assaults is real. Despite the fact that a parliamentary inquiry in Britain looked into Climategate and in March exonerated Phil Jones, the head of CRU, of any wrongdoing, the damage had been done. A British survey in February found a 30% drop over just one year in the percentage of adults who said climate change was "definitely" real, and polls in the U.S. have found a similar decline.

Of course it's something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And of course TIME ends up waffling in its report. "Climate change is too global a problem to be left to the academy, and if scientists are to be trusted, they need to be held accountable." That is the opposite of analysis, a deliberate conflation and confusion of many issues. Thanks for that exsight (opposite of insight) TIME. But there's no waffling about whether "Climategate" has been important in weakening public sentiment to cope with the greenhouse gas issue. That's the sort of thing where you'd still expect TIME's opinion to carry some weight, and they say yes, this thing really did take a bite.

They aren't, of course, acknowledging the fact that they were, in effect, active participants in the process. As far as I'm concerned that's the main problem.


manuel moe g said...

Climategate proves nothing. Climategate proves everything, and is simultaneously important and unimportant.

And the only thing we can be sure of is that the press *must* be able to continue to report science as "he said/she said".

That is why Thomas Paine wrote "Rights of Man, or maybe not, maybe King George has a point".

Your patience with Kloor is awe-inspiring (if I don't really feel it is justified).

Hank Roberts said...

I think KK doesn't like my take on it either, but I think he's claiming the press coverage of Climategate can't be sufficient reason for the troubles getting an international agreement -- ergo there must be actual real problems somewhere causing the nations to have backed away from Copenhagen, and so the press isn't responsible for inflating the issue enough to let it be used to discourage an agreement, and besides he's only the messenger, and would you like another copy of that, let's start another thread and put the message up again in case anyone has missed it.

My take is, the press puffery about Jones etc. may have been only an excuse for avoiding an agreement at Copenhagen -- but it was a sufficient excuse.

And I think -- to the contrary of KK's apparent position -- that if those opposed to progress hadn't had all that press cover, they'd have had to scrape harder and come up with a weaker and even more trumped-up excuse for inaction.

Unlike KK as I see it, I don't think there is any stronger and more real reason to hold off.

I think the press reportage was an effective 'Great and Mighty Oz' used to discourage any progress. He's saying he's just one of the munchkins working the levers and bellows making the illusion move, but everyone knows it's not real.

Or something. I'm sure he won't like this version.

I said as much as in fewer words over there.

David B. Benson said...

The proper name is


Horatio Algeranon said...

Muddy Waters/Willie Dixon said it best:

"I'm gonna make you girls
Lead me by my hand..."

paulina said...

It's all just so bizarre.

Here's how I tried to express part of my perspective, the other day:


Unknown said...


I don't see anything inconsistent with saying the press should cover it and ALSO that the coverage has had negligible to none impact on Copenhagen or the U.S. climate bill.

Additionally, you heard from journalist Stephen Leahy, a reader of my blog, who told you he was in Copenhagen for three weeks and never heard CRU or climategate mentioned once. (He said this in one of the recent comment threads, but I can't find it at the moment.)

Then there's this:

All that said, I see an important distinction in the Time article you cite,in that he's talking about British public opinion as much as American. And because the climategate story involves a prestige climate research institution over there, it seems to have embedded deeper in the public's consciousness.

Over here, though, it's still a blip.

But if it makes you feel better to blame the press for continuing policy inaction on GHG, keep on at it.

Anonymous said...

Hank Roberts:

"I think the press reportage was an effective 'Great and Mighty Oz' used to discourage any progress. He's saying he's just one of the munchkins working the levers and bellows making the illusion move, but everyone knows it's not real."

Hmm. I read Kloor's comment where he said

"The fact is, across the blogs, and in the press, the number of people using grossly intemperate language to tar 'Mann, CRU scientists, and climate scientists generally,' simply overwhelms the number of folks claiming Jones, Mann et al. are spotless (a claim not even Phil Jones is making for himself)."

I think what we can learn from this is that there is a Wizard of Oz, or rather, there's this Thing™ that a certain person (say, Kloor) "Popular Opinion", and these same person claims that he has been somehow been forced, or guided, by this "Popular Opinion" to say the things he says.

When in reality it's the converse that's true: he's one of those actively working the levers in the first place.

Unknown said...

Frank BI:

I don't believe I've ever said anything like that. Can you provide a link, please?

Michael Tobis said...

Keith it's on your blog, but you didn't say it.

I remembered the comment from the thread I was on and had no trouble finding it. You ought to agree with it though, it's certainly objectively true.

Anonymous said...


"Keith it's on your blog, but you didn't say it."

Oops, my bad.

* * *

OK... what Kloor did say was this:

"Keith it's on your blog, but you didn't say it."

And then:

"Michael (77): [...] You simply go off the rails"

And later:

"He [MT]'s partially right. This conversation is easily derailed by narrow interests, nitpicking, hairsplitting, and misdirected outrage.

For example, Michael is guilty of this himself, because his outrage over what he sees as the overblown and distorted coverage of Climategate prevents him from recognizing that the 'CRU fiasco' factors marginally -- if at all -- into the stalemated globate climate treaty talks, and the current situation with the U.S. Climate bill.

"[...] the Climategate battlefield is certainly part of the larger theater of conflict. To the extent that it inflames an atmosphere of mistrust between two competing camps is not helpful."

* * *

So there we go:

(1) Kloor claims he's "just a messenger".

(2) Kloor takes a swipe against MT.

(3) Kloor pretends he's not taking swipes against anyone.

So the question is this: If Kloor's "just a messenger", then who was he 'messaging' on behalf of when he attacked MT? And why?

Michael Tobis said...

OK, look, everybody.

I mentioned the failure of Copenhagen and that was probably foolish. I don't think the failure of Copenhagen owes anything directly to (do I have to say it? feh.) "climategate". I do think the failure of Copenhagen is directly due to the same failures of the press that allowed this fiasco to take the form that it has. I think in the rush of activity KK missed me saying so. I am saying so again.

What I don't get is what Keith thinks the role of the press ought to be and whether they have screwed it up. I am really eager to get that conversation going.

A good step is Paula's comment at Yulsman's referenced above. I encourage everyone to go read it. That is the sort of conversation we need, and that is the sort of conversation we should have.

I don't need anyone "defending" me against "swipes" from Keith. We've swiped each other aplenty. As co-admirers of Bill Cronon, Keith and I understand we have a lot in common that plenty of people haven't even heard about. I don't think we're going to come to blows.

I really think the press is the key to the story, and I really want to discuss that part of it. A lot. Until the press actually picks it up and does some reflection.

Curry's picking this moment to stand up for the McIntyre crowd is naive at best.

Keith's picking it up has been good for Keith - his blog is getting (in my opinion, deservedly) much more attention. I congratulate him for owning the silver lining and don't begrudge him that.

This is not intended as a flame war between me and Keith. Kindly keep the discussion off the ad hominem, y'all.

I'm looking for my moderator's hat right now.

Anonymous said...


"I don't need anyone 'defending' me against 'swipes' from Keith."

No, that's not what I'm doing. I'm pointing out that Kloor's "I'm just a messenger" claim rings hollow.

* * *

"I really think the press is the key to the story, and I really want to discuss that part of it. A lot. Until the press actually picks it up and does some reflection."

To which I say this: Igitur qui desiderat pacem, præparet bellum. As long as the press can continue to write nonsense with impunity, they'll have no incentive whatsoever to engage in any meaningful 'discussion' with actual scientists.

Michael Tobis said...

Frank stays close to the line, but I have to admit "I'm just the messenger" does seem to me like a very good summary of what Keith is saying. It is exactly that which I am challenging.

The press is the key to this situation.

Unknown said...

I think some people like Frank BI are confusing my personal opinions (as expressed in my blog) with the journalistic hat I wear when I wrote for professional publications.

That is understandable and it is an occupational hazard for us journalists in the blog age. (And probably the main reason why Revkin is now on the opinion page of the NYT).

Anyway, as anyone who is following the blog the past few weeks, I'm beta-testing a new format, so you'll see much less snark and opinion (if at all) in the main posts. However, I reserve the right to let loose a little in the comments, as that is meant to be conversational.

Michael, as for your continuing fixation with journalism's role in the climate change debate, I and a number of my colleagues (notably John Fleck) have been down this road with you before. Do I think we can do much better? Absolutely. Is journalism to blame for the policy stalemate? Absolutely not.

But hey, what the hell do I know. I'm just the messenger. :)

Anonymous said...


"I'm just the messenger. :)"

You keep repeating that claim. So who are you 'messaging' for, and why?

"Do I think we can do much better? Absolutely. Is journalism to blame for the policy stalemate? Absolutely not."

I don't see how you can 'do much better' when you have no concrete plans whatsoever to do much better. MT and others have given lots of specific criticisms, and you've simply ignored all of them in favour of chanting 'we can do much better, we can do much better'.

There's a reason why some 'alternative' news sites like TPM Muckraker have a following. It's because even as you keep mouthing the words 'we can do much better', they're already doing precisely that.

William T said...

Is the press to blame for the tea party movement? I don't think so. Although there are probably portions of the "press" who are fanning the flames rather more than the theoretical ideal "press" should allow.

When it comes to political issues, I think that the press can't really set the scene, but is left to reflect what people are saying and doing. Obviously there is the partisan press which may be working hand-in-glove with some of the political actors.

In this day, the role of the web has become as important as the "press" in setting political movements "alight". Blogs have jsut as much influence on the active participants as radio, tv, and newspapers, if not more since people can become actively invested in the political discussion. This energy feeds into the development of the movement.

Michael Tobis said...

Fox TV is 100% responsible for creating the "Tea Party" movement, although they appear unable to control it. I don't know whether you want to call that the press or not.

Gravityloss said...

Interesting talk by Kloor. It's almost saying that the press doesn't have much effect on the public opinion or policy, and hence it doesn't matter if they spread li... are naive and/or inaccurate and easily just fall to the false balance trap.

Gravityloss said...

And I partly agree. Public opinion is one thing but it's not 100% of what guides and affects politicians. Certainly there are direct experts, lobbyists, corruption, etc etc...

Michael Tobis said...

Yes, I find the approach mystifying. "Sure I could do better, but that isn't anything that ought to concern you. But enough about me, let's talk about you."

No, Keith. The climate policy in general is largely the fault of the press. The very existence of the offensive word "climategate" and the so far absurdly misplaced consequences of it are almost entirely the fault of the press. I would like you to engage on this prospect, not shrug it off.

Tom said...

Michael, you are now part of the press. You are covering climate issues in a medium open to the public. How're you doing so far?

Michael Tobis said...

Don't worry Natasha, I gots fiendish plan.

Anonymous said...

Keith Kloor:

"Michael, you are now part of the press. You are covering climate issues in a medium open to the public. How're you doing so far?"

So, there we go again.

Us: Let's talk about the 'he-said-she-said' problem in journalism.

Journalist: We have to go 'he-said-she-said' or else the universe will collapse.

Us: No. Though the human civilization is collapsing because of 'he-said-she-said'.

Journalist: Tell us how to do journalism better.

Us: For a start, stop going 'he-said-she-said'! Research the facts!

Journalist: We can't do that. We can't even think of doing such a thing. It's unthinkable. The universe will collapse.

Us: No.

Journalist: Show us.

Us: Duh. Here's an example.

Journalist: No, I mean you do it and show us.

Us: If we can do it, then we won't be having to talk to you.

Journalist: Why do you keep attacking us so much?

Michael Tobis said...

Well said, Frank.

Michael Tobis said...

Though actually it was Fuller, not Kloor, who said I'm part of the press.

I am not,as yet, paid to do this, though, and that matters.

Gravityloss said...

Also, to add for completeness and for Keith Kloor, I have also heard that "climategate" did have little mention in Copenhagen. Of course the Saudis mentioned it but nobody takes them seriously anyway.

It still has effects.