Climategate: What Really Happened?

American public opinion on man-made climate change swung wildly in 2008 due to a fiasco known as “Climategate”. MotherJones writes an excellent article about how it was allowed to happen.

The trigger was the release of internal emails from the East Anglia University’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). They showed discussions between climate scientists who were frustrated at being abused and threatened; who were tired of lies; who wanted to fight back and make the public aware of the facts around the up-tick in carbon emissions. Industry seized on those discussions as admissions of doubt and duplicity. The result?

In November 2008, 71 percent of [US] respondents agreed that the planet is warming. Five weeks after Climategate, only 57 percent believed it.

In September 2009, RealClimate, a blog launched by Mann and other scientists to fight back against skeptics, weighed in. Several of the blog’s contributors drafted a public statement about what they saw as a pattern: “An unverified accusation of malfeasance is made based on nothing, and it is instantly ‘telegraphed’ across the denial-o-sphere while being embellished along the way to apply to…any and all scientists, even those not even tangentially related. The usual suspects become hysterical with glee that finally the ‘hoax’ has been revealed and congratulations are handed out all round…Net effect on lay people? Confusion. Net effect on science? Zip.”

A year and a half later, the question of who stole the emails and released them has never been answered. Mosher and other climate skeptics maintain that it was likely an inside job, carried out by someone at the University of East Anglia who wanted problematic science exposed. The CRU, on the other hand, maintains that it was the work of someone outside of the university—a “very professional job,” says Trevor Davies, pro-vice chancellor for research at East Anglia and the former head of the CRU.

So did the scientists do something more diabolical than gripe about critics and fret over how their research would be interpreted? Not according to seven separate inquiries on the subject, each of which found that the researchers’ work was not in question—though several concluded that their behavior was.

But none of the exonerations mattered: The scientists had lost control of the narrative.