A Year After “Climategate,” Applying Lessons Learned

(Originally published on Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog)

A year ago at this time, while policymakers and journalists (including myself) were gearing up for the Copenhagen Climate Summit, a story began percolating in the blogosphere about a voluminous trove of stolen emails sent between prominent climate scientists. The emails purportedly contained evidence that climate scientists had fudged temperature data and interfered in reviews of studies that did not adhere to mainstream views of manmade climate change. As numerous investigations have found, the scientists involved in the emails did not commit scientific fraud, and the emails' scientific significance was negligible.

The dustup that came to be known by many as “climategate” did not weaken or overturn any part of the scientific consensus on climate change - that global warming is very likely due in large part to increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. However, it drastically altered discussions of climate science during the past year. It has had a lasting impact on how climate scientists approach their work, how the media covers climate science, and how policy makers view the reliability of climate science research.

Climategate almost immediately caused climate scientists to lose control of the media narrative, and put them on the defensive for much of the year. Prior to climategate, the narrative had evolved into one that focused more on what society should do to slow and halt climate change, rather than on questions about the fundamentals of climate science. Almost instantaneously, many in the press switched into “cover the conflict” mode, with stories portraying climate scientists as scheming to rig scientific data and prevent the publication of dissenting opinions from the scientific literature.

The final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic global warming”, read one particularly egregious headline in the UK Telegraph.

Read the full post at Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog.