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The Guardian responds

Filed under: — group @ 24 March 2010

We recently ran two articles that were quite critical of aspects of the Guardian’s coverage of the stolen emails. This is a response from Dr. James Randerson, the editor of the Guardian’s environmental website.

I edit the Guardian’s environment website and was part of the editorial team that produced the 12-part investigation by veteran science journalist Fred Pearce into the hacked East Anglia climate emails. I’m very grateful to RealClimate for giving us the opportunity to respond to the recent posts on the investigation: “The Guardian Disappoints” and “Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind”.

I should say first that we hold RealClimate in very high regard. The site is part of the Guardian Environment Network, a collection of more than 20 hand-picked websites including Grist and Nature’s Climate Feedback blog with whom we have a mutual content sharing agreement. Under the arrangement, the Guardian website republishes RealClimate blogs regularly. We take seriously your criticisms and are considering them carefully. The Guardian has a commitment to accuracy and correcting factual errors.

Such is the public interest in this story that ever since the emails were released in November, there has been a strong demand for an in-depth journalistic account of what they tell us about how climate scientists operate. As RealClimate rightly pointed out, the response from much of the media has been lazy to the point of “pathology”.

No other media organisation has come close to producing such a comprehensive and carefully researched attempt to get to the bottom of the emails affair. The investigation tries to reflect the complexity and historical context of the story, and runs to some 28,000 words – of which around half appeared in the printed newspaper.

Dr. Schmidt did not mince his words though when he said that Fred’s investigation falls, “well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting”, while Dr Ben Santer wrote, “I am taking this opportunity to correct Mr. Pearce’s omissions, to reply to the key allegations, and to supply links to more detailed responses.” Both have also criticised our experimental online exercise to harness the expertise of people with a special knowledge of the emails in order to create a “peer reviewed” account of what they tell us.

More on that later, but it is wrong to suggest that this is a lazy substitute for traditional journalistic standards and that key protagonists were not invited to respond prior to publication. On the contrary, the investigation was subject to rigorous editorial checking and Fred contacted numerous individuals in the course of his research. Many (particularly those at UEA) declined to comment.

The other side of the story

The RealClimate commentary reads like a distorted fairground mirror of the Guardian investigation – one that highlights the uncomfortable bits but blurs the rest. The posts did point out that “Some of the other pieces in this series are fine” but do not reflect the large amount of analysis in the investigation of the way the emails have been misused by those with a political agenda and the extensive context we included to indicate the pressure scientists writing those emails were under from time-consuming requests for data.

In part 2 (How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies), for example, we detail how the “hide the decline” email has been misused by Sarah Palin, Senator James Inhofe and others to create, apparently deliberately, the impression that climate scientists had fiddled the figures.

Almost all the media and political discussion about the hacked climate emails has been based on soundbites publicised by professional sceptics and their blogs. In many cases, these have been taken out of context and twisted to mean something they were never intended to.

In part 1 (Battle over climate data turned into war between scientists and sceptics) and in a separate piece that appeared in the newspaper (Climate scientists have long been targets for sceptics) Fred outlines the tactics and motivations of some on the “sceptic” side of the debate.

All this happened against the backdrop of a long-term assault by politically motivated, and commercially funded, climate-change deniers against the activities of many of the key scientists featuring in the emails.

Similarly in Part 7 (Victory for openness as IPCC climate scientist opens up lab doors) Fred explains how the emails give a special insight into what being on the end of that assault was like.

In the leaked emails, [Ben Santer] is seen sharing those experiences with other victims of hectoring and abuse by the more rabid climate sceptics. Others had their own horror stories, including Mike Mann over his hockey stick graph, Kevin Trenberth over his analysis of hurricanes and warming in the aftermath of Katrina, and later Jones over his escalating data wars. In each case, they argue, legitimate debates about scientific analysis and access to researchers’ data have been turned into vindictive character assassination.

And in the concluding part of the investigation (Part 12: Climate science emails cannot destroy argument that world is warming, and humans are responsible), Fred lays out unequivocally that nothing in the emails casts doubt on the case for climate change being attributable to human actions.

Is the science of climate change fatally flawed by the climategate revelations? Absolutely not. Nothing uncovered in the emails destroys the argument that humans are warming the planet. None of the 1,073 emails plus 3,587 files containing documents, raw data and computer code upsets the 200-year-old science behind the “greenhouse effect” of gases such as carbon dioxide, which traps solar heat and warms the atmosphere. Nothing changes the fact that carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere thanks to human emissions from burning carbon-based fuels such as coal and oil. Nor the calculations by physicists that for every square metre of the Earth’s surface, 1.6 watts more energy enters the atmosphere than leaves it.

And we know the world is warming as a result. Thousands of thermometers in areas remote from any conceivable local urban influences tell us that. The oceans are warming too. The great majority of the world’s glaciers are retreating, Arctic sea ice is disappearing, sea levels are rising ever faster, trees are climbing up hillsides and permafrost is melting.

These are not statistical artefacts or the result of scientists cherry-picking data.

Looking under every rock

There are few, if any newspapers in the world with a stronger commitment to action on climate change than the Guardian and our sister paper the Observer. We have a team of 6 full-time environment correspondents as well as three editors and a collection of bloggers and columnists.

It was the Guardian that orchestrated a global editorial carried by 56 newspapers in 45 countries on 7th December 2009 to call for action from world leaders at Copenhagen. [RC: Also at RealClimate]

And we have been instrumental in supporting the 10:10 climate change campaign which aims to inspire individuals, organisations and businesses to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. The UK branch of 10:10 has signed up nearly 60,000 people and over 4000 businesses and organisations.

But only by looking thoroughly under every rock can those of us pressing for action on climate change maintain with confidence that the scientific case remains sound. Fred’s investigation shows that confidence is indeed well placed, but to claim that the emails do not throw up some troubling issues looks like the inward-looking mentality that is sometimes (perhaps understandably) expressed in the emails themselves.

The two posts published so far on RealClimate come to over 8500 words and it has been suggested that a line by line response to each of the points made would not be productive. I say again that we are totally unembarrassed about correcting genuine errors, but many of the points raised at RealClimate are differences of interpretation. There were implications that the investigation omitted some key information which in fact appeared in Fred’s pieces – for example that the data on Chinese weather station locations from the Phil Jones et al 1990 Nature data were eventually released publicly and that the two studies Jones had threatened to keep out of the IPCC AR4 report were in fact cited there.

However, I would like to make four points:

  • Dr Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA has said in an interview with Nature that the handling of the records of the Chinese weather station data from his 1990 Nature paper (which Fred wrote about in part 5 of the investigation) was “not acceptable… [it's] not best practice,” and he acknowledged that that stations “probably did move”. He added that he was considering a correction to Nature. To our knowledge, no other media organisation or blogger had used the emails to shed light on the controversy over the 1990 paper so a correction would not be on the table without the Pearce investigation.
  • Dr. Schmidt states that we imply Dr Tom Wigley supported allegations of “fabrication” from climate sceptic Douglas Keenan. We do not make that assertion in the piece. Also, Dr Schmidt does not reproduce the most eye-catching quotes from a May 2009 email from Wigley to Jones in which he raises serious doubts about the quality of Jones’s scientific team and his handling of the Chinese weather station data.The hacked emails do not include a response from Jones if there was one.
  • As Dr. Schmidt pointed out, we have made three small corrections to the piece “Controversy behind climate science’s ‘hockey stick’ graph” at the request of Dr Michael Mann, but none changed the main point the article was making, which was that in 1999, Mann’s hockey-stick reconstruction was the subject of intense academic debate amongst climate scientists.
  • Neither of the RealClimate blogs dealt with Fred’s piece on FOI requests, but a statement from the UK’s deputy information commissioner Graham Smith has made clear that he believes that FOI legislation was not followed correctly. He wrote, “The emails which are now public reveal that [climate sceptic David] Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information.” This is a serious issue worthy of discussion and debate.

Peer-reviewed journalism

I mentioned above our attempt to create a definitive account of the emails by leveraging the expertise of people involved or with a special knowledge of the messages and the issues they discuss. This account will eventually be expanded into a book. In practice, this means us adding annotations from people to the online versions of the articles so that readers can watch a form of living peer-review in progress. Click on the yellow highlights in the pieces themselves to read the annotations.

This represents an extraordinary commitment to transparency that we believe is unique in journalism. What other news organisation would open itself to direct criticism in this way including, for example, annotations that read “this is absolutely false” and “this is really bad”? The respected Columbia Journalism Review has praised the approach. “Regardless of whether you agree with Pearce or Schmidt, the Guardian’s approach appropriately acknowledges that evidence leaves room for some degree of interpretation. It is this kind of detailed, intellectually honest (even technologically innovative) reporting that news outlets like The New York Times should be striving for,” it wrote.

In the same spirit we have showcased diverse critical opinions on the issues and our own coverage of them, including from Dr Myles Allen, Dr Vicky Pope, Dr Mike Hulme and the Guardian’s environment correspondent Dr David Adam. Again few newspapers would have reflected such diverse viewpoints.

The reaction from some to our online annotation exercise has been hostile though. On our letters pages Dr Myles Allen and Dr Ben Santer wrote last week:

Claiming to produce “the definitive” analysis now is a brazen attempt to pre-empt the inquiries’ conclusions…What is wrong with the old-fashioned approach of checking facts before publication? When the final version is published, you will no doubt make much of the fact that “everyone had a chance to comment”, implying that any statement that was not challenged must therefore be true.

Our intention is not to undermine or pre-empt the ongoing inquiries into the CRU emails. Each of those has a very specific remit and none is attempting to produce a detailed account that uses the emails to shed light on recent climate controversies. Nor is this an exercise in blackmailing scientists into fact-checking on the cheap – if it were then it would be a monumental false-economy.

In truth, this is a serious-minded attempt to make sense of a large volume of new information about a complex and highly charged issue. No other newspaper has ever offered its journalism up for very public and exacting scrutiny in this way. We sincerely invite those involved who know the issues most thoroughly to contribute.

507 Responses to “The Guardian responds”

  1. 1
    Ben Santer says:

    In the above post, the editor of the Guardian’s environmental website, Dr. James Randerson, replies to two RealClimate postings critical of the Guardian’s recent reporting on issues related to “Climategate”.

    Dr. Randerson deflects all criticism of the Guardian expressed in the RealClimate postings. A plain-English summary of his response would be: “The Guardian could not have done anything better. Others are guilty of poor reporting on Climategate – the Guardian is not”.

    I would like to take issue with one specific aspect of Dr. Randerson’s response. Dr. Randerson asserts that Fred Pearce (the author of the Guardian’s investigation)

    “…contacted numerous individuals in the course of his research. Many (particularly those at UEA) declined to comment.”

    This statement implies that Fred Pearce did everything he could to inform himself about the issues he reported on in his Climategate investigation. In the case of Mr. Pearce’s reporting about me, this is definitely not the case.

    I last spoke with Mr. Pearce several years ago. On February 9, 2010, Part 7 of Mr. Pearce’s 12-part investigation of Climategate was published in the online edition of the Guardian. Part 7 was entitled “Victory for openness as IPCC climate scientist opens up lab doors”. It dealt primarily with some of the more publicized aspects of the last 14 years of my scientific career.

    Prior to publication of Part 7, I was not informed by Mr. Pearce or by any Guardian editor that the Guardian intend to publish an article about me. I did not know that Part 7 would cover unfounded allegations of professional misconduct relating to my service as Convening Lead Author of one chapter of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report. I did not know that Mr. Pearce intended to discuss how I responded to frivolous Freedom of Information Act requests I had received from Mr. Stephen McIntyre. Nor did I know that Mr. Pearce would bring aspects of my personal life into his story.

    Mr. Pearce did contact me several times before publication of Part 7. The first contact was by email on January 1, 2010. Mr. Pearce requested my response to allegations which had been made by Dr. David Douglass and Dr. John Christy on the basis of selective interpretation of some of the stolen Climategate emails. Drs. Douglass and Christy claimed that I had conspired with other scientists to delay publication of the print version of one of their papers in the International Journal of Climatology. This claim was false.

    I responded to Mr. Pearce (by email) on January 1, 2010, and sent Mr. Pearce a detailed rebuttal of the Douglass and Christy allegations. Unfortunately, Part 7 of Mr. Pearce’s investigation continued to propagate the myth that I somehow pressured the editor of the International Journal of Climatology. Again, this claim is simply false.

    On January 21, 2010, Mr. Pearce sent me an email requesting information about the data requests I had received from Mr. Stephen McIntyre in late 2008. I was on travel at the time, and responded to Mr. Pearce on January 29, 2010. I noted that I was willing to discuss Mr. McIntyre’s data requests in a telephone conversation with Mr. Pearce, but not by email. I sent Mr. Pearce my telephone number, and asked him to call me up. He never did.

    Mr. Pearce’s account of my interactions with Mr. McIntyre (in Part 7) suggests that I was initially unwilling to comply with Mr. McIntyre’s data requests, but that I then experienced “a change of heart”, and eventually released the requested data.

    In fact, my position on this matter was that Mr. McIntyre’s data requests were superfluous and frivolous, since Mr. McIntyre already had access to all of the raw climate model data my colleagues and I had used. Mr. McIntyre also had access to all the algorithms required to calculate intermediate “value-added” information from the raw climate model data. With some work – which he was unwilling to do – Mr. McIntyre could have replicated all of the calculations performed in the 2008 Santer et al. International Journal of Climatology paper.

    I released the model data requested by Mr. McIntyre not because I had a “change of heart” about the openness and transparency of my scientific research, as Mr. Pearce incorrectly implies. My research always has been – and always will be – conducted in an open and transparent manner. Instead, I released the requested data because I wished to continue with my scientific research, and did not want to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the systematic email harassment I was receiving from visitors to Mr. McIntyre’s “ClimateAudit” blog.

    I strongly believe that Mr. Pearce could and should have engaged in more thorough investigative journalism before writing a major article about me. Finally, I note that the Guardian decided not to publish a very short (less than 150-word) letter I had written in response to Part 7. In this letter, I referred readers of the Guardian to my posting on RealClimate for a more complete and accurate account of some of the issues.

    In explaining their decision to reject my letter, the editors of the Guardian argued that I had already published a brief letter (jointly with Myles Allen) criticizing the Guardian’s “experimental online exercise”. The Guardian editors contended that they could not publish a second Santer letter a mere week after the appearance of the Allen and Santer letter. I find this explanation rather disingenuous, since my letter and the Allen and Santer letter dealt with very different issues. The Allen and Santer letter did not respond to any of the specific allegations against me.

    In response to my rejected letter, the Guardian editors incorporated a footnote in Mr. Pearce’s Part 7, pointing to my RealClimate posting. Clearly, this footnote in an online article was a much less effective means of alerting Guardian readers to my concerns about Mr. Pearce’s story.

    In conclusion, I would like to contrast the Guardian’s behavior with that of the Wall Street Journal.

    In the summer of 1996, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed (by Dr. Frederick Seitz) and a half-dozen letters highly critical of my role as Convening Leading Author of Chapter 8 of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report. To their credit, the Wall Street Journal’s editors allowed me to publish three letters in which I defended myself against baseless allegations that I had engaged in “political tampering” and “scientific

    Unlike the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian only gave me a footnote with which to respond to Mr. Pearce’s lengthy (3,000 word) and inaccurate account of the last 14 years of my professional career. This is deeply disappointing. I suspect that in a decade’s time, when Climategate is viewed in a more complete historical and scientific context, the Guardian’s reporting on this issue will be the real footnote.

  2. 2
    jo abbess says:

    I note with a chuckle that James Randerson and David Adam are now “Dr.” What brought that on ? And what are they “Dr.” in, pray ?

    Seriously, I have become seriously concerned with the way The Guardian are treating the whole “Climategate” episode. As far as I can ascertain from my limited informational resources :-

    a. Some people arranged to obtain and misuse informal documents (electronic mails) from a small but influential research unit (CRU), their intention being, from the outset, to fabricate a baseless case from this “grey literature” with which to discredit the CRU, the Scientists in the CRU and, in fact, Science itself.

    b. Phil Jones, who has personally been invaluable in the collective enterprise of Climate Change Science has been publicly humiliated by this whole exercise of spin and disinformation, which is turning into a complete parody with the public inquiries, for which there is no basis in any kind of fact.

    c. For George Monbiot to insist on Phil Jones removal from the CRU shows he has no idea how significant Phil Jones is and has been in the process of Climate Change Science. He has thus bought into the sceptic fiction, or should I say “The Saga of Steve McIntyre’s Fantasy To Slay Disturbing Data”.

    d. For Fred Pearce to undermine the work of Ben Santer also plays to the sceptic gallery, and buy into their narrative of data manipulation and shady practice, of which there has been none, in my view.

    What we need now is trust, but not without foundation. We also need productive dialogue, and not wrangling or dispute. It is critically important that the narrative of Science is not mauled by poor commentary, as we need to know that we can have faith in the data, faith in the analysis and faith in the prognosis for urgent political and social action.

    The Guardian fail in my opinion to provide an accurate overview of “Climategate”, and even if they’ve been “better” than the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, they still have to reorient their direction.

    They could start by offering to have a series of videoconferences with key Climate Change Scientists to establish the full views of what is happening in the Science field, from the Science frame of reference.

    It is critical that we hear more from the people working on the instrumental records, as this is the ultimate basis of our knowledge of the range of probabilities for future Climate Change.

    We could do with hearing less from the constructed narrative of journalists, regardless of how truthful they think they are being.

  3. 3

    “in the concluding part of the investigation… Fred lays out unequivocally that nothing in the emails casts doubt on the case for climate change being attributable to human actions.”

    That is really burying the lede isn’t it? Part 12… come on.

  4. 4
    Eric Steig says:

    Here are my edits of Ben Santer’s comment, so that it applies to me:
    In fact, my position on this matter was that Mr. McIntyre’s data requests were superfluous and frivolous, since Mr. McIntyre already had access to all of the raw climate model data my colleagues and I had used. Mr. McIntyre also had access to all the algorithms required to calculate intermediate “value-added” information from the raw climate model data. With some work – which he was unwilling to do – Mr. McIntyre could have replicated all of the calculations performed in the 2008 Santer Steig et al. International Journal of Climatology Nature paper.

    Anyone see a pattern here?

  5. 5
    luke Newcombe says:

    Ben and Gavin,

    I applaud you guys for the effort you are putting in to counter the mis information team out there. Its just a shame you have to waste your time with this sort of stuff rather than focusing on your real work.

    Keep up the good work guys. Anyone who is ‘really’ interested in the issue of climate change, know the truth and the great work you guys are doing.

    Keep doing what your doing. In years to come, people will look back at these types of things and see how silly they were not to have listened to you all.

  6. 6
    Bob says:

    I agree with #5 It is a shame you have to waste your time and TAXPAYER’S MONEY with this sort of stuff rather then focusing on your real TAXPAYER’S work !!

  7. 7
    Curt Covey says:

    Your efforts in my opinion are a sincere and in many ways successful attempt to present a fair-minded account of all this. But the question remains (as put by Allen and Santer’s letter to the Guardian) “What is wrong with the old-fashioned approach of checking facts before publication?” Without this key step, journalism becomes chaotic blog-ism.

  8. 8
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Mostly OT but press related: there is a poll on whether climate change is really a problem, here:

    The framing makes Inohofe equivalent to a scientist.

  9. 9
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    The Gaurdian spinmaster should get an award for making it seem a crime for Dr. Santer to -gasp! publish a paper!

  10. 10
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dr. Randerson,
    Suffice to say, I used to read and trust the Guardian. I do neither now. Not on climate science or anything else.

    The Guardian and every other news media outlet have failed utterly to report on the real story here–the relentless attack on science by corporate and political interests. I do not know whether your lack of courage stems from concern that you will lose advertising revenue or political interest. Frankly, I do not care. I only know that when the closest one can find to actual reporting is found on Comedy Central, the situation is dire indeed.

  11. 11
    Neal J. King says:

    I encourage the involved climate scientists to participate in The Guardian’s project: The “climategate” story is out there and radioactive, and the only way to moderate it with truth is to get involved.

    Sticking one’s head in the sand is not going to help. Standing up for yourself can.

  12. 12

    I credit the Guardian’s indefatigable reporting on climate change over the years for getting me involved in climate science research in the first place. But both Monbiot’s over-reaction to the original email release, and Pearce’s 12 part investigation were a serious disappointment. Nothing in Randerson’s response addresses the appalling mess that Pearce made of describing how the peer-review process works in scientific research. And yes, some parts of the series were excellent. But to so fundamentally misunderstand scientific peer-review (and how scientists talk about it) reminded me just how big the gulf still is between the scientific community and even the best science reporting in the media. And no, the attempt to create a from of “journalistic peer-review” won’t ever work unless newspaper editors take the time to find out what actually makes scientific peer-review work. Please, please, please go and talk to some editors of scientific journals, and find out what they actually do.

  13. 13
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    I applaud the Guardian’s intent to look under every rock. Perhaps we can show them a few rocks for their next series. Here’s one:

  14. 14
    Jack Maloney says:

    Thanks to Messrs. Randerson and Pearce for a decent job of reporting on a complex and controversial issue. As expected, the principals on both sides of this conflict will complain about anything in the series which doesn’t totally support their side. But good journalism – like good science – isn’t about advocacy; it is an ongoing search for the nearest approximation of truth. The fact that people on both sides of the issue are whining about the Guardian’s coverage suggests that, on the whole, it was fairly well balanced.

  15. 15
    Sou says:

    I would be vey interested to read an investigative piece on the likes of McIntyre, McKitrick and Anthony Watts setting out their real motivations, tactics, actions and mode of operation, as well as the links with organisations, media outlets, governments/politicians and other influential persons and the money flows.

    There are real questions to be answered here as illustrated by the responses from Ben Santer and Eric Steig, as well as by the whole episode of why and how the emails were stolen in the first place, among all the other actions of these people over the years and the linkages already public.

    Is this on the cards or is it all too hard?

  16. 16
    Mitch Golden says:

    I have to say that I find one aspect of Mr. Randerson’s reply rather perplexing:

    “[I]t has been suggested that a line by line response to each of the points made would not be productive.”

    This is a very odd statement.

    (1) Why the passive voice – suggested by whom? Am I to gather that the editors of RealClimate are the ones decided this? I certainly hope not.

    (2) Given that The Guardian stands accused of making specific mistakes and misrepresentations, why not carefully respond to the points brought up? This letter is not short, but the majority consists of a defense of the series structure and organization, not an examination of the truth or falsity of specific facts. In other words, the trial of “peer reviewed” journalism is unnecessary, as the articles already published in RealClimate already constitute “reviews”. Had “peer review” been applied, the editor would have called for revisions or the sort of detailed responses that are being dodged here.

  17. 17
    EFS_Junior says:

    I find the entire response from James Randerson disingenuous, at best.

    After all, we are discussing a daily newspaper who’s business is to make money, to stay in business, in other words, to increase readership.

    How better to do that then to suggest a “public peer review” process, or some such.

    “The respected Columbia Journalism Review has praised the approach.”

    So one journalistic organization praises another journalistic organization.

    Go figure. Self serving. Inbred.

    A British newspaper publishes a lengthy series of articles on a manufactured British scandal.

    Many British publications publish on this manufactured British scandal.

    All the contrarian blogs are abuzz with utter nonsense or outright lies.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, the utter silence on this manufactured British scandel is truly deafining, or almost so, relatively speaking.

    And the punch line is “buy our book” but don’t worry, we’ll have a 2nd revised edition that you can buy, than a 3rd revised edition that you can buy, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

    Nice try at advertising The Guardian here on RealClimate Mr. Randerson.

    But I’m not ever going to read The Guardian or waste my good money on your advertisement for your forthcoming book.

    I spend my time reading the science, not reading about the science, not reading about the scientists, and not reading other’s opinions about the science or the scientists.

  18. 18
    barry says:

    Hats off for posting a rebuttal to your articles (rather than, say, appending a footnote to them).

    While the Guardian series omitted or downplayed some key points, I thought it managed to straddle the divide enough to interest climate skeptic as well as mainstreamer readers while scotching many of the false issues. It might not be the most accurate reflection of the multilogue, and that is lamentable, but it’s good in many parts, accessible to both ‘sides’, and does the most injury where it is warranted.

  19. 19
    calyptorhynchus says:

    Although I don’t think the word balance (in the modern, slack-jawed sense) appeared in this piece, the whole article reeked of it. There is no balance between incorrect views and correct views. The stolen e-mails represent nothing more than scientists going normally about their business (and compared to the acaemic e-mails exchanges I have been privy to, going about their business in a remarkably ethical and fair-minded way).

    This should have been the story of the Guardian reporting from day one, not the ridculous Monbiot reaction, followed by a lumbering multi-part “investigation” that failed to underline the real issues and made it seem as though the denialists had some truth on their side.

  20. 20
    Kate says:

    “To claim that the emails do not throw up some troubling issues looks like the inward-looking mentality that is sometimes (perhaps understandably) expressed in the emails themselves.”

    I don’t see where he’s coming from here – any ideas? What sort of “troubling issues” is he referring to that aren’t taken out of context? I mean, some of the emails are not very nice, but I see nothing that influences the credibility of their work.

  21. 21
    Bill Doyle says:

    I always wonder if people such as the Guardian’s journalists pause to consider how they would cope if someone got hold of their internal correspondence on a particularly controversial topic (say this one!), selectively culled and then quoted it to fit an already-framed anti-Guardian narrative (there’s no shortage of people who hate the paper, after all), and then ran if through an echo-chamber with little-to-no opportunity for them to adequately respond.

    I can just imagine the grave shaking of heads, and the solemn declarations that while the Guardian may not have technically breached Journalistic guidelines and standards and were basically truthful, they still should be shamed for failing to meet the impossibly high standards set by their enemies – whose own conduct is not assessed – these latter standards then even being embraced by some of their erstwhile allies in order to buy ‘balanced’ respectability at their expense!

  22. 22
    RichardC says:

    I never thought I’d see the day. Everyone’s on the same side but the skeptics have everyone attacking each other over little things. People make mistakes. The skeptics just magnify little slights and errors. Everyone here has good ideas and intentions. I think the Guardian’s policy shows innovation. Climate scientists have enough pressure – they are trying to save the world, after all. To be called a villain while trying to be a hero must be hard.

  23. 23
    Jim Galasyn says:

    I very much look forward to James Randerson’s investigation of the unprecedented assault on climate science by vested interests. It’s a much more interesting and important story.

  24. 24
    Bryan Walker says:

    Sad to see James Randerson’s defence of the articles which were manifestly unjust to the scientists concerned and trivialised their work. I have been a Guardian reader for 55 years, albeit for most of them from the other side of the world, and simply could not understand how the paper had stooped to this kind of misrepresentation. I’m no scientist, but didn’t need to be one to see how appalling article six was, for example, under the headline “Emails reveal strenuous efforts by climate scientists to ‘censor’ their critics”. Investigation? Analysis? A determined effort to see the selected emails in the worst possible light was all I could see in the article. It seemed to go out of its way to cast slurs on Jones: “He sometimes wrote critical reviews that may have had the effect of blackballing papers criticising his work”, for example. It was superficial and prejudiced and totally unworthy of the paper I’ve trusted for decades.

    Pretty well as bad was Pearce’s subsequent report on Jones’ appearance before the parliamentary committee in which he claimed the committee didn’t ask the questions it should have done and quoted with approval from the Institute of Physics submission.

    The Guardian has indeed published a great deal of useful material on the subject of climate change. That doesn’t turn these articles into anything other than unfair and unjust to the scientists concerned. Making a book from them is a very bad idea – if they’re not prepared to apologise they should at least let the matter die.

  25. 25
    RichardC says:

    13 Pete, thanks for the article. I disagree with the conclusion. The right has started two wars. The left want to build windfarms. Both are trying to save the world. Fundamentally, it is a choice. We can’t do both.

  26. 26
    KeenOn350 says:

    #15 Sou-
    You have hit the nail on the head – the real story here (and investigation) should be an in-depth series on McIntyre, McKitrick, Anthony Watts et al.!

  27. 27
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’d suggest weighing the “troubling issues” on the one hand, and the misrepresentations and exaggerations of the words on the other.

    Anyone figured out who hacked the file system yet, or what they omitted from their so-called “random” sampling of cherrypicked troublesome words?

    Figure that was the very worst they could make of the file, and weigh that.

  28. 28
    Mark Shapiro says:

    Remember what Bob @6 said when taxpayers claim the right to read every email:

    “It is a shame you have to waste your time and TAXPAYER’S MONEY with this sort of stuff [FOIA requests] rather then focusing on your real TAXPAYER’S work !!”

  29. 29
    Margaret says:

    Like #15 above, I too would like to have a well-researched piece on the key skeptics … which I presume the Guardian would be able to do since their articles include the following comment, repeated above:

    All this happened against the backdrop of a long-term assault by politically motivated, and commercially funded, climate-change deniers against the activities of many of the key scientists featuring in the emails.

  30. 30
    Margaret says:

    Like #15 above, I too would like to have a well-researched piece on the key skeptics … which I presume the Guardian would be able to do since their articles include the following comment, repeated above:

    All this happened against the backdrop of a long-term assault by politically motivated, and commercially funded, climate-change deniers against the activities of many of the key scientists featuring in the emails.

    Dr Randerson, it really would clear the air considerably if the funding and the political motivation of the likes of McIntyre, Watts, Mosher etc could be exposed, particularly given the mud that has been thrown at the chair of the IPCC and some of the people appointed to the various enquiries that are going on. Would you please urgently at very least publish the information that you collected to support the Guardians comments above?

  31. 31
    Edward Greisch says:

    The above I count as straw man arguments. The real problems are:

    1. That the average math IQ is only 100. [By definition, but let's not quibble over details.] The average person has neither the ability nor the training to understand the problem. Most journalists are included in the average group. We need the minimum math IQ to be where the 150 math IQ is now. We need every citizen to have what is now a B.S. degree in physics.

    2. Neither the Guardian nor RC is telling the average person the whole truth in the simple stark terms that the average person could understand.

    Which means: Nothing will be done until it is too late and something really severe happens. This is already the case, but not as bad as it will get. Which in turn means that evolution is going to happen. We will adapt by, as usual, dropping dead in large numbers. Adaptation and evolution MEAN death. That is the way Mother Nature works.

    Simple stark terms: “YOU are going to die a horrible death SOON unless we stop burning coal NOW.”

    person 1: I always treat my mule gently.
    person 2: Then why did you hit it over the head with a 2X4?
    person 1: First, I have to get its attention.

    If you don’t tell them it will kill them, you haven’t told them the truth and you haven’t informed them. It is just like warning labels on consumer products. It is wise to use the words “may cause death” liberally to avoid lawsuits based on lack of warning. Telling them just once doesn’t work. You have to tell them every day for years. Eventually, it may sink in. Nobody ever went broke by under-estimating the intelligence of the average so-called human.

    SOME people heed warnings that are rather implicit. Some people understand when they read about it. Some people understand it when they see it happen to somebody else. Some people don’t understand electric fences until they grab onto one.

    Most people would say that neither RealClimate nor the Guardian has adequately warned them about climate change even if they have read every post for a year. When it finally clobbers them, millions of survivors are going to say: “Why didn’t you tell us?”

    OF COURSE somebody is going to disinterpret every word anybody says no matter how it is said. So don’t ever say anything? No. You have already been found guilty of blaspheming against the Almighty Dollar. Nothing can change that. Blasphemy is a deadly sin. You may as well tell the whole story.

  32. 32
    Martin Vermeer says:

    If Mr. (Dr.? [edit]) Randerson really believes that his little experiment with blog science is no less of a failure than blog science in general, he only needs to look at his link to the Chinese weather station article. There, an eminent researcher in the relevant discipline fights it out on an equal footing with a known playground bully (another, psychiatric term comes to mind, but this is a moderated site). If you don’t have a problem with that, or a suspicion that this is perhaps not a recipe for arriving at a ‘definitive account’, then you have a problem mate!

    I considered at some point to get access to join in this ‘discussion’, then thought the better of it: let the nonsense simmer in its own juices. I see Gavin also gave up, and probably now thinks it was an error trying. Even with what little reputation I have in climatology, I would still be legitimizing the illegitimate: ‘journalistic balance’ as a proxy for the truth. Ugh.

  33. 33
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “What sort of “troubling issues” is he referring to that aren’t taken out of context?”

    I think it’s troubling him that he can’t find anything troubling without taking the emails out of context.

    The journo hack version of the “arrested for resisting arrest” trick.

  34. 34
    Andy Russell says:

    I agree that the Monbiot column in response to the CRU emails and the Pearce investigation were surprising but they were still much better than the rest of the British press managed. I also think its good that the Graun are engaging with RealClimate.


    Jo Abbess, comment #2

    From the “Meet the Guardian’s Environment Team”:

    David Adam has a PhD in chemical engineering.
    James Randerson has a PhD in evolutionary genetics.

  35. 35
    James Allan says:

    In spite of this response, I remain disappointed with the Guardian’s handling of this. As a scientist, the thing that has been most distressing about recent events has been the fostering of perverse misconceptions about the scientific process by the press. It’s not just climate science but our entire profession that is currently being subjected to a relentless smear attack by various individuals.

    There were numerous points in the Guardian series I took exception to, but none more so than their commentary on the peer-review process. I won’t dwell on the details (they’ve already been admirably covered in this blog) but their use of the dreaded phrase “supposed gold standard” was sufficient to sink the article for me. This in itself betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the scientific process and in reporting it like that, dangerous myths get perpetuated amongst the general public.

    I can see why the Guardian was trying to set itself up as the middle view in the argument, but it’s regrettable they felt the need to (intentionally or otherwise) dabble in shit-stirring. We’ve got plenty of other papers in the UK more than willing to engage in that behaviour and it disappoints me that the Guardian was willing to stoop to their level.

  36. 36
    Mitch Lyle says:

    Sloppy journalism seems to be a sign of our times–it should not be tolerated any more than sloppy science.

  37. 37
    Adam says:

    #20 – Kate:

    This is a general point I’ve seen in several places. People who should know better (scientists from other disciplines) seem to want to point to the generalised condemnation of the emails and say “that’s not us, that’s not science, they’ve damaged science. Yet they never use explicit quotes, or can give explicit examples of this way of thinking. It’s as if they’ve read some press condemnation and just taken it at face value, even if they normally treat press science stories with proper scepticism. However – once one has said it, the others can look at them and think that that view is accurate.

    There are a lot of myths in modern life that will forever remain as such (mainly due to poor reporting in the press), I fear that this view will be one of them.

  38. 38
    Martin Vermeer says:

    David Adam has a PhD in chemical engineering.
    James Randerson has a PhD in evolutionary genetics.

    Thanks Andy. I tried in vain to find this (and I’m pretty good with Google if I say so).

  39. 39
    Oxford Kevin says:

    I think the Guardian asked too much of Fred Pierce. His output over a fairly short space of time was enormous and the consequence of this was that the quality of the result was not as good as it could have been, there was clearly not enough time for fact checking resulting in the problem that Santer highlights above.

    The Guardian investigation varied considerably in quality and between articles was contradictory, it did however highlight some real issues that need to be discussed. I think worse than the articles themselves some of the original headlines were misleading. I think authors of articles need to take more responsibility for the headlines for the pieces they right. I know the newspapers have headline writers but article authors should be prepared to stand up to them.

    What I don’t get though is why behaviour like sceintists e-mailing each other about the competence or quality of a competitors research is seen to be unusual or unexpected, I would expect this in any field of science. In the end the results are not about what is in the e-mails but what gets published and if someone has real concerns about the quality of published research they have the opportunity to publish on the same topic highlighting the differences between your results and theirs.

  40. 40

    Kate (#20): I’m afraid to say that a lot of the personal emails between academics in any field are probably not very nice. We tend to be very blunt about what appears to us as ignorance, and intolerant of anything that wastes our time, or distracts us from our work. And when we think (rightly or wrongly) that the peer review process has let another crap paper through we certainly don’t hold back in expressing our opinions to one another. Which is of course completely different to how we behave when we meet one another. Most scientists seem able to distinguish clearly between the intellectual cut and thrust (in which we’re very rude about one another’s ideas) and social interactions (in which we all get together over a beer and bitch about the downsides of academic life). Occasionally, there’s someone who is unable to separate the two, and takes the intellectual jabs personally, but such people are rare enough in most scientific fields that the rest of us know exactly who they are, and try to avoid them at conferences!

    Part of this is due to the nature of the academic research. We care deeply about intellectual rigor, and preserving the integrity of the published body of knowledge. But we also know that many key career milestones are dependent on being respected (and preferably liked) by others in the field, such as the more senior people who write recommendation letters for tenure and promotion and honors, or the scientists with competing theories who will get asked to peer review our papers, etc.

    Most career academics have large egos and very thick skins. I think the tenure process and the peer review process filter out those who don’t. So, expect to see rudeness in private, especially when we’re discussing other scientists behind their backs with likeminded colleagues, coupled with a more measured politeness in public (e.g. at conferences).

    Now, in climate science, all our conventions are being broken. Private email exchanges are being made public. People who have no scientific training and/or no prior exposure to the scientific culture are attempting to engage in a discourse with scientists, and these people just don’t understand how science works. The climate scientists whom they attempt to engage are so used to interacting only with other scientists (we live rather sheltered lives- they don’t call it the ivory tower for nothing), that we don’t know how to engage with these outsiders. What in reality is a political streetfight, we mistake for an intellectual discussion over brandy in the senior commonroom. Scientists have no training for this type of interaction, and so our responses look (to the outsiders) as rude, dismissive, and perhaps unprofessional.

    Journalists like Monbiot, despite all his brilliant work in keeping up with the science and trying to explain it to the masses, just haven’t ever experienced academic culture from the inside. Hence his call, which he keeps repeating, for Phil Jones to resign, on the basis that Phil reacted unprofessionally to FOI requests. You don’t get data from a scientist by using FOI requests, you do it by stroking their ego a little, or by engaging them with a compelling research idea you want to pursue with it. And in the rare cases where this doesn’t work, you do the extra work to reconstruct it from other sources, or modify your research approach (because it’s the research we care about, not any particular dataset itself). So to a scientist, anyone stupid enough to try to get scientific data through repeated FOI requests quite clearly deserves our utter contempt. Jones was merely expressing (in private) a sentiment that most scientists would share – and extreme frustration with people who clearly don’t get it.

    The same misunderstandings occur when outsiders look at how we talk about the peer-review process. We’re used to having our own papers rejected from time to time, and we learn how to deal with it – quite clearly the reviewers were stupid, and we’ll show them by getting it published elsewhere (remember, big ego, thick skin). We’re also used to seeing the occasional crap paper get accepted (even into our most prized journals), and again we understand that the reviewers were stupid, and the journal editors incompetent, and we waste no time in expressing that. And if there’s a particularly egregious example, everyone in the community will know about it, everyone will agree it’s bad, and some will start complaining loudly about the editor who let it through. Yet at the same time, we’re all reviewers, so it’s understood that the people we’re calling stupid and incompetent are our colleagues. And a big part of calling them stupid or incompetent is to get them to be more rigorous next time round, and it works because no honest scientist wants to be seen as lacking rigor. What looks to the outsider like a bunch of scientists trying to subvert some gold standard of scientific truth is really just scientists trying to goad one another into doing a better job in what we all know is a messy, noisy process.

    The bottom line is that scientists will always tend to be rude to ignorant and lazy people, because we expect to see in one another a driving desire to master complex ideas and to work damn hard at it. Unfortunately the outside world (and many journalists) interpret that rudeness as unprofessional conduct. And because they don’t see it every day (like we do!) they’re horrified.

  41. 41
    Lotharsson says:

    The fact that people on both sides of the issue are whining about the Guardian’s coverage suggests that, on the whole, it was fairly well balanced.

    Er, no, it doesn’t.

    If only because one side whines (generally without justification) as a manipulation tactic.

  42. 42

    At least you guys have been favoured with a response, pathetic though it is. I have written to the editor of the Guaridan Weekly to which I susbscribe to complain, as well as writing letters to the editor, which have been ignored. I’ve also written two articles on my blog on the collapse of journalism as a profession (now only a profession in the sense that prostitution is a profession):

    … and also set up a petition in response to all this to support the right of scientists to work without harassment.

    I’m curious to know in what field James Randerson holds a PhD, and what practical experience he has of peer reviewing to think that his paper’s exercise is in any way reasonable. For the record, I hold a PhD in computer science, and am a researcher in a bioinformatics lab, so I have no expertise in climate science but do have some idea how science normally works. When not subject to organised and systematic harassment.

    Trawling over possible flaws in a paper from 1990 as if that’s the last word in a complex subject, I ask you with tears in my voice. I ended one of my letters with asking if The Guardian had been bought by Rupert Murdoch. I’m still wondering.

  43. 43
    J Bowers says:

    calyptorhynchus says: “The stolen e-mails represent nothing more than scientists going normally about their business (and compared to the acaemic e-mails exchanges I have been privy to, going about their business in a remarkably ethical and fair-minded way).”

    See, I read this kind of thing now and again, but not often enough. Science, and especially research science, seems to have been put on some kind of faux pedestal making it easier to knock down. A straw man.

  44. 44
    Ike Solem says:

    Very well – but what about the Guardian’s double standards when it comes to “telling the public how scientists operate?”

    The Guardian has a whole section of its web site devoted to smarmy CCS propaganda:

    In particular, you have this blurb, written by a think tank advocate for CCS:

    How carbon is captured and stored
    ‘Clean’ coal Explainer: The three main techniques for preventing carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations contributing to global warming

    As noted again and again, this is not a technologically plausible approach, and that statement is backed up by the failure of the CCS boosters to present a workable CCS prototype that captures more than a small fraction of the fossil CO2 emissions and by basic thermodynamic & kinetic arguments about hydrocarbon combustion. Cold fusion is about as plausible. Add in the need to build enough piping infrastructure to carry all that concentrated CO2 around, plus the issue of where to put it – convert it to graphite?

    The energy cost is the issue – perhaps if you parked a nuclear power plant at the rear end of every coal plant, you could convert all the CO2 to some stable form, but it’d still be a filthy mess. Reducing air pollution from coal means increasing soil and water pollution.

    Nevertheless, the Guardian doesn’t have much credibility, boosting CCS uncritically while also promoting the “ClimateGate” email scandal out of all proportion. When the Guardian says things like this:

    “Carbon capture and storage encompasses a range of technologies that can cut CO2 emissions by up to 90%”

    Where’s the prof for that statement, blared across the top of the Guardian’s CCS page? Do we have to write a complaint to some British press oversight board to get a response, as Simon Lewis did with the Sunday Times?

    The point here is that while the Guardian has given great space to climate science controversies, it presents carbon capture as uncontroversial, ‘proven’ technology – and that’s blatant disinformation.

  45. 45
    J Bowers says:

    “Dr Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA has said in an interview with Nature that the handling of the records of the Chinese weather station data from his 1990 Nature paper (which Fred wrote about in part 5 of the investigation) was “not acceptable…”

    Oh, for crying out loud! Big deal! It’s a natural response all things considered! Where are the stories on how McIntyre’s second submission to Parliament may be seriously flawed? Is it because they’re amateurs that the Guardian takes it easy on the likes of him and Watts, but scientists are fair game? Pseudo-sceptics are influencing public policy and being used time and again to attack what is essentially sound science, or as sound as it can possibly be, with crap, and also being used to attack the scientists themselves. Where’s the story on Monckton and his flawed assertions (yeah right, NASA deliberately crashed a rocket – it’s all a conspiracy), and the investigation into the funding of the likes of Lawson & Peiser’s GWPF and other “think tanks”? How about the Cornwall Alliance and it’s openly stated agenda, with leading “AGW-sceptical” scientists taking vows to thwart “quixotic” attempts to reduce CO2 emissions? Good grief, only this week it was shown on camera how British ex-politicians with some level of influence are willing to sell themselves to high payers for around £3000 a day or more. Have any taken money from fossil fuel interests, directly or indirectly, to influence climate change policy? Phil Jones’ all too human reaction to the pressure he’s been deliberately put under is just a non-story. Where are the real in-depth reports?

  46. 46
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    I’ll add a second to the request that the Guardian return here and offer a detailed rebuttal/explanation/apology to specific criticisms. Particularly those that damaged the scientific reputations of those they wrote about.

    And I’ll add a second to the request that the Guardian offer a detailed examination of the chief coterie of accusers of the scientists who work in climate. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  47. 47
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “I can see why the Guardian was trying to set itself up as the middle view in the argument”

    See, this is why the denialist nutjobs are allowed out. The middle view is skewed by the insanity of these bozos and there aren’t any equally extreme bozos on the proAGW side (you’re attacking them for being mean, and the denialist dittos attack them for being mean, whereas you don’t attack the denialist nutters and neither do the denialists), making a skewed middle ground that is far over to what the denialists WANT.

  48. 48
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Which means: Nothing will be done until it is too late and something really severe happens.”

    Nobody had the medical training to work out how Polio could be stopped.

    Yet something happened and Polio is practically eradicated.

    You are buying into the BS that everyone has an equally valid opinion and that EVERYONE has to agree before something can be done.


  49. 49
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “The right has started two wars. The left want to build windfarms. Both are trying to save the world. Fundamentally, it is a choice. We can’t do both.”

    Well, since one ends with people dead and the other one doesn’t, how about we choose the left-side?


  50. 50
    Frank Giger says:

    To judge by the comments, the sad truth of the matter is that no part of the press will ever “get it right” if there is any criticism of the science or of scientists in the AGW arena.

    An even more sad truth is that the more the wagons are circled and scientists play the victim the less believable they are.

    The emails were stolen. They were published. They were written about. Guess what? A lot of stolen material has historically wound up in the press – or did y’all think the Pentagon Papers came from the White House briefing room?

    When I worked in government we knew that every single email written was recorded. Every. Single. One. Heck, we were keystroked. First lesson was that if you don’t want the whole world to read it, don’t write it. Second lesson was everything one writes can be used for harm. Third is that being a jerk can get one fired, no matter the rank, especially if one writes it down for proof.

    Unfortunately, there were some legitimate questions asked that hit close to the bone, and judging by the level of counter attack should have been asked internally long before the emails were made public. Unless we are to take scientists and their work as infallible and beyond the sphere of criticism.

    [Response: There is no claim being made -- not by any of us at RC at least -- that scientists are beyond the sphere of criticism, or are infallible. The bottom line is that the most important 'legitimate question', notably the allegation of data manipulation, is definitively answered by the facts and shown to be baseless. That the Guardian can do a huge amount of 'investigation' without discovering this is quite remarkable.--eric]

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