RealClimate logo

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. 51
    Rohan says:

    I can only say that, as a lay person with an academic background, I found the Guardian’s coverage of “Climategate” to be absolutely atrocious.

    As for their claim to be doing “peer-reviewed journalism”, given that the majority of contributions appeared to be from the appalling Douglas Keenan, I wish them well with that.

  2. 52
    The Ville says:

    The fact is the supportive media such as The Guardian ‘bottled’ out of supporting the science because they thought their own butts were in danger.

    They have succumbed to the campaign against climate science like many others.

    The latest victim is the Science Museum in London that has renamed a ‘Climate Change’ gallery to ‘Climate Science’ gallery. Instead of fighting back and re-affirming the truth of the science, they cut their losses and run off.

    Basically these organisations are more interested in popular public opinion influenced by the denial campaign, than they are in the science.

  3. 53
    Neal J. King says:

    Tangential: Some good news on the journalistic front: The Economist is still producing sensible stories:

    – On going green and geography: “It is getting harder and harder in conversation to raise one or other of the most basic subjects in geography—agriculture, glaciation, rivers and population—without a flicker of panic crossing the other person’s face. You are no longer talking about a neutral subject. At any moment you might be about to discuss water salinity in Bangladesh, or the acidification of the ocean, or desertification in sub-Saharan Africa. Whatever aspect of geography it is that you start with threatens to segue into a discussion on the most polarising topic there is: climate change. Miss Prism would be quick to notice that geography is no longer a polite subject for meal time.”

    – Ground-level view of the visible climate change in Greenland: “Gundel says that for 2,000 years, the Inuit–formerly known as “eskimos”, which to many is a derogatory term that means “eaters of raw meat”–have lived at the edges of the Arctic ice. It is their life and their world. “In all this time we Inuit have always had two seasons,” he says. “In winter, we go ice-hunting and dog-sledding. In summer, we fish and hunt in boats. But now we have lost the winter, and summer has changed completely.” Starting in the 1980s, with each passing year the winter ice has formed later in the year, and become thinner. Now it is just slush. “You can’t go hunting on ice like that. It’ll break. So now we can’t gather food in the winter at all. If you couldn’t get to the supermarket, you couldn’t get food. If we can’t get to the hunting areas, we can’t get food.” ”

    At least some of the elite media are still taking science seriously.

  4. 54
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’ll repeat Pete Dunkelberg’s pointer; that poll was a tie yesterday; today the Inhofes are creeping ahead of the Romms. It’s a view of the media face of the question, of course, not the science.

  5. 55
    Jack Maloney says:

    “The stolen e-mails represent nothing more than scientists going normally about their business…”
    Comment by calyptorhynchus — 24 March 2010

    Really? Do scientists “normally” discuss ways to “hide” data that might call their proxies into question? Or ways to pressure journals into rejecting contrary views, even to the point of dismissing “unfriendly” editors? Or ways to evade legal FOI requests, and avoid challenges to their algorithms? Does this kind of behavior taint all of the sciences? Or is it just an anomaly, peculiar to a small clique of scientists at the heart of climatology? I sincerely hope calyptorhynchus is wrong.

    By any measure, the CRU emails have damaged public confidence in the climatology science community. Recovery will come, not with self-justification, but with ethical self-discipline.

  6. 56
    Completely Fed Up says:

    J Bowers, it is the same corporatist claptrap that says that government cannot do ANYTHING right and that corporations are sacrosanct and perfect.

    As an example, though there are continued wails of “show us the code!” etc for UKMO code, the fact that Piers Corbyn forbids discussion of his data without a license agreement and has continually failed to describe his model (let alone show the code) is deemed acceptable because he’s a private company and he wants to make money from his work (though how this gels with USians wanting UK model code which can otherwise be sold to reduce the tax load of climate research for UK taxpayers, I cannot say).

    So Watts doesn’t have to be open because he’s a commercial person, not a government one.

    (NOTE: forget the fact that government includes the security services and defence contracts which are not open for discussion…)

  7. 57

    #31: Edward Greisch:

    Yes, we need to make this personal but consider that despite the data about how it is killing them:

    1) People still smoke (I know nicotine addiction is tough to break even if there is will)

    2) People still eat garbage food

    3) People still do not exercise enough

    Why do they do these things with all of the data showing the foolishness? Because the bad outcome is not apparent now and down the road they will eventually look bad and think “wow, I was dumb because they told me so!”

    Human nature is tough to overcome.

  8. 58

    #40 Steve Easterbrook:

    This is a brilliant summary! I would love to post this on my blog with your permission (or if you wish to send me a revised version).

    Global Warming: Man or Myth? blog

  9. 59
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Really? Do scientists “normally” discuss ways to “hide” data that might call their proxies into question?”


    But that isn’t what the message that had that “hide” in it means.

    Do you regularly misrepresent others’ words?

    “Or ways to pressure journals into rejecting contrary views”

    Yes. Everyone does. Every single person who complains of, say, the BBC of bias for AGW is doing so.

    When a journal is spouting crap, why is it wrong to call it such? Why is it wrong to say “avoid that journal, it produces crap”? Isn’t that EXACTLY what consumer watchdogs do? “Don’t buy toys from $CHINESE_COMPANY because they use leaded paint”?

    “Or ways to evade legal FOI requests”

    Please show where this is done.

    And the FOIA has plenty of places that state whether a request must be answered or not. Not answering a request that is not a valid FOIA request is not a breech of the act.

    Did you ever read the act in question?

    “avoid challenges to their algorithms?”

    You mean like:


    Or doesn’t that count because he’s denying AGW mitigation.

    “Does this kind of behavior taint all of the sciences?”

    Just because you say it is a taint doesn’t make it so.

  10. 60
    Completely Fed Up says:

    PS: “By any measure, the CRU emails have damaged public confidence in the climatology science community. ”

    Only because the CRU emails have been spun disingenuously to make it APPEAR (falsely) that there is a problem with putting confidence in the climate science community.

  11. 61
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Frank Giger,
    Now, I ask you, why should scientists who are simply doing their jobs be subjected to such harrassment?

    Why should science that has been accepted for over 50 years become the subject of a controversy?

    Why are ignoramuses given equal if not greater consideration than climate experts in the press?

    Why is the press not asking about the emails, funding and activities of denialists?

    Why is science being hamstrung and inhibited from running its normal course?

    Why are people with no publication or a single publication in climate science being quoted as experts in the press?

    Why are selectively edited hacked emails taken out of context allowed to derail important policy debates?

    These are the real questions here. And the press is not covering them. The denialists have not added one iota of understanding about Earth’s climate in 2 decades of obfuscation. Why are they not dismissed like any other anti-science fringe movement?

  12. 62
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Jack Baloney #55, you should aspire to the level of “dishonesty” of the scientists you’re criticizing. You know damn well that each and every one of the claims you make has been shown wrong, but you go on making them anyway. Have you no shame?

  13. 63
    SecularAnimist says:

    Frank Giger wrote: “Unless we are to take scientists and their work as infallible and beyond the sphere of criticism.”

    Of course scientists are fallible and their work is subject to criticism.

    That’s why the process of science includes constant criticism by scientists of each other’s work, in order to uncover errors resulting from fallibility.

    What the stolen emails “reveal” is just that: scientists criticizing each other.

    None of which has the slightest thing to do with the ExxonMobil-funded, multimillion-dollar, generation-long campaign of deceit, denial, obstruction, delay and most recently, vicious attacks against scientists themselves.

    What the deniers are doing is not “criticism”. Deliberate, malicious lies are not “criticism”.

  14. 64
    ge0050 says:

    All publicly funded scientists have a duty and obligation to make their data, methods and results available to the public. In this day and age there is no excuse for doing otherwise. All that is required is to post the data on any ftp server and publish a link.

    Excuses that it is too much work to do raise the suspicions that the author knows the work will not stand up to scrutiny and thus wishes to limit access. Fundamental to all “real science” is that scientists remain skeptical and until results have been duplicated, using the same data and same methods.

    A private organization will lose money and go out of business if it gives bad advice to it customers. The Public Weather Service cannot go out of business, no matter how poorly it performns. Thus, much greater transparency is required by the Public Weather Service than by private organizations.

    [Response: I agree with your basic premise but a couple of points. First, as a non-climate scientist, I can state that the climate scientists are way out in front of a lot of other disciplines in terms of their openness of data and methods. Try replicating a lot of ecological research for instance (even if things are improving in that regard). Further, the legitimate concerns of the CRU regarding ownership/distribution of national climate data has been discussed many many times now. Second, it’s not always so easy to make public as you make it out. In particular, a lot of work may be involved in the creation of usable metadata.–Jim]

  15. 65
    Completely Fed Up says:

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


    If there were no wagon circling, the more people will proclaim that this PROVES they are wrong: else they would be supporting each other!!!1!11!oneoneleventyone!1.

    “Unfortunately, there were some legitimate questions asked that hit close to the bone”


  16. 66
    Bob says:

    I try not to get too lost in the present. The Guardian’s response is weak, being neither apologetic nor substantively argumentative. A little hand waving and mumbling, and what’s done is done, oh well.

    But in the end, time is going to pass. The world will warm. Eventually, when things progress as they will, people will look back on all of this and ask “how did we get it so wrong? Why did we fall for these obvious tricks?” It won’t be like tobacco, where the victims all died and those who were left could say “well, I knew smoking caused cancer, so I didn’t fall for it; I don’t know why anyone did.”

    In this case, in the future, everyone is going to be hurt by this. Everyone is going to get mad. Everyone is going to say “hey, wait a minute, they were right, the scientists and the science were right, why didn’t we listen to them instead of the hysterical crazies?”

    Except they won’t really say that, because that would entail personally accepting blame. What they’ll say instead is “why did the press fail us? Why did they misreport the facts? Why didn’t they get to the bottom of it, to the real underlying truth? Why didn’t anyone protect us from the liars?”

    A small number will probably still blame it on the scientists, for being less than angelically perfect and so having chinks in their shining armor which in turn allowed the facts be distorted. But in the end science will be vindicated.

    But the bottom line is that history is going to judge the press as a whole and the Guardian as a member of the press. They’ll all be judged as having been pitifully manipulated, and having failed miserably. The Guardian will be judged poorly, in the end, for having tried to hedge their bets. Being the best of the bad isn’t going to cut it. Everyone is going to look back at this and say that the system and the people’s best control over the system — the press — failed utterly when it was needed most.

    The Guardian has missed an opportunity to be, using the denier’s favorite if ironically misapplied analogy, Galileo.

  17. 67
    bigcitylib says:

    A bit OT, and I don’t know if Mr. Randerson is responding, but…

    The Guardian’s Tech guy Charles Arthur did a forensic analysis of the hacked emails, and produced a “concordance” of search terms that the hackers used when they searched CRU’s archives for the emails they wanted. This file was then apparently moved, but does not appear to be anywhere on the Guardian site. There was also supposed to have been some graphical material related to the analysis, but it too is either gone or was never posted.

    Are these items available anywhere?

  18. 68
    Hugh Laue says:

    #55 J Maloney
    “Do scientists “normally” discuss ways to “hide” data that might call their proxies into question?”
    No – who did this?

    “Or ways to pressure journals into rejecting contrary views, even to the point of dismissing “unfriendly” editors?”

    No – who did this?

    “Or ways to evade legal FOI requests, and avoid challenges to their algorithms?”

    No – who did this?

    “Does this kind of behavior taint all of the sciences? ”

    Are you still beating your partner and your children?

    “Recovery will come, not with self-justification, but with ethical self-discipline.”

    Yes – try it sometime.

  19. 69
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Jack Maloney — 25 March 2010 @ 9:05 AM:

    You say– “Really? Do scientists “normally” discuss ways to “hide” data that might call their proxies into question? Or ways to pressure journals into rejecting contrary views, even to the point of dismissing “unfriendly” editors? Or ways to evade legal FOI requests, and avoid challenges to their algorithms?”

    For your statement to have any substance you will have to show what data was actually hidden, provide an example of an editor that was dismissed just because they were unfriendly, and provide evidence of a single Freedom of Information Request that was illegally rejected. This will be a big problem for you.

    If CRU personnel didn’t actually do anything unethical then your complaint- “Does this kind of behavior taint all of the sciences?” is little more than a smear based solely on your opinion of stolen e-mails that were edited and presented out of context. Any private conversation about a contentious topic might look ugly when taken out of context.

    Your opinion supports bad newspaper reporting and is just an echo of denial industry propaganda.


  20. 70

    Many thanks indeed for your comments. I’d like to deal with a few of them:

    #1 Dr Ben Santer is right to say that we did not publish his second letter on the series. This is the text he sent:

    “A story by Fred Pearce in the February 9th online edition of the Guardian (“Victory for openness as IPCC climate scientist opens up lab doors”) covers some of the more publicized aspects of the last 14 years of my scientific career. Mr. Pearce’s account illuminates some of the non-scientific difficulties I have faced. However, his story also repeats unfounded allegations that I engaged in dubious professional conduct. In a number of instances, Mr. Pearce provides links to these allegations, but not to my published responses. Guardian readers interested in a more complete and balanced discussion of my service with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, my recent interactions with prominent climate change skeptics, and my close encounter with a self-appointed climate science “auditor” should refer to the “Real Climate” website:

    The article he was referring to was published online only. We have a general policy that responses to material that appears online only do not appear in the printed letters page. The readers editor (who is independent of editorial) decided that the best way to deal with this response was to make a prominent addition to the story with a link to his criticisms on Real Climate. It reads:

    “Ben Santer disputes several aspects of the account given above. For his account of events and responses to some of the points in Fred Pearce’s article, see this blog on”

    I do not agree that this was a less effective way of highlighting Dr Santer’s concerns because it means they are flagged up right next to the material that is in dispute – ie in the online article.

    #2 jo abbess
    As #34 Andy Russell has pointed out my PhD is in evolutionary genetics and David Adam’s is in chemical engineering. I only mentioned this to be honest to fit with Real Climate’s style of using honorifics. However, I think it is useful information in that both of us have done scientific research. I have 6 or 7 published papers (it was a while ago) from my pre-journalism career in science so I understand how peer review works.

    #3 Richard Pauli
    I would not characterise it as burying the lede. I would call it not pre-judging the outcome of our own investigation. In any case, the other chapters are peppered with statements that make clear that none of the issues Fred discussed affected the case for anthropogenic warming.

    #10 Ray Ladbury
    I feel like we are reading different newspapers. There was a piece in Fred’s series that specifically dealt with this question. And we have published a lot on, for example, the Bush administration’s attacks on science. Ben Goldacre writes weekly about commercial and politically motivated attacks. George Monbiot does the same with respect to climate change.

    #16 Mich Golden
    The request was made by one of the Real Climate editors. He asked me to “talk about the editorial issues and what happens next, rather than dealing with small points where the issue might be one of interpretation rather than fact.” I was happy to do that.

    #17 EFS_Junior
    You are entitled to your opinion on the series, but you are wrong to suggest that the Guardian pursues a profit at all costs approach. The Guardian is owned by a non-profit trust that exists to subsidise our editorial operations. Details here

    Also, I’m afraid I don’t recognise the “utter silence” on the climate emails issue that you suggest exists outside the UK. There is at least as much interest, if not more, in the US by my reckoning.

  21. 71
    Marion Delgado says:

    I thank Randerson for the response, I am glad the Guardian is engaged with RealClimate, of course they’re off on this, and of course the key flaw is giving Keenan the undue influence they give him. Monopoly capitalist journalism, which is what the English-speaking world has, take it or leave it, is not going to do much better. I think IF the world comes back from the abyss that Iceland already fell over, some sane countries (probably not any of them English-speaking) will have to develop a new model – entirely – for creating and promoting journalism, and the irony is that just as in research science, it will probably be on the one hand socialized and on the other hand fiercely competitive because perpetually funding-starved.

    Discover’s Chris Mooney points out that we have, in the G20, more science degrees than things for them to do, and on the other hand, a complete dearth of science journalism, and a growing divide between scientists and the public, and laments that, after all, newspapers and mass media have to do what makes the most profit, so science journalism is inevitably going to be squeezed out as cheaper-to-produce internet sources cut into media ad revenue. But that’s the passive, if-a-solution-could-exist-the-market-would-already-have-manifested-it attitude that Americans are raised on.

    I say this as someone who was a working journalist for a while – it always struck me how wrong it was to be in the Society of Professional Journalists, because professionals are people who can accept or refuse jobs as they like, for whom peer review is the main control and for whom it has legal weight, etc. And journalists (reporters, editors, producers) are not professionals at all, but employees. In the United States, where economic policy was designed most of my working life to create a state of worker insecurity – in the words of Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, who also said the policy was successful – professional standards are meaningless when no one is going to quit over them (and even if they do, where there are no consequences whatsoever for forcing employees to violate so-called professional standards – indeed, one Supreme Court case in the United States established the right of a media employer to fire employees for not lying to the public, and not presenting fake news).

    That’s the kind of thing no paper can say, but everyone involved in journalism KNOWS. So between the lines, I read Randerson as saying “Good luck getting a better job out of the modern media system, bucko. We’re as good as you’re going to find.” And I agree, if your goal is mass communication in an increasingly monopolistic capitalist framework – what Thomas Friedman approvingly calls a “golden straitjacket” where “your politics are constrained but your markets are free.” And by politics, he means public policies and the ability of people to influence them with anything but money. In fact, I agree, period. He’s right – outside of the Guardian, who is in fact doing a good job on this, that has a big readership?

    [Response: Check out the recent Economist article (and here)–very good indeed.–Jim]

  22. 72
    Harry Applin says:

    Yakkity yak, all of this talk of parsing some emails. Have you noticed all of the investigations and columns, blogs and news time about the emails. If there was an actual investigation of the who, what, why, where and how of the actual illegal operation, you know the theft, the real answers would come to the surface. Instead too much time and effort is wasted on irrelevant nitpicking.

  23. 73
    Geoff Wexler says:

    It seems to me that the timing of the 12 part investigation meant that it was flawed from the start. There were at least five inquiries going on already. Why did the Guardian think that it was in such a privileged position that it ought to jump in and pre-empt the outcome? Did it have special access to information which was not in the public domain? If so it should have submitted it to the inquries concerned. It could then have waited until the end, before publishing a thorough and less gossipy report.

    James Randerson starts by emphasising that Fred Pearce is a “veteran science journalist”. Perhaps that conceals a hidden assumption , ie. that he is so competent that he can be trusted to carry out an almost impossible job. If Fred thought that himself, I think it would have been a sign of arrogance. If Pearce had found nothing new, the project would have seemed like a flop, so he had an incentive to discover something juicy. If he made errors on the way, then he might have been reluctant to admit them, thus becoming the story.

    I wish science journalism went deeper. This applies to Fred Pearce’s work too, even though it may be better than average. For example in an earlier investigation , a few years back, in the New Scientist, Fred Pearce dropped a hint that he thought Mann might have been wrong over the hockey stick. Fair enough , except that I have some doubts about his understanding of the topic at that time. Later on his stance over this issue changed.

    The Guardian/Observer has done very well out of superficial, sensational reporting recently. For example Andrew Rawnsley’s book which came out a few weeks ago,was publicised everywhere because of its sensational accusation about Gordon Brown’s tendency to lose his temper. Rawnsley was given lots of time on BBC 2’s Newsnight simply to repeat the assertion. More significant topics such as Britain’s weak record on renewable energy were 100 miles out of sight.

  24. 74
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Philip (#42),

    Please lay off the sexist bigotry and show some respect for prostitutes! They’re doing a honest job.

  25. 75
    Bob says:

    Re-reading my reply, I think I should soften the statement about the system having “failed utterly” when all is said and done. I don’t really think that is going to happen. As far as the planet goes, I think there will be some delay, and losses that could have been avoided, and expenses that will be greater than necessary, but in the end it will all work out as far as getting things under some degree of control, as long as people like Gavin and Santer are in there keeping at it, and sticking to their guns.

    The system won’t fail, it will just have to chug its way through the obstructions.

    But I do also think that, like McCarthyism, “Climategate” (man, how I hate that moniker) is going to become a history lesson on how wildly the truth can be twisted, and ordinary people can get suckered out of ignorance or fear, and more to the point how badly the press can get it wrong.

    Interestingly, when that does come to pass, after the absurd and misappropriate overuse of the “gate” suffix, it will probably be considered silly to attach “gate” to anything. It might even become a verb, meaning “to fabricate a controversy in order to sow distrust and hesitation,” as in, “can you believe that guy tried to ‘gate’ us on this?”

  26. 76
    Hank Roberts says:

    For perspective — earlier I reposted the pointer to the US News and World Report “poll” asking people to choose between Inhofe and Romm. Inhofe is ahead about 55/45 right at the moment.

    Now, for context, look at these numbers. ialist.html

    (remove the space to make the URL work; the spamfilter here a ‘bertarian product intolerant of any mention of a “spec ialist” or “soc ialist”)

    Long ago, John Brunner wrote a novel in which the world’s environmental problems were solved by the richest ten percent of the world population self-destructing. Kind of a nation-level Darwin Award, to use newer terms.
    Another prediction well on its way to being fulfilled, that.

  27. 77
    Alexandre says:

    About this part:

    “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.”

    Martin Vermeer already said something above (#32)about “ ‘journalistic balance’ as a proxy for the truth”.

    On a former thread someone quoted a great Seattle Post editorial about this. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Here’s a typical script for a news account involving global climate change. A scientist (or more often, a group of scientists) rolls out new research for a congressional panel. Then someone, usually at the hearing, often a member of Congress, disputes the science. The story becomes one of conflict. The scientists said this, while the critics said that. The conflict overwhelms the research, reducing it to a sentence or two, reported without context.

    Perhaps fairness (or what passes for fairness) wins. But what about the truth?”

  28. 78
    paulina says:

    Mitch Golden, comment 16, points out the odd claim:

    “it has been suggested that a line by line response to each of the points made would not be productive”

    Golden asks: Who suggested this?

    Question for RC: Did you suggest this?


  29. 79
    Nick Gotts 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. – Jack Maloney

    No, it most certainly does not. This is an intellectually and morally lazy response that is all too common among journalists: if “both sides” are complaining, that tells you absolutely nothing whatsoever about whether the coverage was good or bad, biased or unbiased. Canny but dishonest interests will deliberately make use of this common but absurd stance by complaining as a matter of course, without the slightest justification.

  30. 80
    dhogaza says:

    ge0050 wrote, perhaps not thinking things through, entirely, that

    All publicly funded scientists have a duty and obligation to make their data, methods and results available to the public. In this day and age there is no excuse for doing otherwise.

    Even when the agency they work for prevents them from doing so? Military-related research is kept secret, despite being publicly-funded. In the case of meteorological data, national met agencies often make their data sets proprietary. You’re saying a publicly funded scientist should publish data even if her employer says “we own this data and no, you can’t publish it”?

    You state a fine principal, but in practice, scientists are often forbidden from doing so. It’s not necessarily their decision to make.

  31. 81
    dhogaza says:

    Dr. James Randerson:

    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.

    With all due respect, the fact that the stolen emails “do not include a response from Jones” should’ve raised a very large red flag at the Guardian. It’s *known* that the emails that have been released are a small subset of the total. While it’s not *known* that they were excised in order to maximize the appearance of malfeasance on the part of the scientists involved, it’s a very safe bet that they were. Treating this one-sided, edited for effect, e-mail conversation as being a truthful representation of what was being said is irresponsible. You’ve been played, and apparently you think it’s just fine.

  32. 82
    Sara Chan says:

    For the Chinese weather stations (Jones et al. 1990), an interesting source is Keenan’s paper:

    What do you think about this?

    [Response: That it’s unlikely to be worth spending any time on. You?–Jim]

  33. 83
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “These are the real questions here.”

    And all of those “Why?” questions have one simple answer:

    Because ExxonMobil alone rakes in more than 100 MILLION DOLLARS PER DAY IN PROFIT from the sale of fossil fuels. And the fossil fuel industry as a whole stands to make TRILLIONS of dollars in profit from continued business-as-usual consumption of their products.

    Do the people who run those corporations care whether millions of poor people in Bangladesh become refugees from sea level rise? Or whether millions more poor people perish from lack of fresh water and crop failures?

    No. They don’t care.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “And the press is not covering them.”

    “The press” is not covering the fossil fuel industry’s campaign of deceit, denial, obstruction and delay because “the press” is an active participant in that campaign.

  34. 84
    Hank Roberts says:

    > disputes several aspects of the account given above.

    Well, that’s weak tea.

    “Mr. Pearce’s account … repeats unfounded allegations that I engaged in dubious professional conduct.”

    That should be easy to check. Was Pearce right or wrong? The Guardian should be able to figure this out and say if there’s any foundation.

    “Mr. Pearce provides links to these allegations, but not to my published responses.”

    And online you can’t claim there wasn’t space between the ads to fit that in, can you?

    Just look at the spin being made out of these things.

    Posting — belatedly — that Santer disputed *elsewhere* the allegations isn’t the same thing as either checking the facts or stating the facts of the disagreement.

    Look again at that US News and World Report link above, please.
    You can’t offer ambiguity and claim to be informing people who fall for crap so easily.

    Simplify, clarify, spell it out, spit it out, tell us trustworthy info.

  35. 85
    Jaime Frontero says:

    Frank Giger @ 50:

    “…or did y’all think the Pentagon Papers came from the White House briefing room?”

    Ummm… yes?

    They weren’t stolen (as the earlier part of your quoted paragraph implies). They were *leaked*. And – to those of us who still care – that information rightfully belonged in the public eye. We *did* pay for it, you know.

    The truth is, of course, that the basic politics behind most deniers is that leftover from the sixties. It’ll be the dirty hippies/tree-huggers vs. Nixon until we’re all dead.

    Politics is money – and the money says you should smoke because it won’t hurt you, Thalidomide is OK for morning-sickness, DDT is a sovereign remedy for problems in the food chain, and a little Agent Orange or depleted uranium never hurt anybody.

    Oh – and that civilization is impossible without burning oil.

    *sigh* Here Gavin: I’ll start you out: [edit:…

    Why don’t we stick with the science?

  36. 86
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Dr. Randerson has invested a lot of time and effort in this posting. I could wish he’d avoided the need by instead slicing away the turgid dramatic interpretations Pearce wove into his narratives before they were published. Dr. Randerson’s title is after all that of “Editor.”

    The heavy freight of reader direction– suggestions so strong as to be overwhelm facts– larded onto the Chinese temperature business ended my reliance on Pearce’s work as a quick means to come up to speed on a given topic. I don’t want to waste my time doing my own fact-checking or attempting to winnow information from opinion when I’m supposedly reading straight reporting. I no longer read Pearce’s stories at New Scientist and he now gets my last, extra minutes if they’re available when I read the Guardian.

  37. 87
    Completely Fed Up says:

    ge0050 says:
    25 March 2010 at 10:14 AM

    All publicly funded scientists have a duty and obligation to make their data, methods and results available to the public.”


    So the Chinese government who you pay NOTHING TOWARD should take THEIR CITIZEN’S taxpaid work and let YOU have it for buck-shee???


  38. 88

    Oxford Kevin (39): …it did however highlight some real issues that need to be discussed.

    BPL: WHAT “real issues?” Specifically? Care to cite one?

  39. 89

    Frank Giger (150)…

    Hey, Frank, do I have to remind you that in Watergate, it was the people who perpetrated the BREAK-IN who went to jail? Not the Democratic National Committee?

    [no more on Watergate, Pentagon Papers etc–thanks]

  40. 90

    AC (74),

    I’ll gladly support a bill legalizing prostitution…
    [edit–absolutely no more on this or other severely stray topics. thanks. Jim]

  41. 91
    Brian Dodge says:

    By “analyzing” the stolen e-mails, the Guardian has legitimized hacking, theft, and the other malicious tactics that the right uses in its attacks on science. Since the rules for what passes for political discourse have been loosened, if not dropped entirely (look at the death threats, violence escalating from spitting to brick throwing and attempted arson directed at politicians families[cut propane line at his brothers house]following the US health care vote), those of us who are fighting for the truth have an ugly choice; try to win the argument with one hand tied behind our backs by remaining civil and polite, or getting down in the mud [edit]

  42. 92
    Ray Ladbury says:

    James Randerson,
    We are not reading different papers–mainly because I won’t be reading the Guardian any more. And while I will listen to the BBC, the radio goes off when they start to talk about science.

    The basic problem is that when you are looking at a dispute between scientists and professional liars, the truth is not to be found “in the middle”. You are too smart a man not to realize that. I can only assume that cowardice is an editorial policy.

  43. 93
    paulina says:

    Thanks for reply in comment 70 re Mitch Golden’s question. Hadn’t seen that when I posted Q in 78 above.

    Follow-up question for James Randerson, just for clarification:

    How far along is the Guardian in the correction process, generally speaking? Can we expect additional corrections shortly, or should all corrections, based on notifications received up to this point, already have been made?


  44. 94
    oakwood says:

    Would you believe it. Even the Science Museum of London is ‘going native’. IE, presenting a so-called ‘balanced’ view of climate science. Oh dear.

    What is happening? I think Real Climate should tackle this one as well.

  45. 95
    Tom S says:

    Dr. Santer,

    When are you going to get it through your head that McIntyre wants all YOUR original data and YOUR original programming source, so he can check YOUR calculations to see if there any ERRORS that YOU made. He does not want to independently recreate your work. Yes, he is trying to find errors in your work. Yes, he is suspicious about the mathematical techniques, particularly the statistics, used in climate science.

    [Response: Right, in other words he has no intention of improving the science, but rather of tearing it down by tearing down individuals for his peanut gallery. This was patently obvious with his attacks on Keith Briffa last year.]

    He’s not the anti-Christ.

    [Response: He does have a way of getting people to yell “Christ Almighty” so you’re probably right there.–Jim]

    [edit–take your diatribes elsewhere if you can’t discuss the science or the issues raised in a civil manner.]

  46. 96
    jo abbess says:

    @JamesRanderson, @DavidAdam

    James, you say your science discipline is evolutionary genetics and David Adam’s is chemical engineering. These are both young sciences, as is the Science of Climate Change.

    All science has “sticking points”, where, somewhere along their developmental evolution, people disagree strongly about some point or other.

    The Climate Change sceptics would like to keep the “debate” back at a sticking point that occurred in the late 1970’s – when it could not be shown, with any degree of certainty, one way or the other, that Anthropogenic Global Warming was in progress.

    To draw a parallel with the science of evolutionary genetics, it would be like continuing to rehash and rehash and restate the “argument” about whether there is in fact any kind of inheritance through the process of reproduction. Or that there is any probability of subtle but accruing alterations in a species going down the generations.

    It would be a throwback argument to several thousand years ago for the first case; or several hundred years for the second. Of course every creature is made by God, personally, so the fact the children look like their parents is purely accidental. And no, the species cannot mutate, for each kind of creature shall remain immutable.

    In chemical engineering, the sticking point that would make most sense as similar would be to go back to sometime in the Middle Ages and the dispute about how to turn base metals into gold. Of course it must be possible to do it with some kind of chemistry, we just don’t know how, yet.

    By drawing these parallels, can you possibly see how frustrated Climate Change Scientists might be by having to continually face a barrage of claimants that there is no evidence of Global Warming and that there is no proof of Climate Change ? And how difficult it must be to face social challenges that Climate Change Scientists are “obviously manipulating the data”, “hiding the truth”, Scientists behaving badly ?

    The fact is, Science has moved on from whether or not the Earth is warming up. It is. And we are mostly to blame. And all Media reports should reflect that basic truth, or the relevant journalists should be barred from writing about Climate Change Science in my view.

    And the Climate is definitely changing, in clear and also subtle ways. Anybody writing about Environment for newspapers, or speaking on TV or radio, who disputes this should be sent on a training course in the Science of Climate Change in my opinion.

    It’s not easy to write about Climate Change Science, and having a background in evolutionary genetics or chemical engineering does not guarantee that either James Randerson or David Adam get it right on every occasion. For example, the interpretative problems with just this one article were enough to make me reach for my web log :-

    It conveys inaccuracies that are simply too annoying to catalogue here. And anyway, I don’t need to – Joe Romm has already been at it :-

    For anyone who has any kind of learning in Climate Change Science, to read the news is a constant struggle with disappointment and annoyance. We simply do not have time to respond in full to all the awful stuff out there.

    We hit the wall-of-dismissiveness when we try to approach journalists with corrections. We hit the who-are-you narrative when we try to point out research that categorically refutes various bad articles.

    There is a giant disconnect here between the reality of the Science and the inability of journalists to convey it to the wider public.

    This is the reason that people disbelieve the Science and why, from my analysis of the matter, Steve McIntyre finds it so easy to infect everybody with tales of malpractice and errors-in-the-research.

    He is spinning spin and casting invented blame, it seems to me, no matter how rational he wants to appear. He wants to stop the progress of Climate Change Science, in my opinion, and this should be recognised. He really should have the door shut on him more often, in my view.

    For Climate’s sake, wake up and look at the charts ! The data that gets issued monthly by the major agencies, where they take great pains to express things clearly, make the situation very, very clear.

    The reams and reams of data and reports that the IPCC wade through show clearly the scale and reach of changes we only thought possible, happening faster than we feared, and more aggressively than we modelled.

    This is not the time for teasing apart whether somebody may or may not have done something a bit untoward in their research process, or had problems dealing with Freedom of Information requests.

    This is the time for opening a broad channel for the communication of Science.

  47. 97
    dhogaza says:

    “…or did y’all think the Pentagon Papers came from the White House briefing room?”

    You [gavin I assume] asked for no more but … there’s a simple point to be made: Daniel Ellsberg was tried on federal charges and fully expected to go to prison for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Those who stole the CRU e-mails should stand trial, too.

    I will say no more.

  48. 98
    pete best says:

    Oh come now, its the reason why RC exists, because all media outlets can get it not only wrong but hype up the treat as well in order to sell the problem. Science is not comfortable with this type of analysis but humans need politics where the message is clear.

  49. 99
    Rod B says:

    Jaime Frontero (85), this has little to do with anything relevant, of course, but all you say about the Pentagon Papers is incorrect. Then you pit the tree huggers against Nixon, the originator of the EPA. Then it just gets worse.

  50. 100
    Gerry Quinn says:

    In #59 and elsewhere, Jack Maloney is rebuked for his observation:

    “Jack Maloney: “Do scientists “normally” discuss ways to “hide” data that might call their proxies into question?”


    But that isn’t what the message that had that “hide” in it means.”

    Of course, that’s exactly what it means! Phil Jones chopped the tail off a tree-ring proxy temperature data series and replaced it with instrumental data, because the proxy data indicated a recent decline in temperatures. Had he used the original data, anyone looking at the graph would have seen that the recent proxy data gave incorrect temperatures, and would inevitably have questioned whether it was wrong at other times also.