Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Climate of Silence

Remember "Climategate"? This was the furore whipped up over the emails - thousands of them published via a Russian website - from scientists of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia that then derailed Copenhagen last November. This was puported to clearly demonstrate the nefarious and sinister machinations of the many scientists involved designed to foist a scientific fraud upon a credulous world.

Typically the usual red-faced spruikers and urgers of the commentariat of the right launched into feverish denunciation of the science and, more so, the scientists involved. Professional reputations (of the scientists) mattered little to this crew. As Emeritus Professor Rodney Tiffen writes in today's SMH:
The echo chamber of columnists reverberated with angry and accusatory claims. In Australia, Piers Akerman said: ''The tsunami of leaked emails ... reveal a culture of fraud, manipulation, deceit and personal vindictiveness to rival anything in a John le Carre or John Grisham thriller.'' Later he wrote: ''The crowd that gathered in Copenhagen were there pushing a fraud.''

Andrew Bolt thought that ''what they reveal is perhaps the greatest scientific scandal'' of our time. ''Emails leaked on the weekend show there is indeed a conspiracy to deceive the world - and Mr Rudd has fallen for it.''

Miranda Devine wrote: ''We see clearly the rotten heart of the propaganda machine that has driven the world to the brink of insanity.''

It transpires that three inquirires were set up to investigate the supposed fraud perpetrated by the scientists: a British House of Commons select committee, a science assessment panel within the Royal Society and one by the University itself. The first reported that the unit's scientific reputation and that of its its head , Professor Phil Jones, remained intact. The second, as Tiffen notes, found ''absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever'' and that ''whatever was said in the emails, the basic science seems to have been done fairly and properly''. The third ''we find that the rigour and honesty [of the scientists] as scientists are not in doubt''. Importantly, it concluded: ''We did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.''

Tiffen muses that "you might imagine the media would be keen to report on authoritative conclusions about allegations it had found so newsworthy in December". Not on your nelly. That would necessitate that the Bolts, Ackermans and Devines of this world posessed the journalistic rigour to acknowledge exaggeration and hyperbole in the pursuit of a political point if not a politician. Never mind the reputations of those traduced.

It matters little what one thinks of the merits of the climate change debate on one side or the other. As Tiffen notes:
Rarely has such an edifice of sweeping accusation and extravagant invective been constructed on such a slender factual basis. Rarely does it do such damage.
It appears Emeritus Professor Tiffen is only recently acquainted with the "style" of these "journalists".