“Newspapers Retract ‘Climategate’ Claims, but Damage Still Done,” reads the headline in Newsweek this weekend, in a column over the latest controversy in the global warming debate. The headline, and the article beneath it, are so inaccurate that Newsweek should retract them.
For starters, no newspaper that the column describes retracted any claims about Climategate, the scandal that hit the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last November when private emails showed, among other things, that all of the IPCC’s temperature data was suspect. The newspaper retractions – all two of them, by the UK’s Sunday Times and a much earlier change of heart by a small German daily — dealt with Amazongate, one of the many scandals that followed Climategate.
Next, the Newsweek column states that “In perhaps the biggest backpedaling, The Sunday Times of London, which led the media pack in charging that IPCC reports were full of egregious (and probably intentional) errors, retracted its central claim—namely, that the IPCC statement that up to 40% of the Amazonian rainforest could be vulnerable to climate change was ‘unsubstantiated.’ … The Times‘s criticism of the IPCC—look, its reports are full of mistakes and shoddy scholarship!—was widely picked up at the time it ran, and has been an important factor in turning British public opinion sharply against the established science of climate change.”
The Times article was hardly pivotal in turning British public opinion against the climate alarmists. For one thing, public opinion had turned against climate alarmism months earlier, even well before Climategate, so much so that the British government took out paid TV ads in 2009 in an explicit attempt to win back public opinion. For another, the retracted Times article did little to publicize Amazongate – by the time the Sunday Times article appeared, Amazongate was old news, having been covered by hundreds if not thousands of media outlets around the world. Here’s the timeline.
On January 25, the British blog site, EUReferendum broke the Amazongate story. The press coverage began the same day, with a London Telegraph headline announcing “After Climategate, Pachaurigate and Glaciergate: Amazongate.” Between then and January 31, when the Sunday Times article appeared in print, Amazongate became firmly established as an another example among many of shoddy, error-filled scientific work by the IPCC. None of the other articles published in that week have seen a need to retract. Even the Sunday Times’ retraction came only after months of litigation, indicating that some felt there was no need to retract. The basic thrust of the Amazongate stories remains valid, even if one of the many media outlets that covered Amazongate decided it had stepped over the line in its presentation of the story.
One thing the Newsweek column got right. The damage to the reputation of the IPCC has been done.
Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, June 29, 2010