This simple three-word phrase is almost impossible to say because it changes everything. It is easiest for a child to say it — after all, a child isn’t expected to be right about things. But the higher you climb through life, the more difficult it becomes to admit being wrong. It would be devastating for a president of the United States to say it: “I was wrong.” And it may be about as difficult for an established, respected scientist who does research at an institution funded by millions of tax dollars.
That is why I don’t expect any of the scientists caught by the Climategate leak to admit “I was wrong” anytime soon.
Consider the case of Roger Revelle, the “grandfather of global warming.” He didn’t say “I was wrong” during all the years he was heading up the Scripps Institute of Oceanography or the Center for Population Studies at Harvard. He waited until he was in a retirement job back at UC San Diego — a mere professor without any research or grant monies coming in — to admit he was wrong about CO2 being an important greenhouse gas.
But to his credit, he did say it in his final years. I respect that he did clear the air before leaving the scene.
I regret that Al Gore, the IPCC, and the media were no longer listening to him.
The media rarely says it: “We were wrong.” I have worked in newsrooms for 56 years — I have never heard it. On several occasions I have heard “we were misinformed,” “we were misled,” and even “we were duped.” On several occasions I have heard “we must correct this item” — but even on these rare occasions there is great reluctance.
It would take a monumental event to force the media to say “we were wrong.”
The media claims to be unbiased, but everybody knows that is not true. “Fair and balanced” is a great slogan, but it’s not a reality. I have witnessed that bias at all three of the old-line networks (yes, I did the circuit) and major market network stations. There happens to be less bias and better balance at the small independent station where I work now in my retirement job than anywhere else I have worked. But still, every person in the newsroom — including me — comes to work with personal biases, and as hard as we try to set them aside, they shine through from time to time.
Generally speaking, people who launch media careers are “do-gooders,” wanting to inform the people regarding how to make the world and their communities better places. It comes off, mostly, as a liberal bias. Most news people in the United States voted for Al Gore. They support the United Nations. They want to advance the environmental issues of clean water and clean air, and protect our natural areas.
So when global warming came along, they accepted it immediately, without question, as a major environmental challenge that they needed to tell the public about. They felt they needed to help bring about the changes required to solve the problem.
For years and years — peaking with the Al Gore movie and the UN conference in Bali — every scientific paper about melting ice, the plight of polar bears, the fear of submerged coastlines, and the entire spectrum of far-fetched global warming-related claims and studies was reported with priority and without question. The media felt it was doing great service towards saving the planet. And the bosses knew nothing built ratings better than “the sky is falling.”
The skeptics were regarded as cranks and shills for evil polluters, such as the oil companies. If they got coverage at all, it was negative.
Now comes Climategate. It is out of step with the media agenda. What does the media do now?
“Ignore it,” has been the first answer.
Regard it as an unimportant story. Not nearly as important as Tiger Woods or the couple that crashed a White House party. It is just another hacker, and undoubtedly the work of one of those oil company shills. Yes, ignore it. It will fade away.
The second answer: Write about Climategate’s general unimportance and give the parties involved a platform to dismiss the charges. Various outlets took minor steps to cover the story in a limited, dismissive way.
But the major networks stonewalled.
You must know this about the leaked files: While the emails were damning, the real “meat” was in the computer code leaked. Skeptical climate scientists have already studied it; they find it to be an outrageous manipulation that takes real temperature data and converts them into a warming fairytale. This data form the baseline for the research used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This is huge.
Those who counter this argument by saying there are three other databases, and the two that use surface temperatures agree with this data, need to rethink what they are saying. Think about it. The CRU data is scientifically meaningless, and the scientists at the other centers are in constant contact with the scientists at CRU. There is a strong likelihood that the other databases are similarly without scientific merit.
Meanwhile, I am very impressed with the wide-ranging internet coverage of Climategate. It is mostly of excellent quality. Media news editors, producers, columnists, and opinion/editorial page editors all use the internet for ideas and research. This has been a forcing factor to the media, and as a result a few mainstream outlets have picked up on the internet items. The AP has posted some stories.
But still, the television news channels and networks (except for Fox) have ignored the story as well as they can.
While there will be continuing ramifications throughout science and among the researchers and organizations involved, without significant media coverage Climategate will soon fade away. We skeptics will continue to talk about it, but no one will be listening. Things will quiet down to “normal.”
But there is one possibility that could grow Climategate and demand mainstream coverage. That possibility is my hope. I hope the person who leaked the damning files comes out of the shadows and speaks out about the outrage of what is transpiring — after all, that person had to feel strongly enough about it to perform the leak in the first place. And if that person is an important warming scientist, or is accompanied by a prominent warming scientist, that could break Climategate into the headlines.
If Al Gore, Michael Mann, or Jim Hansen were to say it — “I was wrong” — that would be a major mainstream news development. And the global warming frenzy would be dead.
But I am not holding my breath.