Lost amid the clamor of the "Climategate" debate was the fact that few commentators had actually read the 1,000-plus University of East Anglia e-mails leaked online. Now German magazine Der Spiegel has conducted an exhaustive study of the mass of leaked information in a search for "in-depth insight into the mechanisms, fronts and battles within the climate-research community."
Far from providing evidence of a conspiracy, the magazine reports, the e-mails reveal a "bitter and far-reaching trench war" among climate scientists over their complex findings. Caught between a powerful "skeptics lobby" of industrialists who wanted to play down the risks of global warming and a media desperate for doom-mongering predictions, the scientists fought with each other over how to present their evidence — and cover up discrepancies. Here's an excerpt:
"A dangerous dynamic had been set in motion: Any climate researcher who expressed doubts about findings risked playing into the hands of the industrial lobby. The leaked e-mails show how leading scientists reacted to the PR barrage by the so-called 'skeptics lobby.' Out of fear that their opponents could take advantage of ambiguous findings, many researchers tried to simply hide the weaknesses of their findings from the public.
"...Sociologists have [also] identified 'one-up debates' in the media in which darker and darker pictures were painted of the possible consequences of global warming. 'Many journalists don't want to hear about uncertainty in the research findings,' Max Planck Institute researcher Martin Claussen complains.
"...Climatological findings will probably remain ambiguous even if further progress is made. [Science sociologist Peter] Weingart says it's now up to scientists and society to learn to come to terms with this. In particular, he warns, politicians must understand that there is no such thing as clear results. 'Politicians should stop listening to scientists who promise simple answers,' Weingart says."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How I dug myself out of debt — and stayed that way
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- The impossible promise at the heart of Scotland's campaign for independence
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Your 2-year-old doesn't need to go to school
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
Subscribe to the Week