It’s The Blogs Fault? Exactly.

Andy Revkin at the Times has been skating a thin line. He needs to stay pro-global warming to please his editors. He also might get lynched on the Upper West Side if he doesn’t.

At the same time, he does try to be fair. He seems to be a guy who does respect reality, which is often completely missing from many Climate reporters. All too many of them have made a conscious decision to become advocates, and long ago gave up journalism. 

So it’s kind of disappointing that he now thinks blogs are a negative force in all of this.  Once again, those in the ivory tower seek to preserve their privilege. It’s the same thing the MSM has always said: They need to be the gatekeepers, so that bad info does not get out there. But there is more to it this time. There is a more “The rabble are not to be trusted aspect to this. The assumption is that the MSM is always right in their judgments, and critics arising from the general populace are too stupid to count much.  They can’t judge complicated arguments. They are swayed by the turbulence of the blogosphere. There is an enlightened class that can be allowed to discuss things, and a rabble that cannot enter the discussion.

…it’s almost as if the tidal wave of dire pronouncements about the imminent unraveling of the earth’s climate and ecosystems several years ago hit a shore and rebounded in a way that now threatens to inundate the source. More likely, we’re seeing the explosive evolution of  the blogosphere as a disruptive force, linked up the chain to talk radio and pundits and creating an echo chamber in which noise can swamp information.

But I’m afraid in the case of Climategate, information has swamped stonewalling. Information – information that Revkin and others seemed quite willing to suppress – was able to reach the general public. The entire text of the emails was open to the public. We could judge for ourselves. The arguments of scientists who tried to suppress public information seemed to make no sense at all. The emails were private communications that no decent journalist should read? Give me a break. It was all just normal bickering? When they talked about making sure skeptics could not publish? Come on. When they seemed to collude to break the Freedom of Information Laws? “Hide the decline” was an accepted method of doing science? Not when you substitute different, more palatable temperature records when the data goes against you.

Did climategate destroy everything the global warming boys were saying? No. But it called it all into question. Clearly, multiple universities, governmental organizations, and interational bodies were asleep at the switch.

Did the reasonable objections of serious bloggers like McIntyre and the Pielkes get blown out of proportion by the more politically charged blogosphere? Hardly. We had been sold a bill of Climate goods, and the entire ediface has been shown to be shot through with holes. People who claimed the right to spend trillions of dollars were shown to be less than reliable. That is a big deal. The greater blogosphere simply spread the word.

Climategate revealed the true state of the science – it was deeply unsettled. It was in its infancy. Most of it had been done in secret by people who may have gotten groupthink and moved seriously off track. Only the MSM had given it an exalted status, far beyond what it deserved. Why? Because it reinforced the MSM’s political proclivities.

 None of the explanations offered by the global warming boys made sense. It was all “The dog ate my homework” stuff.

Let’s see. If not for the blogs, we would now be sailing serenely forwards into mediocrity, having been assured that climategate meant nothing . Remember Revkin’s first journalistic instinct when climategate was revealed: It was to ignore the content of the emails and focus on catching the “thief” (If thief there was). That was a low point in journalism; it was a blot on the already diminished record of a once-great paper. It was as if Woodward and Bernstein decided to spend their time finding out  whether Deep Throat had broken any laws, and whether they could put him in jail.

But he has redeemed himself since then, by taking the arguments of the skeptics seriously, if they make sense. And the fact is, they usually make sense.

If not for climategate, we would still think the Himalayan glaciers would melt soon, and all of India would die of thirst. We would be saying that half of all African crops were soon going to fail, putting millions of poor people at risk. We would realized that adjustments the global warming boys made to the temperature record had questionable – if not specious – provenance. None of the advancements he celebrates today would have been made at all – and science would have been infinitely worse off:

There are signs that climate research (and the efforts to communicate it) could emerge bruised but intact, and better off in the long run, in the wake of all the various “ Xxxxx-gates” propounded in the climate debate over the last three months. They are preliminary signs, mind you, but they seem significant.

The latest is a proposal to the World Meteorological Organization from Britain’s climate and weather agency, the Met Office, to undertake a new and fully transparent compilation of terrestrial temperature records. You can read the full text here.

And while the leadership of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change initially reacted defensively to assaults over some flaws in its influential 2007 reports, it’s clear that some top authors of the next round of reports, especially  Chris Field of Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution, see the need for substantial changes in how the assessments are done and the reports written. (Ralph J. Cicerone, the atmospheric scientist who is president of the National Academies,  concurred in a recent Science editorial. Bob Watson, the former chairman of the climate panel, has  weighed in, as well.)

Was it just two mistakes in a 3,000 page report? No, it was way more than 2 mistakes. And we had been told that every sentence in the report had been reviewed by 300, or 500 people and so mistakes were impossible. We had been told that governments could take it to the bank. They could not.

Revkin is an honorable man, at heart. He seems conscienscious, willing to do his part to make things right, fair and reasonably objective.  But he’s got a family to feed, and in the shrinking world of the Times, there is a price to be paid for telling the whole truth. I kind of admire him for being as open as he has been. Even mentioning Roger Pielke or Steve McIntyre has a cost in some circles. I know that it had to be hard, and in the enclosed world of Manhattan, it can be stifling. For people who imagine themselves to be tolerant and scientific, there is an amazing amount of rigidly enforced orthodoxy. More so than any other place I have lived, in fact.


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