New Scientist has just published my review of the first book on “ClimateGate”–Fred Pearce’s The Climate Files. It’s based on a series of 12 investigative reports by Pearce in the Guardian, and, well, I have to say I had real problems with it (just as the RealClimate guys had problems with those reports).
[Pearce] takes a “pox on both houses” approach to the scientists who wrote the emails and the climate sceptics who hounded them endlessly – and finally came away with a massive PR victory. But that’s far too “balanced” an account.
In truth, climategate was a pseudo-scandal, and the worst that can be said of the scientists is that they wrote some ill-advised things. “I’ve written some pretty awful emails,” admitted Phil Jones, director of the CRU at the time….
So why did ClimateGate get to be such a big deal?
Because [the emails] were taken out of context and made to appear scandalous. Pearce repeatedly faults the sceptics for such behaviour. Yet he too makes the scientists’ private emails the centrepiece of the story. Pearce’s investigations don’t show any great “smoking gun” offences by the scientists – yet he still finds fault. And who wouldn’t, when they can read their private comments in the heat of the battle? (I can’t help but wonder what Pearce might think if he had the sceptics’ private emails too.)
Like Pearce, I’m a climate journalist. We both know this ground; but boy do we see the ClimateGate story differently. I certainly think it’s important to cover it. But I don’t think the way to do so is to follow the scientists’ private emails down the rabbit hole, and thereby end up dignifying complaints that have been repeatedly found unsubstantiated upon investigation.
Rather, I think there’s a very different story here, one about science and the media, science and the blogosphere–and how weak claims get trumped up into a mega-scandal, even as scientists themselves don’t know how to respond…they’ve never been trained for this. Pearce gets this, too, but it isn’t the main story he tells. He’s in “investigative” mode, but I just don’t know that there’s much of anything to investigate.
Granted, I have a lot of respect for Pearce’s work and knowledge. And, I know how hard it is to write a book. Still, I really, really disagreed with this one. There’s no other way to say it.
Anyways, you can read the full review here.