Rush Limbaugh, ClimateGate, and Being Certain You're Right

By Chris Mooney | June 13, 2011 11:17 am

My latest DeSmogBlog post is about Rush Limbaugh’s stunning recent exchange–blogged about also below–with New Hampshire resident Michael Hillinger over the reality of global warming. I just couldn’t get over it–Rush is so incredibly sure of himself, and his apparent basis for being sure of himself (“ClimateGate”) is such a flimsy basis…that the whole thing, to my mind, needed to be explained. So I bring up the concept of “seizing and freezing”:

Remember what things were like before [ClimateGate] happened. We were coming off 2007, when Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize. We’d just elected President Obama, who was backing cap-and-trade legislation and a Copenhagen deal. The science—and the policy—of global warming had all the momentum behind them. If you didn’t believe that the problem was real and needed to be addressed, you were in a pretty difficult position.

ClimateGate was a true blessing in this regard for climate skeptics and deniers. It furnished a brand new excuse to dismiss it all. It was all a scam! Now of course, I am well aware that the evidence about what happened in “ClimateGate” doesn’t actually support this—that the scientists involved were vindicated, and so forth–but that’s still how ClimateGate was interpreted by many…including, it seems, Limbaugh.

So “ClimateGate” was seized upon—and then, to borrow a term from psychology, after “seizing” “freezing” may have occurred for some. Minds were made up, and no new evidence was admissible—because “ClimateGate” proved it was all a hoax. Thus, whenever global warming comes up, we now hear “ClimateGate” cited endlessly, as a way of shutting down further consideration–as a vindication, even. And it’s completely baffling, if you know (as we all do) that the science of climate is as strong as it ever was, the issue didn’t go away, and “ClimateGate” doesn’t really have any substantive significance.

You can read the full post here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Comments (21)

  1. Messier Tidy Upper

    Good post, sadly true. :-(

  2. Esme Krofft

    Is “Global Warming,” er, “Climate Change” the incessant cold wet misery of Montana and the Missouri River, or the incessant hot dry misery of west Texas and Arizona? Two, two, two apocalypses in one!

    There was no acid rain until alkaline fly ash was removed from coal-burning power plant smoke stacks “to save the environment.” What is the effect upon weather of removing hundreds of gigawatts of energy from the wind worlwide as projected 260,000 GWh/yr of of “renewable energy?” (Global Wind Energy Council). Hydroelectrify the Bay of Fundy 10 GWe with a 0.92 Gibrat ratio and watch what happens to Maine coasts… all in the name of Enviro-whiner propinquity.

  3. Nullius in Verba

    “If I’m right, what it all suggests is that at least until there is some dramatic new event that upends the climate discussion, “ClimateGate” will continue to be cited as the reason that there’s no reason to think further about global warming.”

    Until there is an investigation that actually addresses the issues raised by Climategate, instead of carefully avoiding them by not asking or answering questions, or pretending there’s nothing seriously wrong, Climategate will continue to be cited.

    You can draw a line under Climategate any time you like. Just investigate it properly. But because you can’t, or won’t, further action on global warming will continue to be a political dead issue – which suits us. It’s up to you.

  4. Paul Gregory

    Climategate has been investigated multiple times and the methods used by Dr. Mann have been shown to be valid for arriving at his conclusion that human activity is causing the climate to change.
    Just because the media at large spent less time covering this less sensational news does detract from the findings that the methods and results of Dr. Mann are valid.

  5. Dan

    Richard Muller from Berkeley, disagrees with Mr. Mooney’s assessment of Climategate.

    There’s nothing to vindicate. When they didn’t like their data, they erased it and replaced it with data more to their liking.


  6. Jack

    Oh dear, Dan. Dr. Muller had to eat his own words a couple months later after his BEST group of scientists that he brought together actually came to the conclusion that the temp data was pretty good. Here’s the update on your video and don’t forget to watch Muller, himself, admit to Global Warming toward the end of the video. BTW… have you seen what’s going on in the Arctic? It’s pretty scarry.

  7. AL

    Guess this article was written for people just like Dan, but *woosh*!

  8. GregM

    Actually, support for climate change science and legislation declined before “climategate”. The stolen emails appeared in late November 2009. In mid October 2009, Pew foundation reported a significant decline in the acceptance of the scientific consensus among both Demos, Repubs and Independents.

    On a percentage basis, the biggest declines seem to be in the ideological middle: among liberal/moderate Republicans, Independents and Conservative Democrats.

    In October 2010, a Pew Poll found little change over the previous year, which included the release of the stolen emails.

    Climategate may be used as a convenient rationalization, I think a different explanation is needed for the shift in opinion. I suspect that the 2008 financial collapse and recession affected people’s trust in experts, and changed their priorities. If I remember correctly, 2008 and 2009 were also relatively mild summers and cold winters.

  9. GregM

    These national average temperatures are consistent with my recollection of 2008-09 being relatively mild years, i.e., near the long term average after several years of above average:

    I wonder if anyone has developed a population weighted average temperature…the temperature that reflects the average as experienced by the population. The spatial averages give equal weight to both populated and unpopulated areas. I think there might be some value to reporting average temperature weighted by population density of different areas.

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    @3. Nullius in Verba :

    Have you seen these clips :

    (Part I of III)


    on Youtube by Peter “greenman3610” Sinclair yet?

    Or this one :

    By Potholer54?

    They do a pretty good job of entertainingly debunking the whole “Climategate” dead horse.

    If you think these clips and the 98% of climate scientists who have spent their whole careers working on the issue of Human-Caused Global Overheating are wrong then please give everyone some reasons & real evidence – for *why* you think that to be the case.

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    Question Chris – do comments here automatically go into moderation or something? Just tried to reply to #3. Nullius in Verba including some (3) links to youtube series debunking the whole “climategate “dead horse and my comment vanished and didn’t turn up as I’d expecte dit to based on the Bad Astronomy blog system. Is something wrong or is your commenting system different?

  12. elbapo

    Being from the UK, where all political parties are now signatories to the AGW thesis, I find the Right/left dichotomy of the american climate science debate intriguing. That is not to say the right/left divide over the issue is not evident here in terms of individual viewpoints, or media – but it is not so coloured in along party and, even tribalist lines. Which is a bit of a paradox, because in some ways haveing healthy opposition on such issues within government should be healthy. However in some ways having no party which espouses climate scepticism allows more fluidity of debate across the political spectrum. I am, for the record, a socialist academic – but i remain unconvinced by the AGW thesis which cannot, in my view, ever be separated from political aganda which has always driven it from either side.

  13. Tom Scharf

    @12. elbapo

    Two words: Al Gore

  14. Nullius in Verba


    I’m familiar with the arguments, and have answers for all of them. I’m unsure yet how much I should say about that now, though. You may have to be patient.

    But it may be useful saying that many of those points have been raised and answered in conversations I’ve had here before. And videos make it difficult to comment – a transcript would be better/easier to discuss.

  15. Moderate Republican

    Nullius in Verba Says aJune 15th, 2011 at 1:18 am

    “I’m familiar with the arguments, and have answers for all of them.”

    Oh really. You can successfully argue against basic physics and chemistry without the standard denier strawman, cherry picking of quotes and fallacy of incomplete evidence.

    By all means then.

  16. TTT

    Climategate may be used as a convenient rationalization, I think a different explanation is needed for the shift in opinion. I suspect that the 2008 financial collapse and recession affected people’s trust in experts, and changed their priorities.

    ^This, very much. The “Final Nail” crowd went so over the top on the frivolous thoughtcrime-based nothingness that was Climategate that they not only are immune to all factual refutations of it, they are constitutionally incapable of comprehending that another person would not care about it.

    American support for environmental initiatives has always been tail-wagged by the economy. When times are bad, the average person can’t afford to spend on more abstract issues and won’t even concentrate on them as much. This is very basic consistent human nature.

  17. Nullius in Verba

    “Oh really. You can successfully argue against basic physics and chemistry without the standard denier strawman, cherry picking of quotes and fallacy of incomplete evidence.”

    I don’t argue against basic physics or chemistry.

  18. koolaid a.k.a. Climategate offers context to the public statements and assertions of Doctors Jones, Mann and others.

    The zip file clearly shows that there are inconsistencies relating to their official opinions and that of their ‘secret’ communications.

    Until those incongruities are vetted (which none of the four inquiries addressed) the issues of
    scientific integrity will continue to haunt the subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

  19. Dan

    Jack and Al,

    Thanks for your response. I can understand both the original video and the video Jack posted. I don’t think Muller is a climate change “denier” per se. I don’t think he debates that the earth is warming. His issue is with the methodology. Now, just because he later says “yes, the earth is warming” doesn’t mean that his problems with the CRU are somehow invalid. He was measuring temperature.

    I watched that video, and can’t seem to find an answer to my main issue, which is, it’s nice that we have accurate temperature datasets that agree with each other, but what’s to account for the spikes and troughs? As a layman, I’m being told that each ice measurement, or tree ring, or whatehaveyou correlates to a specific temperature. And I wonder why, if I’m supposed to interpret small changes as a huge problem, do huge disparities in what temperature it was “supposed” to be, occur all over the chart.

    It’s nice that each dataset says it’s warming. But why do different sources have wildly divergent temperature results on a year to year basis?

  20. koolaid

    It appears that Proxy temperature records (ice core, sediment, tree ring, etc.) are estimated to within a couple of degrees and then adjusted to reflect changes calculated within a tenth of a degree, and sometimes to the second decimal point, over a period of decades.

    It would seem that the margin for error (or whatever phrase one cares to employ) is far greater than the calculated variability thus resulting in such ‘huge disparities’.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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