Climategate Coverage: Unfair & Unbalanced
Around November 19, 2009, stolen emails and computer code from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were uploaded to a publicly accessible Russian Web server. The controversy went viral and was dubbed Climategate. Climategate was an obvious attempt to subvert the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen a few weeks later and I blogged on the CRU Hack on November 24 to show why these stolen emails did not undermine the integrity of climate science.
The main targets of the anti-science crowd were Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the CRU, and Dr. Michael Mann of The Pennsylvania State University. These highly respected scientists were accused of hiding data, fudging data, avoiding requests for information, and purposefully blocking peer-reviewed journals from IPCC reviewers. Furthermore, the “big guns” of the climate change denialosphere such as Marc Morano of Climate Depot, Anthony Watts of WattsUpWithThat, and conservative “think tanks” such as Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and Competitive Enterprise Institute, among others, attempted to spin these emails as somehow proving that there was a massive international conspiracy to promote global warming.
There have been several investigations into the allegations of misconduct by Drs. Jones and Mann and every one has shown that the allegations were baseless. Dr. Michael Mann was exonerated on February 3, 2010 after an exhaustive investigation. Dr. Jones has been exonerated by the UK Parliament (March 31, 2010) and also exonerated by The University of East Anglia (April 14, 2010).
Did these exonerations receive the same coverage as the groundless accusations?
Not even close.
I used Google to search the Web for the following phrases:
“phil jones” climatic research unit
“michael mann” climatic research unit
For each search I used two filters. 1) Web hits in the first two weeks after the Climategate story broke (11/19/09 – 12/03/09) and 2) Web hits in the first two weeks after Dr. Jones’ exoneration (03/31/2010 to 04/14/2010) and the first two weeks after Dr. Mann’s exoneration (02/03/2010 to 02/17/2010). It should be noted that using the term climate research unit instead of climatic research unit (a common mistake) did not alter the results significantly. The results appear below:
Dr. Phil Jones accused of wrongdoing resulted in 64,700 hits in the first two weeks after the story broke.
Dr. Michael Mann accused of wrongdoing resulted in 39,000 hits in the first two weeks after the story broke.
When Dr. Jones was exonerated there were only 22,700 hits in the first two weeks after exoneration.
When Dr. Mann was exonerated there were only 17,700 hits in the first two weeks after exoneration.
Web coverage: Unfair & Unbalanced
News Organizations Coverage:
Well, the Web is fast and loose with the truth so let us take a look at how news organizations reported. I used Google News to do the search. Google News is a computer-generated news site that aggregates headlines from news sources worldwide. Google News archives only allow a monthly filter. Climategate broke on November 19, 2009 so I filtered the search to include just November 2009 (11 days) and December 2009. Because Dr. Mann was exonerated in early February, February 2010 was used as the filter. Dr. Jones first and most important exoneration was released on March 31, 2010 so I included April 2010 in the filter and the seven news stories from March 31, 2010 that appeared in the March 2010 list. The results appear below:
Dr. Phil Jones accused of wrongdoing resulted in 263 headlines in the first 42 days after the story broke.
Dr. Michael Mann accused of wrongdoing resulted in 143 headlines in the first 42 days after the story broke.
When Dr. Jones was exonerated there were only 24 headlines in the first 19 days after exoneration.
When Dr. Mann was exonerated there were only 27 headlines in the first 25 days after exoneration.
News coverage: Very Unfair & Very Unbalanced
Climate Bad Guys vs. Climate Bad Guys:
Wow! The news organizations really dropped the ball on being fair! Perhaps because accusations are much sexier than exonerations they paid more attention to the story when scientists were the bad guys instead of the good guys. After all, who doesn’t slow down to see a traffic accident but do you ever slow down to see somebody fixing a flat tire on the side of the road? Me neither. What we need is a climate bad guy story vs. another climate bad guy story. Climategate is one bad guy story and Koch Industries is another bad guy story.
According to an exhaustive Greenpeace investigation:
Koch Industries, one of the largest private corporations in the US, has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition. This private, out-of-sight corporation is now a partner to ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and other donors that support organizations and front-groups opposing progressive clean energy and climate policy. In fact, Koch has out-spent ExxonMobil in funding these groups in recent years. From 2005 to 2008, ExxonMobil spent $8.9 million while the Koch Industries-controlled foundations contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations of the ‘climate denial machine’. This report focuses on activities by Koch Industries and its affiliates, as well as the family—and company—controlled foundations which fund organizations that spread inaccurate and misleading information about climate science and clean energy policies.
So, how did the Web and the news organizations cover these stories? Remember that Climategate was MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and Koch Industries has been CAUGHT RED-HANDED doling out money to groups that are LYING ABOUT A COMING INTERNATIONAL CRISIS! Surely, there should be more coverage of a REAL CRIME (Koch) vs. a FAKE CRIME (Jones & Mann).
I ran a Google Web search using the same time filters as above (11/19/09 – 12/03/09) for the term koch industries greenpeace
The results appear below:
I then ran a Google News search using the same time filters described in the News Organizations Coverage section above. The results appear below:
News coverage: Very Unfair & Very Unbalanced