Accuracy in Media

CNN.com finally posted an article about the most recent global warming scandal: the emails that show global warming “experts” collaborating to falsify information and keep dissenting views from the public.  The emails surfaced days ago, but this is the first article CNN has posted online regarding the scandal.  Apparently, CNN has still not seen fit to assign its own reporters to the story; the article was carried from Wired Science.  And rather than report the straight facts, the article focuses mainly on the researchers’ complaint: that emails were taken “out of context.”

“Global warming skeptics are seizing on portions of the messages as evidence that scientists are colluding and warping data to fit the theory of global warming, but researchers say the e-mails are being taken out of context and just show scientists engaged in frank discussion,” Wired writer Kim Zetter writes, backhandedly discrediting the “skeptics” who have taken the time to point out the scientists’ “frank discussions” of how to prevent dissent from surfacing. 

The article focuses heavily on researchers whose reputations are at stake: Zetter exclusively interviews the scientific fraudsters at the exclusion of their detractors.  Zetter includes remarks from Gavin Schmidt, a researcher with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  According to Schmidt, the questionable remarks from other researchers are “just scientists talking about science, and they’re talking relatively openly as people in private e-mails generally are freer with their thoughts than they would be in a public forum. The few quotes that are being pulled out [are out] of context. People are using language used in science and interpreting it in a completely different way.”

The article even ends with a sad little quotation from Kevin Trenberth, a climate “scientist” who admitted in the emails, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can’t.”  Zetter concludes her article:

“If you read all of these e-mails, you will be surprised at the integrity of these scientists,” [Trenberth] says. “The unfortunate thing about this is that people can cherry pick and take things out of context.”

On the one hand, Zetter, Trenberth, and Schmidt are all correct: context is necessary in any situation.  Certainly, people can take quotations out of context in any instance and that is problematic.

However, here the context is clear: whatever these “researchers” wrote to one other was in the context of a private email that they assumed would never go public. 

When Phil Jones of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia admitted in the emails that he had used a “trick” of falsifying the data to get the results he wanted, the context was clear: Jones was writing privately to someone who agreed with the concept of promoting fake data for personal gain.

When Jones emailed Michael Mann of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and told him to delete information that could be requested via the Freedom of Information Act, the context was clear: Jones was writing to a trusted colleague with an illicit request that he hoped would never be found out.

When Kevin Trenberth wrote to his correspondent about how he couldn’t prove any warming, the context was clear: Trenberth was confiding a dismaying secret to a sympathetic listener.

What more context do we need?  The context is: some unscrupulous scientists sent some private emails to each other as they worked together to falsify data and squelch dissenting opinions—and then those private emails went public.  That’s the context here.  Some “scientists” in question claim that certain incriminating words—like “trick”—mean something different in scientific jargon and that once again, the terms are taken out of context, but the truth is, the context is all right here.  We have all the context we need, and some people are guilty.

 




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