Krugman and Climategate

by Brian McGraw on March 29, 2011

in Features, Politics

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Paul Krugman, never one to mince words when writing about Republicans,  looks desperately for common ground on two unrelated issues in his latest column. As a result of a blog post (among other pieces) written by a Professor William Cronon of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin State Republican Party has requested copies of all communication that Cronon has made using his University e-mail related to the recent union struggle in Wisconsin.

They seem to be legally entitled to this information under a state law similar to the Freedom of Information Act. It’s not clear that Cronon’s e-mails could be construed as anything other than embarassing, as he isn’t directly involved in preparing policy summaries that have enormous political implications.

Regardless of how you feel about this specific issue, Krugman errs when he tries to relate this to Climategate, insinuating that they are at all similar:

The demand for Mr. Cronon’s correspondence has obvious parallels with the ongoing smear campaign against climate science and climate scientists, which has lately relied heavily on supposedly damaging quotations found in e-mail records.

Back in 2009 climate skeptics got hold of more than a thousand e-mails between researchers at the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia. Nothing in the correspondence suggested any kind of scientific impropriety; at most, we learned — I know this will shock you — that scientists are human beings, who occasionally say snide things about people they dislike.

After all, if you go through a large number of messages looking for lines that can be made to sound bad, you’re bound to find a few. In fact, it’s surprising how few such lines the critics managed to find in the “Climategate” trove: much of the smear has focused on just one e-mail, in which a researcher talks about using a “trick” to “hide the decline” in a particular series. In context, it’s clear that he’s talking about making an effective graphical presentation, not about suppressing evidence. But the right wants a scandal, and won’t take no for an answer.

You may feel that the Climategate e-mails don’t change the larger 30,000 foot view of climate science, but insisting that no wrong-doings occurred is inaccurate.

Here is an excellent 5 minute explanation of Climategate by Richard Muller, a UC Berkley physicist who is leading a larger project attempting to reconstruct temperature records. Muller believes that global warming is a potentially big problem. So this is someone who mostly supports the IPCC, yet refuses to compromise his ethics on what appeared in those e-mails.

Muller holds no punches for those involved in the Climategate e-mails. The whole presentation is worth watching, he takes a number of swipes at Al Gore and the IPCC, but if you’re in a hurry the explanation of Climategate only lasts 5 minutes (begins at 29m50s). A takeaway quote, “Quite frankly, as a scientist, I know have a list of people whose papers I won’t read anymore. You’re not allowed to do this in science.”


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