NYT's Coverage of 'Sweeping Exoneration' of Climategate Scientist Actually Better Than Expected

Justin Gillis improves on his last article on the "exoneration" of a Climategate scientist, explaining how the latest slanted report nonetheless found global warming's infamous "hockey stick" graph showing a sharp temperature rise in recent years to be "misleading."

Reporter Justin Gillis followed up his slanted story on the "vindication" of Penn State climatologist Michael Mann from allegations of manipulating research in "Climategate" with a related story on a British panel that investigated related charges and came to a similar conclusion: "Panel, in Report, Clears Scientists of Rigging Climate Change Data." A teaser headline claimed: "In a sweeping exoneration, the panel said it found no evidence that scientists had manipulated their research."

But "sweeping exoneration" actually overstates the case laid out by Gillis in his article, which is a more detailed improvement over his report touting the vindication of Mann.

This latest "exoneration," from a team led by retired civil servant Russell Muir, dealt with British researchers and centered on climatologist Phil Jones, who led the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Besides faulting the scientists for unprofessional behavior, the report mildly concluded that the infamous "hockey stick" graph, showing rapidly rising temperatures in modern times, to be "misleading" because the famous "trick" Mann used to massage the data was not disclosed.

A British panel on Wednesday exonerated the scientists caught up in the controversy known as Climategate of charges that they had manipulated their research to support preconceived ideas about global warming.

But the panel also rebuked the scientists for several aspects of their behavior, especially their reluctance to release computer files supporting their scientific work. And it declared that a chart they produced in 1999 about past climate was "misleading."

The new report is the last in a series of investigations of leading British and American climate researchers, prompted by the release of a cache of e-mail messages that cast doubt on their conduct and raised fresh public controversy over the science of global warming.

All five investigations have come down largely on the side of the climate researchers, rejecting a number of criticisms raised by global-warming skeptics. Still, mainstream climate science has not emerged from the turmoil unscathed.


The latest report was by no means a complete vindication. Echoing the findings of an earlier report by a parliamentary committee in London, the reviewers criticized the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit for consistently "failing to display the proper degree of openness" in responding to demands for backup data and other information under Britain's public-record laws.

On one of the most serious issues raised by the e-mail messages, the Russell panel did find some cause for complaint, but it did not issue the robust condemnation sought by climate skeptics.

The issue involved a graphic for a 1999 United Nations report, comparing recent temperatures with those of the past. Dr. Jones wrote an e-mail message saying he had used a "trick" to "hide" a problem in the data. After the e-mail messages came out, Dr. Jones said he had meant "trick" only in the sense of a clever maneuver.

Gillis actually went on to explain the "trick," which mainstream journalists usually don't bother to do.

Or could the Times be playing into the hands of climate change apologists by making the report sound tougher than it was?

Skeptic Marc Marano at Climate Depot is not impressed with Muir's "whitewash" of a report and has a round-up of criticism, including meteorologist Anthony Watts calling Muir "another apologist who doesn't ask relevant questions of both sides, only one side."

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