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Climategate revisited

The BBC Radio 4 programme revisiting Climategate is on tonight at 9pm. Here's the blurb:

Climategate was the term quickly applied in 2009 to the mysterious appearance on the internet of large numbers of emails and documents belonging to some of the world's leading climate scientists.

This happened just a month before the Copenhagen climate change conference, which failed to meet the expectations of many for agreement on international action. The timing may not be coincidental.

For some climate change sceptics, the emails were a disturbing revelation of the real thoughts and manoeuvrings of scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Centre and their international colleagues. The scientists argue that while some of the phrasing may have been unfortunate, there is nothing in the documents to undermine the validity of mainstream climate science.

Climategate certainly inflamed the debate over climate change, in the UK, the US and elsewhere.

In 2012 the Norfolk Police announced they were abandoning their investigation into who hacked into the university's computer and then distributed what they found.

But what have been the longer-term consequences of this incident, for public opinion, media reporting and international policy-making on climate change? Chris Vallance investigates, asking if this was it a political crime, and, if so, how effective has it been?

As readers here know I was interviewed for the show as were Steve M, Tallbloke and Benny Peiser I think. CRU refused to take part, although Mike Hulme was involved.


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Reader Comments (65)

Frankly, I was amazed. It was a lot better than I’d expected–quite a lot of time given to Steve, Andrew Montford, and Nigel Lawson.

I wondered if the relative even-handedness had anything to do with the Jimmy Savile affair. Could it be that the BBC is trying to come across as more evenly-balanced than formerly because of this? Who knows.

Nov 1, 2012 at 2:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMichael Larkin

I was taken back to my yoof when Panorama was a good program.

A program that genuinely tried to understand the subject. Of course it was not perfect, but I certainly did not pick up an agenda (screw the sceptics) or a clear position on display.

The biggest thing for me? Knowing how the BBC operates? Knowing how it usually regards its senior correspondents? No input from any BBC correspondents. No Harrabin or Black.

Don't people think that is significant? Knowing how Charles Wheeler was wheeled out from Washington for any opinion?

Mann came across the worst, all others where allowed to make an equal "impression", i.e. none came across as raving idiots. Even Bob Ward.

Well done the sceptics interviewed. With any interview many words are recorded, only a few are broadcast. The few did you all credit.

Hopefully it will show to others that sceptics are worth the time and can be trusted to give good copy.

Nov 1, 2012 at 5:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

The reason the programme was relatively balanced is that the global warming debate is now well and truly over. BBC chief environmental correspondent Richard Black has moved on to lie about something else and Monbiot is now writing populist, anti progress, ultra conservative, anti capitalist nonsense for the Groaniad.

The result is that while the USA, India and China will do literally nothing to reduce CO2, British people will literally freeze and our children will go to eternal damnation for leaving the lights on.

Nov 1, 2012 at 7:45 AM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

What an excellent programme.

Nov 1, 2012 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterRB

Broadly, my first impression was similar to that of Richard Courtney, which is worth repeating:
"I was pleasantly surprised considering it was the BBC.
Was the broadcast biased? Yes, but not by usual BBC standards."

A cynic might say that right now, for other reasons, the BBC has every incentive to not be seen as biased and marginalising sensible critics in a way that might come back to haunt them at a later date. Perhaps they've had a visit from the Ghost-of-Halloween-Future as well as the ghost of you-know-who.

The main reason it sounded so good was that the sceptics came across as sensible and restrained, the alarmists came across as strident, arrogant, duplicitous, conceited and not a little ignorant in some cases, while the police did themselves very few favours (within the limits of what they could reasonably be expected to reveal of the 'facts' or 'evidence').

However, I'll also wait to hear the opinions of those interviewed for the program, who know what they said, that was not used. The editing is half the story.

Nov 1, 2012 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Interesting and remarkably balanced. Here's my summary of the content.

Gavin Schmidt on the RC break-in.
Glenn Beck quoting the emails on 'Travesty' 'redefine literature' 'delete emails'.
Steve McIntyre: It was a deceit.
Mann: 'lies' + irrelevant stuff about warming.
Montford: it confirmed what we'd been saying.
Gavin: out of context.
CRU would not take part in programme.
Andrew Watson: Nightmare. Told not to talk to Daily Mail.
Paul Dennis: open-minded. Horrific language on both sides.
Bob Ward: More sceptical in last 2 yrs, direct result.
Fiona Harvey: Huge impact, major shock.
Montford: Media realised knowledge out there. BBC doesnt like to air sceptic views.
Lawson: BBC propagandist.
Fiona Fox: Journalists now scrutinise climate science more, good thing.
Kellner (Yougov): CG made public more sceptical, distrust has carried on.
Lawson: some scientists not paragons of rectitude.
Steve Mc: climate community should have been offended by HTD, refusals of data.
Ward: they weren't being as transparent as they should be.
McI: I wasn't interviewed for inquiries, unimpressive
Mann: sceptics were allowed to have input
Montford: Enquiries deficient. I would have a public enquiry if I was PM.
Hulme: Increase in papers on uncertainty.
Second batch CG2 less dramatic. More in password-protected file.
Police have given up identifying perpetrator.
External hack through webserver to backup server.
Attempt to frame an innocent party.
Hypothesis - linked to campaign of FOI requests
McI: that's a misguided theory, police wasted time.
Threat of prosecution will be over after 3 years, so will Mr CG come out?

Nov 1, 2012 at 10:02 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Approaching the 3rd anniversary of "Climategate" I was prompted to do a search on Google, and found an intriguing list of results led by an article from the first days which focused upon some key aspects as a "case study" right out of the block:

loose cannon

The Alarmists Do 'Science'

It is fascinating to think about what was going on in 2009 with Yamal and tree rings, FOIA requests stalled and denied, tensions and panic within The Team, CRU's scientific credibility in doubt.... Why did The Team have such trouble giving an honest accounting of long-term proxy studies (especially tree rings)? Why was a "loose cannon" on the CRU scientific team not to be contacted about these matters?

Nov 1, 2012 at 10:26 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

BBC reports

Climate scepticism - threat, crime or menace.

Nov 1, 2012 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

I was impressed by the opening statement when, referring to the emails, they used the neutral word 'obtained'.

Nov 1, 2012 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon

I have only just managed to listen to it. I too was pleasamtly surprised by how much more balanced it was than the BBC norm. It still had some bias but gave sceptics a good opportunity for their say. All the sceptics performed well and came over as very sensible people,. Well done Andrew; you were brilliant.

Nov 1, 2012 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

'What new sorcery is this?' was my first reaction to all these reports of the BBC releasing a decent programme on such a topic. 'What are they up to now?'

Whatever it is, let us be grateful for the airtime given to deep thinkers and analysts on the side of the angels. As others have suggested above, let us hope for similarly free-from-blatant-bias programmes reviewing say the case for alarm over human contributions to climate variation, or the methods used by some of those who claim to be convinced by it.

Well done the Bish, and other champions of clear thinking who took part! It sounds like you all 'done good'.

Nov 1, 2012 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

There is a transcript among the comments for the item about this broadcast at WUWT.

I see the presenter managed to get the "barrage of FOI requests" meme out there.

Also, Mike H noted further up the thread that there are no BBC radio programmes on Freeview in the evenings - there used to be, but they were axed to create bandwidth for BBC Alba - which turns out to be yet another excuse to broadcast football, on the pretext that a commentary in Gaelic makes it appropriate for for the channel.

Nov 1, 2012 at 10:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

I've only just heard it as I've been away for a few days. Not bad, I thought. Certainly better than expected. Of course, the title is a bit off - isn't it the first visit to Climategate rather than a revisit? as was pointed out, a bit more identification of spin doctors such as Ward and Fox would have been more honest. But the initial quotes of some of the more damning e-mails hopefully would have made an effect on the average listener. I hope.

Nov 3, 2012 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

Just googled Fiona Fox. A "former leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party" and contributor to "Living Marxism".

What label would James Delingpole apply to her?

Nov 5, 2012 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

They were an odd bunch at Living Marxism. Note that LM morphed into Spiked Online, which Ben Pile writes for.

Nov 5, 2012 at 4:48 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

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