4) The log of Ian (Harry) Harris, a computer expert at East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, expressing frustrations with attempts to reconcile disparate climate data from around the globe. This one has come up only briefly in the mainstream press. NASA climate modeler Gavin Schmidt—who has been a key source for the media over the last two week and posted a couple methodical explanations such as this one at RealClimate.org—explained the log this way: “Anyone who has ever worked on constructing a database from dozens of individual, sometimes contradictory and inconsistently formatted datasets will share his evident frustration with how tedious that can be.” But it appears no reporter has yet contacted Harris himself.

There are perhaps half a dozen other science-related points of criticism in the e-mails, which have been discussed in blogs and in comments sections, but haven’t received much attention in the mainstream press; I haven’t had chance to look over them sufficiently to comment here. At this point, however, there doesn’t seem to be anything that undercuts the fundamental science indicating that human-generated greenhouse gases are warming the globe.

At the very least, a number of people on both sides of the debate—from Judith Curry, who studies the relationship between climate and hurricanes at Georgia Tech, to Pat Michaels, who has often questioned the certainty of climate science—seem to agree that these e-mails don’t reveal any substantial problem with the science, but rather with some of the politics and procedures within a competitive field of research. Though the public deserves a full airing of all the issues raised by the e-mails, this seems to be the half of the equation that warrants more investigation on the part of journalists.

The Politics of Climate Science

In the politics category there have been three major points of contention covered in depth by major newspapers and Web sites:

1) Charges that University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit has attempted to shield raw data from critics. The university has responded by saying that it is difficult to store that data over the course of decades, especially for older records, and that it is not allowed to release much of the raw data from meteorological agencies from around the world without their permission. The press has done a fair job explaining this, though it hasn’t been a major focus of the coverage. It is not a new problem, either, and the university seems to be taking adequate steps to improve transparency by recovering and releasing the raw data.

2) Discussion among a group of scientists about deleting e-mails and files in order to deny critics access through freedom of information laws. This has been a major point in the press coverage. There has been almost universal condemnation of the statements, although it isn’t clear that any e-mails or files were actually deleted. The mere suggestion is unethical, however, and the act, if carried out, could prove illegal. We should definitely hear more from the press on this point, but it is likely that reporters will have to wait for conclusions of pending investigations at East Anglia and Penn State, as well as a Congressional investigation in the U.S.

3) Charges that a group of scientists conspired to block the publication of dissenting research in peer-reviewed journals and boycott those journals that do publish dissenting research. In the e-mails, East Anglia’s Phil Jones suggests that the group “redefine what peer-review is” and speaks of a “troublesome editor” at the journal Climate Research. This has also been a major focus in the media, but the press has done an incomplete job of explaining or investigating it.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.