As New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin pointed out, referring to the e-mails released in 2009, “the first time around there was news. The contents of the files did raise questions. The questions were answered.”
The inquiries following the first leak cleared the scientists involved of all serious wrongdoing, but reprimanded them for being unnecessarily secretive at times. Hopefully, that pushes science in the direction of greater openness—the same thing we want from our government and businesses. One could argue that the lingering confusion and misunderstanding that “Climategate” created outweigh any benefit along those lines, but that is the fault of the reporting, not the information itself.
Revkin stressed the “insignificance” of the e-mails and that they have “little bearing on the overall thrust of decades of research revealing a rising human influence on the global climate system.” But more broadly, he wrote:
Do I trust climate science? As a living body of intellectual inquiry exploring profoundly complex questions, yes.
Do I trust all climate scientists, research institutions, funding sources, journals and others involved in this arena to convey the full context of findings and to avoid sometimes stepping beyond the data? I wouldn’t be a journalist if I answered yes.
“Can we all agree that this a reasonable position for a journalist to take?” Kloor asked in his post, referring to Revkin’s comment.
Indeed it is, as long as it’s understood that we are speaking generally, and not saying that these particular e-mails offer any evidence of scandal.
Kloor pointed out that two articles at The Guardian—one by Damian Carrington, which argued that the “failure to catch the climate email hacker is the real scandal,” and the other by Leo Hickman, which asked readers to help the paper “find clues” about the identity of the individuals or groups responsible—drew criticism from readers. One comment read:
I take it your next project will be to enlist help identifying anyone and everyone who has ever provided leaks to Wikileaks, right?
The Guardian has, of course, collaborated with WikiLeaks on more than one occasion. Kloor had a “brief Twitter exchange” with Hickman about the comparison. Hickman argues, quite fairly, that “diplomatic cables which were redacted by hundreds of journalists over months before release is hardly comparable to private emails with details,” but concedes, as he should, that “there is an interesting debate about the moral equivalence between these two types of ‘whistleblowers.’” [Tweets edited for clarity.]
A would-be “whistleblower” is not always justified simply because he or she feels justified, Hickman added, which is absolutely true. The media shouldn’t condone the breaking of laws in the gathering of information. At the same time, it’s an industry based on leaks, and sometimes those doing the leaking break laws. The purloined information is out there and it can be of service to the public interest if used responsibly.
There’s no question that the Wikileaks’ information was more significant than what was in the climate e-mails, but in either case the public wants and needs to know what those “in charge” are talking about behind closed doors.