Bialik argues that this leads to a “messy hashing-out of the global climate record,” but it’s the same process that applies to many fields of research. Science is a “messy” business, but that doesn’t prevent scientists from coming to general agreement.

Scientists have worked hard to square technical and methodological inconsistencies, however. In fact, there’s so much agreement where global temperature is concerned, it is fair to ask whether the BEST project even merited coverage. As University of Washington climatologist Eric Steig observed at

As far as the basic science goes, the results could not have been less surprising if the press release had said “Man Finds Sun Rises At Dawn.” This must have been something of a disappointment for anyone hoping for something else.

… The basic fact of warming is supported by a huge array of complementary data (ocean warming, ice melting, phenology etc) … If the Berkeley results are newsworthy, it is only because Muller had been perceived as an outsider (driven in part by trash-talking about other scientists), and has taken money from the infamous Koch brothers. People acting against expectation (“Man bites dog”) is always better news than the converse, something that Muller’s PR effort has exploited to the max.

That may be true, but as the BBC’s Richard Black sagely pointed out, “in the febrile atmosphere of ‘the climate debate’, [the BEST analysis’s] significance lies not only in its conclusions, but in who’s done it and what they’ve found.”

The fact that Muller, an avowed skeptic, was publicly declaring his move to the other side and encouraging others to follow him is newsworthy—or far more newsworthy, at least, than Bialik’s poorly informed and unhelpful work, which got pride of place in the Journal’s US edition. Asked why the paper published the work of a self-styled “numbers guy” rather than that of a renowned physicist, Journal spokesperson Ashley Huston wrote in an e-mail:

Carl Bialik is part of the news department, which is completely separate from the editorial page. So his Numbers Guy columns and op-eds (and decisions surrounding either) are unrelated.

Pressed to explain the news and editorial departments’ respective decisions, Huston declined to comment. Readers are thus left with little choice but to believe that the decision to marginalize Muller’s column was nothing more than a reflection of the well-established bias against climate science on the Journal’s op-ed page.

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