2010-11-03 12:06:03Thinking about a major Nov 17 campaign to reframe Climategate
John Cook


A few things have been rolling around in my head recently that have sparked a possible idea:

  • On Monday night, I was in the audience at a panel on climate change communication. The take-home point I took from the night was a journalist talking about the huge impact of Climategate on environmental journalism - the 'scandal' was a real game changer for how media portrayed climate stories.
  • Now there is more data coming in re skeptic activity via the SkS Firefox Add-on (make sure you all install it and keep the data coming in), it's clear that Climategate is currently the #1 skeptic argument, even a year after it first broke.
  • I did an interview on Tuesday with the Climate Show podcast yesterday about Climategate so I did some more work on the subject, preparing to update my intermediate rebuttal
  • James Wight is working on an advanced rebuttal, going into a lot more detail into the details of the various investigations
  • The one year anniversairy of Climategate is coming up on Nov 17 - when Real Climate was first hacked.
  • Naomi Oreskes is touring Australia at around the same time, Nov 15 to Nov 22. She'll be promoting her book Merchants of Doubt which is about the deliberate, organised campaign to cast doubt on climate science.

So considering all this, I've realised Climategate has had a much deeper and lasting impact than many of us would've thought possible. Now that we're a year on since it first broke, I thought perhaps we could use the 1 year anniversairy as an opportunity to reframe Climategate. People think in stories, that's how they process information and extract meaning. That's why Climategate resonated so strongly - it provides a vivid story of scientists behaving badly (regardless of whether that was the truth or not). If we just play defence, we’re reinforcing that narrative.

What I think we need to do is reframe the story. Paint a new narrative in a concerted, coordinated approach. I suggest the Climategate narrative should be the deliberate, well-organised (and illegal) campaign to discredit climate scientists and cast doubt on climate science. So when people think climategate, they should think about an illegal, sleazy smear campaign – that is what the story should be about. Now we have a year's worth of investigations under our belt, we can look back in hindsight and see not only was there no substance to the 'scandal', it was in fact an inversion of reality. The science is unchanged, the scientists have not falsified any data - all the falsification and truth-warping came from skeptic critics. Climategate should be an opportunity to shine a light on the campaign to cast doubt on the science.

So I'm thinking we use the 'climategate birthday' on Nov 17 as an opportunity to reframe climategate via a coordinated effort between all the different climate blogs, sending op-eds to mainstream newspapers, etc. Another thing to think about is Naomi Oreskes who is touring Australia at the same time. Her book Merchants of Doubt goes along the same lines – the deliberate campaign to cast doubt. So I may try to merge her campaign with this climategate birthday idea.

I haven't gotten any more specific than the germ of an idea at this stage - I want to run this by the other climate bloggers. In the meantime, I welcome thoughts and suggestions. Do you agree with the reframing? The strategy? Any thoughts on how to do it?

2010-11-03 13:01:00Comment
Robert Way

John I was just about to make a posting that we urgently need to plan to deal with climategate issues in advanced rebuttals. Especially with the House Majority victory for Republicans.
2010-11-03 13:57:08Nov 2 election result
John Cook

It was in anticipation of a Republican victory that James first started work on advanced Climategate rebuttals a few weeks back. So that was always in the works. This latest idea complements that but is more of an offensive rather than defensive approach. I don't know if James can get all his material ready within 2 weeks but it's not necessary as part of this campaign - the advanced rebuttals to the various climategate allegations can be added over time.
2010-11-03 23:16:46


John, I remember feeling a depression at the time Climategate was breaking, because I fully expected that there would be a long-term destructive impact not only on climate science, but on the public acceptance of science and scientific expertise as a whole.

I think what you are proposing is a worthy goal. I also think that you need to do the equivalent of "opposition research": Find a climategate fanatic/expert and get all the obsessive examples they have, because if you leave something out, it'll be called a whitewash. It will be depressing work; but absolutely necessary.

2010-11-04 03:18:44great idea
Dana Nuccitelli
I think this is an excellent idea, particularly getting other climate bloggers on board for the anniversary.  Everyone has been very defensive about Climategate, but I think it's time to become more offensive and criticize those who continue to warp the facts.  We can do posts on the 5 investigations, rebut specific false Climategate claims and show how skeptics continue to distort the truth, etc.  I look forward to seeing James' rebuttal, too.
2010-11-04 08:06:32


Proposals for the title of the post

What really was the climategate?

What really is a climategate

The real climategate

Yes, it is a climategate

Climategate: the never asked questions

More seriously, we may think of two things. A common post agreed with other bloggers, separate posts on the same date. The former is harder and would require a lot of work to find a common denominator; I'd suggest the latter. It should not be long, with a lot of details. It should just "rewrite" the story taking for granted the results of the various investigations.

So, start with the crude initial facts, then the end of the investigations, then the ask the question, where is the real scandal? Here comes the new story.

2010-11-04 08:47:24titles
Peter Hogarth


Lies, Skeptics, and Climategate: A Scientific Concensus on the Consensus   ?

Climategate 1 year on.  Science Vindicated: so what of the skeptics ?

This whole circus is what made me wake up to the impact of the blogosphere and start wading in (for better or worse).

2010-11-04 19:19:00Climategategate?
James Wight

"Climategate" was basically a fake scandal. How long until they start calling it Climategategate?
2010-11-04 23:21:40Highlighting the way this was reported?


Hi Folks,

could an additional angle to tackle this be how much "reporting" there was worldwide when "Climategate broke" and how little was seen about the various reports clearing the scientists in the course of this year? I have no clue if somebody has been keeping track of this, but it might highlight yet another issue with how things related to climate change get (under)reported in the media.


2010-11-04 23:51:39What about a "wall of shame" for the Climategaters?


- list of prominent 'gaters: Monckton, Watts, and so on; (as well as the pusilanimous media: the more the merrier), linked to...

- list of what they said: their quoted individual points, each linked to...

- the final resolution of each point, quoting the official reviews.

There will be a lot more 'gaters than individual points.

This approach allows two types of activity:

- One aspect focused on the arguments: So the write-up on "hiding the decline" only needs to be written up ONCE: This sounds like what James Wight is already working on.

- The other aspect focused on the specific 'gater: So s/he can be nailed to the wall, thoroughly and completely. This can also be kept up to date, for active 'gaters.

I think I agree with dana1981: It's time to go on the offense.


2010-11-05 00:17:55Wall of shame
James Wight

A "wall of shame" might be a good idea. The problem is these people can throw as much mud as they want and never be held accountable for it.
2010-11-05 00:24:56And another thing
James Wight

Also we could call out specific media organisations. According to Tim Lambert, The Australian ran 85 stories on Climategate but not one on the Muir Russell inquiry which cleared the scientists involved.
2010-11-05 03:07:43



Exactly what I'm thinking about, as well.

If they won't stand by their records, we'll make their records stand by them.

2010-11-10 13:21:37
Sounds like a great idea. I like the idea of separate posts on the same day. 
2010-11-10 14:18:32Steve Lewandowsky will be doing a podcast on that day
John Cook


This morning, Steve emailed me the transcript of next week's podcast, coincidentally on Nov 17, the climategate "birthday". It's not live yet so don't link to it publicly but here is the preview (the audio is yet to be recorded):


So that'll go live on Nov 17. I was planning on doing a blog post on that day too. It was going to be "What has the 12 months since Climategate taught us?" (here's a preview of a very early draft but I plan to completely overhaul it and in light of Steve's post, I will probably retitle it "What is the real lesson from Climategate?" or something to that effect).

If anyone else plans to write a climategate blog post for Nov 17 or the following days, let us know here what you have in mind so we can avoid duplication.

2010-11-11 11:20:19
Rob Painting
If we're going to reframe "climategate" how about renaming it?. The term itself, implies corruption, hence the very mention of it serves the inactivists. 
2010-11-12 06:20:34
I will write a post for November 17th...will probably focus on how mainstream journalism has let us down in poor coverage of this issue.
2010-11-12 08:27:26The name climategate
John Cook

There have been efforts to rename the scandal (aka swift hack) to little effect. Climategate is here to stay. But what if we hijack the term? Climategate IS about corruption - the illegal effort to smear climate science. People love stories about conflict, heroes and villains - here's one. Shadowy secretive anonymous hackers illegally hack honest, hard working scientists' servers, leak emails on the Internet and quote mine the emails to smear the scientists. 6 investigations later, the scientists are declared over and over to be innocent while people still falsely accuse them of wrong doing. THAT is the scandal of Climategate.
2010-11-12 08:41:49


I agree. Along this line you may end with a short definitive sentence, something like "in this sense Climategate deserves its name".

 On passing, last sentence "will go to to mislead people"

2010-11-12 09:01:01
Rob Painting

Re "Climategate" - Swifthack was a very lame attempt. Climatebait? lure for gullible and naive journalists?. Nah, but I think the word could be subtly changed without people wondering what the heck we're talking about. But if others don't consider it worthwhile, I won't expend any energy on it.