PuckerClust reveals the world of ClusterPuck!

In 2005, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) called catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Rep. Joe Barton, (R-TX) joined the assault by harassing three respected climate scientists, demanding immediate documentation of what he called “methodological flaws and data errors” in their work. Barton held hearings and ordered a review of the “hockey stick” temperature graph the scientists had published. Edward Wegman—a statistician with no background in climatology and little understanding of physics—led the investigation. Wegman’s team submitted a report that criticized the statistical methods used by the scientists. Denialists embraced this criticism, claiming that the hockey stick has been discredited and declaring that global warming was a fraud.

To many researchers, the investigation was nothing more than an anti-science witch-hunt. Scientists play by well-defined rules. They require peer reviewed publication, logic, and evidence. Science is like a hockey game that only works if fans understand it and teams play by the rules. Inhofe and Barton knew their side could not win against a world-class “hockey team.” They chose instead to create confusion and sow doubt. Their tactic was to act like unruly fans and throw hundreds of decoy pucks onto the ice and then take advantage of the chaos. The idea was simply to delay any action in order to protect vested interests in the status quo. They didn’t have to win the game. All they needed to do is disrupt it by turning it into one big “ClusterPuck”.

Scientists were understandably angry and were not always circumspect in their private messages. They did not expect political activists—willing to tap phones and break into computers—to steal their correspondence. Although there was no evidence for any wrongdoing by the scientists, their words were twisted and taken out of context. Emails were published by bloggers and broadcast by media for whom controversy and conflict trumps accuracy. This non-scandal became known as “ClimateGate.”

The actual scandal is associated with the Barton investigation. At the end of 2009 a blogger called “Deep Climate” demonstrated that, in a cruel irony, the Wegman team actually plagiarized from a textbook written by one of the scientists under investigation. Even worse, they changed the meaning of the text they stole. The supposedly unbiased referees of the game were part of the ClusterPuck.

New evidence continues to mount. Will the media investigate and report the “ClusterPuck” scandal as aggressively as they did for the “ClimateGate” non-scandal? Or is there a journalistic double standard that favors deniers? Stay tuned.

Mark Boslough
Copyright, NMSR Reports (February, 2010)

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