Reader's View: False claims have no place in public discourse
While a letter on March 5 in the News Tribune made errors of fact on the science of climate change (Reader’s View: “Fearmongering over climate diverts attention”), more critical were its false statements about climate scientists. The letter claimed scientists at the University of East Anglia were “busted for fabricating surface temperatures and manipulation of weather data.” This was a very serious charge, akin to claiming a police officer falsified a police report or a medical doctor faked a medical record. Such charges are deeply injurious to the careers and reputations of professionals.
The letter’s claim had no basis in fact. Let me be clear: The claim was false.
This false claim has been debunked many times over. In February 2010 Pennsylvania State University inquired about whether any scientists had acted improperly. A month later, the British government also completed an investigation. Two months later, the University of East Anglia also investigated this claim. So, too, did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation. All these groups — and others — concluded the scientists were falsely accused and that no improper action had been undertaken; certainly no data had been manipulated, as March 5 letter charged.
In a quote attributed to author Mark Twain, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” This happened here.
On opinion pages, it is permissible to give opinions. What’s not permissible is to fabricate statements about others, to repeat falsehoods without verification or to improperly damage a professional’s reputation without basis in fact.
Spreading falsehoods does readers of the News Tribune a disservice. Certainly climate change is a complex issue that has become over-politicized. To overcome this politicization, we need accurate information and truthfulness. The March 5 letter was neither accurate nor truthful. It was sad.
The writer is a professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.