What's It Like to Be Hounded by Global Warming Deniers? The UW's Eric Steig Knows All Too Well

"You better show me your data."
For the global-warming's-a-fraud crowd, these have been a fun-filled few days. Hackers recently posted hundreds of private emails to and from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. The authors of the emails--like anyone in a similar situation--do not always come off in the most favorable light or showing the purest of motivations. As a result, global-warming skeptics have been gleefully mining the emails for nuggets that could help discredit the scientists and their work.

Among the many individuals whose emails show up in the stolen exchanges is the UW's Eric Steig, one of the world's leading global-warming researchers. And it's hardly the first time he's had the screws put to him by the wingnuts.

Earlier this year, global-warming skeptics attacked a cover story Steig published in the prestigious journal Nature--even accusing him of falsifying data. Steig became so alarmed that colleagues and others were paying attention to these critiques that he posted a detailed response--a move he now says he regrets.

"In retrospect it did no good," he says.

In general he avoids tangling with the haters now. "It's a waste of time and gives people with no credibility more visibility," he says, "especially in the world of Google, where the more times you link to something, the more it shows up." Besides, he says, truth proves itself in the end.

"Since my paper was published, several other papers have come out showing we were right. And I could have just sat quietly and let that happen, because it was bound to happen if I'd done a good job on the paper in the first place. But when you're getting personally attacked it's hard to avoid responding. It was the first time I had personally been targeted."

This week's brouhaha has left Steig relatively unscathed. Among the hundreds of emails from the Anglia servers that have been posted, there were only seven messages by him, and they were all pretty innocuous exchanges about a meeting years ago, he says. "I didn't find anything that concerned me."

Nor was Steig (shown at left) alarmed by what he saw in the handful of emails that have gotten the most attention. "If that's all they've come up with, I'm not impressed," he says. "Even if the scientists we're talking about were the evil, horrible people their detractors want them to be, it wouldn't change the science at all. I think the hope is, if we can take these guys down, the whole thing will crumble, which is of course ludicrous. Nothing will change--except for political opinion."

With political opinion in mind, Steig was among 26 researchers who released a report yesterday outlining the general state of knowledge about climate change. The report was published in advance of a global meeting of political leaders in Copenhagen next month to update the Kyoto Protocols.

Meanwhile, the usual crowd (Glen Beck, et. al.) is on board with the email story, with Michelle Malkin calling it "The Global Warming Scandal of the Century." (Hard to know what the competition was there.) Our own state's most rabid haters of global-warming science--the Building Industry Association of Washington--cheerfully highlighted the email hack this week on their blog, The Hammer, while also voicing the usual complaint that "there's been almost NO news coverage in the mainstream press."

Of course, there was that front-page story in the most-read newspaper in the country. But yeah, other than that, almost NO coverage. Damn liberal media. Don't they know a myth when they see one?

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