Sunday, April 25, 2010


That's the title that would be given to a scandal currently in progress in Britain if it proceeded as the scandal of the stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit did. Robert Service, the target of Orlando Figes's sockpuppet attacks, responds.

There are a number of things to consider here: why a famous historian should find it necessary to attack a colleague this way, why he failed to understand how these things work on the Internet, and why he threw the blame on his wife. But we can also consider why this is being reported so differently from those stolen e-mails.

The e-mails contained some of the same sort of bile as the anonymous reviews, which is not uncommon in private conversations among consenting adults in the academic community. The difference is that the e-mails failed to damage anyone's reputation or living circumstances, as Figes's anonymous reviews did.

But there is a political faction determined to undermine the science that says that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is warming the planet, and no such faction supporting Figes's views exists. So the admission of sockpuppetry and the response from the aggrieved party are reported more or less straight. I am sure that some sympathy exists for Figes, but it is not supported by large amounts of money from industries that benefit from the results of his actions, as the support of the climate denialists comes from the fossil fuel industries.

The Figes story will fade from the news in a week or so, but climate denialism will continue to be covered by the media. Money matters.

No comments: