‘Climategate’ and epistemic closure

‘CLIMATEGATE’ AND EPISTEMIC CLOSURE…. David Roberts catches us up to date on the series of “Climategate” investigations, all of which came to the same conclusion. Not surprisingly, it’s a conclusion the right doesn’t want to hear.

[T]here have now been five — count ’em, five — inquiries into the matter. Penn State established an independent inquiry into the accusations against scientist Michael Mann and found “no credible evidence” [PDF] of improper research conduct. A British government investigation run by the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee found that while the CRU scientists could have been more transparent and responsive to freedom-of-information requests, there was no evidence of scientific misconduct. The U.K.’s Royal Society (its equivalent of the National Academies) ran an investigation that found “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice.” The University of East Anglia appointed respected civil servant Sir Muir Russell to run an exhaustive, six-month independent inquiry; he concluded that “the honesty and rigour of CRU as scientists are not in doubt … We have not found any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.”

All those results are suggestive, but let’s face it, they’re mostly … British. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) wanted an American investigation of all the American scientists involved in these purported dirty deeds. So he asked the Department of Commerce’s inspector general to get to the bottom of it. On Feb. 18, the results of that investigation were released. “In our review of the CRU emails,” the IG’s office said in its letter to Inhofe [PDF], “we did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data … or failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures.” (Oddly, you’ll find no mention of this central result in Inhofe’s tortured public response.)

Whatever legitimate issues there may be about the responsiveness or transparency of this particular group of scientists, there was nothing in this controversy — nothing — that cast even the slightest doubt on the basic findings of climate science.

And almost immediately after these latest findings were released, Fox News’ Steve Doocy told his audience that “people aren’t so big on” the climate crisis anymore “because of the ‘Climategate’ scandal.”

Roberts points to a very real problem: “The modern right has created a closed epistemic loop containing millions of people. Within that loop, the implausibility or extremity of a claim itself counts as evidence. The more liberal elites reject it, the more it entrenches itself. Standards of evidence have nothing to do with it.”

Quite right. For a conservative, everyone they knew, heard from, or talked to said there was a “scandal” about climate data, and the crisis had been “debunked.” They believed it, in large part because they only consider a version of reality that meets their ideological standards. As David Frum recently explained, conservatives “wrap themselves in closed information systems based upon pretend information.”

And because much of the right only interacts with media that reinforces their version of reality, they get a sort of tunnel vision. Jon Chait once labeled it the “Conservative Misinformation Feedback Loop,” and it’s a real problem.