Republicans Thrash Climate Scientists in the Court of Public Opinion

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Even as President Obama arrived in Copenhagen this morning, the Washington Post and ABC released the latest in a set of public opinion findings that have not only shown growing skepticism about mainstream climate science in the US, but now, negative views of environmental scientists in general.

More specifically, here’s what the new survey found. Forty percent of Americans don’t trust what scientists have to say about the environment; among Republicans, it’s nearly 60 percent. Both numbers are an increase from polling results in the past; and for the public in general, a significant part of the change seems to be coming among political independents.

It is not hard to infer that these numbers have something to do with the “ClimateGate” scandal, a smear against climate scientists that will be long remembered. As time has passed and cooler heads have sifted the charges against the researchers whose private emails were exposed last month, most evidence of wrongdoing has withered away. And the charges that remain, although troubling, are not applicable to the question of whether mainstream climate science is valid—or whether there is reason to act on global warming. In other words, the ClimateGate argument simply isn’t on point.

However, the mass media attention to the scandal is a massive black eye. By seizing upon “ClimateGate” and directing concerted fire against the scientists involved, Republican politicians, activists and global warming “skeptics” and denialists have now arguably caused more damage to the scientific community than the Bush administration did.

And whether President Obama returns from Copenhagen with a victory or not, this public opinion slippage will surely damage the push for domestic climate legislation.

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Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

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