It has been five years since climate scientists’ e-mails were stolen from the University of East Anglia in 2009. Since then, the public’s interest in the scandal has declined considerably.
While the wider public “astutely lost interest in climategate long ago”, this is not the case for climate deniers, according to a new study published in Environmental Research Letters.
“The brevity of public interest in ‘climategate’ stands in contrast to the continued and growing fascination of the ‘sceptic’ blogosphere with that event,” the study describes.
Researchers analysed Google Trends data on the number of times ‘climategate’ was mentioned in the news in June compared to the frequency with which the topic appeared on sceptic blogs.
Decline in Public Interest
The study shows that since 2007, there has been an overall decline in public interest in climate change. Within this context, interest spikes for a “brief blip” during events such as climategate or Hurricane Sandy.
But this interest dwindles quickly. Between May and June this year, Google News returned just 329 stories referencing ‘climategate’. This is in comparison to 14,200 news stories containing the terms ‘Sandy climate’.
In contrast, the top 20 most frequently read sceptic websites show an ever increasing number of hits from 2009 onwards.
In 2010, the number of webpages on these sites that were either updated or newly created totalled 2,169. By 2013, this had more than doubled, reaching 5,450 new or updated pages.
While part of the decline in general public interest could be attributed to the news cycle, there’s more to it than that says the study’s author, Stephen Lewandowsky.
“To the extent that there is more to it [than a lack of attention span] it’s because people have decided there was nothing to it [climategate] – and indeed, there was not,” Lewandowsky told DeSmog UK.
So why are climate deniers still so focused on climategate? As Lewandowsky explained: “If you oppose a scientific fact that’s supported by a pervasive consensus among scientists, then it’s difficult to oppose that without postulating some sort of conspiracy among scientists. Wherever you look, whenever you do the research, you find that science denial involves conspiratorial discourse – whether it’s tobacco, HIV/AIDS, or climate.”
“Climategate is just the gift that keeps on giving for anyone who wants to spin conspiratorial theories,” he continued. “1000s of stolen personal emails provide fertile ground for the conspiratorial imagination and some people will continue to spin those theories 30 years from now.”
Meanwhile, “most members of the public are more interested in the fact that 2014 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record, or very close to it”, Lewandowsky added.
As the study explains, the perception of the prevalence of sceptic opinions is grossly overestimated compared to the actual extent of scepticism.
“The brevity of public interest in ‘climategate’ is remarkable,” it concludes. “It therefore appears advisable not to mistake the continued conspiratory obsession of the ‘sceptic’ blogosphere with ‘climategate’ with widespread public interest.”
Photo: Colin – Eget arbejde