It’s official: Climategate undermined trust in scientists

If you can’t trust scientists about climate change, who can you trust?

Americans lost faith in scientists and grew more skeptical about the reality of global warming following Climategate, according to a compelling new report, “Climategate, Public Opinion and the Loss of Trust,” by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Climategate refers to the e-mail leak heard around the world in November 2009. Skeptics claimed it as smoking-gun evidence that climate scientists are exaggerating global warming, suppressing research they don’t like, and hiding information from the public.

The report, released on Monday, shows that Americans surveyed just after Climategate broke were significantly:

  • More doubtful that global warming is really happening,
  • Less likely to blame humans (as opposed to natural causes) for global warming,
  • Less trusting of scientists. (Scientists, however, remained much more trusted than weather reporters, President Obama, Al Gore, religious leaders or the mainstream media.)

An individualistic world view and a conservative ideology were the best predictors of a survey respondent’s loss of trust in climate scientists, the report said.   Other factors that may have contributed to the decline in belief, trust and worry around global warming include the moribund economy, the new administration and Congress, media coverage and abnormally cool weather.

Whatever your belief, the safe bet is planning for the worst and hoping for the best.