Environmental-beat reporter John Broder, who last month called climate-change skeptics "deniers" and "relatively uninformed," provided some balance in a story that made the front page of the paper's National Edition Wednesday, admitting that scientists pushing the global warming hypothesis have themselves partially to blame for the sudden drop in public confidence they're playing it straight: "Scientists Taking Steps to Defend Work on Climate."
For months, climate scientists have taken a vicious beating in the media and on the Internet, accused of hiding data, covering up errors and suppressing alternate views. Their response until now has been largely to assert the legitimacy of the vast body of climate science and to mock their critics as cranks and know-nothings.
But the volume of criticism and the depth of doubt have only grown, and many scientists now realize they are facing a crisis of public confidence and have to fight back. Tentatively and grudgingly, they are beginning to engage their critics, admit mistakes, open up their data and reshape the way they conduct their work.
The unauthorized release last fall of hundreds of e-mail messages from a major climate research center in England, and more recent revelations of a handful of errors in a supposedly authoritative United Nations report on climate change, have created what a number of top scientists say is a major breach of faith in their research. They say the uproar threatens to undermine decades of work and has badly damaged public trust in the scientific enterprise.
The e-mail episode, dubbed "climategate" by critics, revealed arrogance and what one top climate researcher called "tribalism" among some scientists. The correspondence appears to show efforts to limit publication of contrary opinion and to evade Freedom of Information Act requests. The content of the messages opened some well-known scientists to charges of concealing temperature data from rival researchers and manipulating results to conform to precooked conclusions.
"I have obviously written some very awful e-mails," Phil Jones, the British climate scientist at the center of the controversy, confessed to a special committee of Parliament on Monday. But he sharply disputed charges that he had hidden data or faked results.
Broder made sure to mitigate the criticism of Jones:
Some of the most serious allegations against Dr. Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia, and other researchers have been debunked, while several investigations are still under way to determine whether others hold up.
But serious damage has already been done. A survey conducted in late December by Yale University and George Mason University found that the number of Americans who believed that climate change was a hoax or scientific conspiracy had more than doubled since 2008, to 16 percent of the population from 7 percent. An additional 13 percent of Americans said they thought that even if the planet was warming, it was a result solely of natural factors and was not a significant concern.
Climate scientists have been shaken by the criticism and are beginning to look for ways to recover their reputation. They are learning a little humility and trying to make sure they avoid crossing a line into policy advocacy.
Broder pitied the poor scientists he felt were fighting unfair odds.
The battle is asymmetric, in the sense that scientists feel compelled to support their findings with careful observation and replicable analysis, while their critics are free to make sweeping statements condemning their work as fraudulent.
Broder then dug deeper than the Times has previously into controversy surrounding the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, while still insisting that false statements in the IPCC's most recent report regarding melting glaciers in the Himalayas and the sea level of The Netherlands were "relatively minor errors."