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Abstract

In mid-November 2009, emails were removed without authorization from a University of East Anglia server and posted to the internet; within 24 h an international scandal was born—alleging fraud by leading climate scientists—which almost immediately became known as climategate. Multiple investigations concluded that no fraud or scientific misconduct had occurred. Despite the exonerations, however, the email controversy has had impacts, both negative and positive. On the negative side, a small minority of the American public and a somewhat larger minority of American TV news professionals—mostly political conservatives—indicated that the controversy made them more certain that climate change is not happening, and undermined their trust in climate scientists. Conservative organizations and politicians continue to cite the controversy in justifying their opposition to government action on climate change. On the positive side, the controversy impressed upon the climate science community the need for improved communication and public engagement efforts, and many individuals and organizations have begun to address these needs. It also reminded the climate science community of the importance of transparency, data availability, and strong quality assurance procedures, stimulating many organizations to review their data management practices. Although it is too soon to gauge the lasting legacy of the controversy, if the climate science community takes it as an opportunity to improve its already high standards of scientific conduct—as well as improve its less well-developed approach to public engagement—the long-term prognosis is good. WIREs Clim Change 2012 doi: 10.1002/wcc.168

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