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May 31, 2011

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Although Chris Mooney warns about the perils of biased reasoning in contentious political issues like global warming, he himself isn't immune. In a blog post, Mooney discusses the upcoming release of some emails and other documents from climate researcher Michael Mann. Mooney predicts that conservative climate skeptics will find wrongdoing in the e-mails, but says he will disbelieve their findings of wrongdoing. Mooney's prejudgment of Mann's e-mails shows his bias.

"...but says he will disbelieve their findings of wrongdoing."

No, that's not exactly what Mooney wrote. Here's what he actually DID write from the linked blog post (the emphasis, to specifically counteract David's charge against Mooney, is mine): "Will any of the charges be valid? I DON'T KNOW, although I seriously doubt it."

daniel, you have a bit of a point, but I think Mooney's comment in context justifies what I wrote. Although Mooney acknowledges a scant possibility that some charge against Mann might be valid, he does not acknowledge any possibility that the people he criticizes will evaluate the e-mails fairly.

Mooney's pre-judgment, in his own words, is that regardless of what's in the e-mails, the people he criticizes:

-- will treat them as a scandal
-- will find wrongdoing in them
-- will find politics
-- will find closed-mindedness and bias.
-- And who knows what else.
-- It will all be made to look bad.
-- Things will be taken out of context and used selectively.

Here's the whole quote:

So does anyone think that that, whatever these documents say, they are not going to be treated as a scandal by those who went searching for them?

Confirmation bias tells us what will happen. Those who went seeking went in with a theory--that wrongdoing has been done. They all believe "ClimateGate," shown by multiple investigations to be a fake scandal, was actually a real one. So that is their premise.

They will therefore read whatever emails they receive and find wrongdoing in them. They will find politics. They will find closed-mindedness and bias. And who knows what else they will find--but it will all be made to look bad.

Will any of the charges be valid? I don't know, although I seriously doubt it. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that things will be taken out of context and used selectively.

Shorter version: Criticizing people for things that you expect them to do, but which they haven't done, shows bias.

Incidentally, Mooney made a misleading statement:

They all believe "ClimateGate," shown by multiple investigations to be a fake scandal, was actually a real one.

In fact, these investigations found a number of serious misdeeds. E.g., personnel at the University of East Anglia escaped criminal prosecution only because the statute of limitations had run out:

The university at the centre of the climate change row over stolen e-mails broke the law by refusing to hand over its raw data for public scrutiny.

The University of East Anglia breached the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to comply with requests for data concerning claims by its scientists that man-made emissions were causing global warming.

The Information Commissioner’s Office decided that UEA failed in its duties under the Act but said that it could not prosecute those involved because the complaint was made too late...

It's true that law-breaking at the University was not turned into a full-blown scandal. However, a finding that they committed illegal acts hardly amounts to an exoneration.

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