Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Climate Memos

A very bright fellow who worked for me at one of my newspapering stops eventually left The Business to become an information officer for the Argonne national research laboratory in Chicago.

After a few months on the job he e-mailed me that he was "learning" scientists' humor, which, he assured me, was unlike any other.  He sent me a few samples.  That was 15 years ago and I still don't get the jokes.

Lately, in an effort to make chicken salad out of something less palatable, I have been slogging through the entire text of the purloined e-mails of the climate scientists during a sedentary period inflicted upon me by spinal problems.  I do not recommend this for pleasure-seekers -- neither the spinal problems nor the e-mail reading.

I still don't get most of the jokes, but it's obvious to me that the climate change deniers, ever vigilant for easy-on, easy-off propagandizing, don't "get" any of it.  Like Bushites plucking squibs of intelligence and spinning them into causes for war, the climate deniers have picked out a dozen or so of the memos and made them sound like a vast left wing conspiracy. Much has been made, for example, about one memo in which a climate scientist acknowledges having used a "trick."

Having lived a good deal of my life with a chemist father whose hobbies included astronomy and archeology, and an older brother with a doctorate in chemical engineering whose hobbies ranged from biology to zoology, I became well acquainted with scientists' fondness for the word "trick."

It can mean a shortcut past an otherwise complicated process; a promising new theory; a happenstance; or a scientific joke that involves false clues that aren't revealed until you confess bafflement and the joker explains the correct result. 

In the total context, the "trick" in the purloined memos is simply a shortcut.

Other "suspect" e-mails read very much like the Argonne jokes.  Since the climate deniers don't understand basic science, it's little wonder they cannot "get" the esoteric chit-chat of scientists at work.

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