In 1920, Robert Goddard was conducting experiments with rockets. In an editorial, The New York Times sneered at Goddard’s work and particularly at the idea that a rocket could function in a vacuum:
That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react – to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.
In 1969…the year of the Apollo moon mission…the NYT finally got around to issuing a correction for their 1920 mistake.
What is noteworthy about the original editorial is not just the ignorance, but the arrogance and the outright nastiness. As the AstronauticsNow post points out, “The enlightened newspaper not only ridiculed the idea that rocket propulsion would work in vacuum but it questioned the integrity and professionalism of Goddard.” The post goes on to say that “The sensationalism and merciless attack by the New York Times and other newspapers left a profound impression on Robert Goddard who became secretive about his work (to detriment of development of rocketry in the United States)…”
It appears that some of the attributes of the NYT which make it so untrustworthy and unlovable today are actually cultural characteristics of long standing.
Worth keeping in mind when reading NYT analyses of Climategate.