Two weeks ago I wrote about how the Washington Post embraced false balance in its flawed piece on the Heartland affair. Not only did the Post quote the head of an organization known for “spreading misinformation” and “personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals,” it also quoted the long-debunked Richard Lindzen. And it quoted a confusionist to frame the “debate” as a he-said/she-said, when it is really about climate science vs. misinformation.
Now the Post has doubled down with another dreadful piece of false balance, but attempts to rationalize it with this rewriting of history:
There is no question that climate scientists have mobilized in recent years to talk more publicly about greenhouse-gas emissions from activities such as driving and coal-fired power plants. For years there were only a handful of researchers on both sides of the debate: the late Stanford University professor Stephen Schneider and James E. Hansen, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, spoke about the risks associated with climate change while Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, questioned the extent to which humans contributed to the problem.
Now dozens of climate scientists have taken on a more public-advocacy role, contending that mounting evidence suggests the world needs to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from the industrial and transport sectors or risk disastrous consequences.
No. For years there have been hundreds of climate scientists willing to explain climate science to the media and public and policymakers. Indeed, a 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, “Expert credibility in climate change” — coauthored by Schneider — reaffirmed the broad scientific understanding of climate change, while questioning the media’s reliance on a tiny group of less-credibile scientists for “balance.” That analysis concluded:
Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that 1) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and 2) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
There have never been more than a handful of climate researchers willing to spread misinformation and confusion. The status quo media simply doesn’t care if the person they’re quoting has been wrong again and again and again, has published few if any significant articles in the field in recent years, or actually continues to spread disinformation that has been long debunked in the scientific literature. But they should.
Lindzen has been debunked by leading climate scientists for years (see here and here). Yet the media still quote him as if he were a credible climate researcher. Same for Spencer (see Climate Scientists Debunk Latest Bunk by Roy Spencer and Should you believe anything Roy Spencer says).
But the Post wants to rationalize yet another piece that “balances” climate scientists with disinformers and confusionists.
It is worth pointing out that false balance isn’t just about who you quote but what you quote them saying. The new NPR ethics handbook, which I will have a post on tomorrow, spells this out:
At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.
This is precisely what the Washington Post article does not do. The article is full of false balance, a scale with the reporter’s thumb pressed down on the side of misinformation to give it equal weight. And so while it quotes some credible scientists, we have this nonsense: