Climate

NYT’s Revkin embraces false balance, equates Will’s active disinformation with Gore’s effort to understand and communicate climate realism

UPDATE: Wonk Room has an excellent critique of the Revkin piece here where he points out, among other things, that “Revkin Cites A Paper’s Argument Without Disclosing The Paper Cites Revkin”! I have also made some changes in word choice that I explain below.

The lead climate reporter for the New York Times, Andy Revkin, remains stuck in the he-said she-said school of climate journalism that typifies everything wrong with the traditional media’s coverage of the issue of the century.

Indeed, if we were to apply his analysis to his own work, then it would be fair to say that there is no difference between Andy Revkin and George Will — especially since Revkin altered a key word in a major report — he exaggerated — to make his case against Gore stronger.

[Note to Andy: As I reread this, I STILL really think you need to make a correction/retraction.]

His latest “News Analysis” piece, “In Debate on Climate Change, Exaggeration Is a Common Pitfall,” manages to equate the recent 99.5% disinformation-filled (and widely debunked) op-ed by George Will — that Will and the Washington Post still stand by some 10 days later (see here) — with the 99.5% accurate, science-based (and Nobel-Prize winning) talk/slideshow that Gore has developed over the decades, and which, when it was pointed out he slightly overstated what could be said about one slide, Gore quickly pulled it.

Apparently, to Revkin, if during an extended discussion about climate-related issues you make a single statement that — while not provably incorrect — is not 100% backed up by the scientific literature you cite, you are no different then someone who just repeats huge amounts of long-debunked disinformation.

So let’s apply that to Revkin. A year ago, he wrote an article that helped sell the “global cooling” meme. It had a chart labeled “An Unusually Cold Winter,” when in fact, as I pointed out that “January was the 31st warmest on record” since 1880 (see “Media enable denier spin 1: A (sort of) cold January doesn’t mean climate stopped warming“). Does that story make Andy no different than Will?

[As a telling aside, Andy wrote a comment to that post: “To have my story lumped in with a quick blog post that did cite some of the spin as fact is neither accurate nor useful.” Gosh, Andy, you don’t like your thoughtful, though partially mistaken, piece “lumped in” with some “spin.” I guess people who live in green houses shouldn’t throw stones. You are right, though, lumping Gore in with Will is neither accurate nor useful.]

And just to be clear here, this is hardly the only misstatement Andy has made. As I detail here, Andy wrote in a different story:

With or without the threat of human-caused climate disruption, it’s clear the world lacks the menu of energy options it will require to avoid trouble as the human population heads toward 9 billion people (more or less), all seeking a decent life….

By some credible estimates, triple today’s fossil-based energy supply is likely to be required by mid-century.

Do these statements — which hardly represent a clear-cut scientific consensus and I would argue are actually wrong — turn Andy Revkin into George Will? They do by his standards. [Note also that the link he cited doesn’t support his statement.]

And let’s look exactly at what Gore did “wrong” according to Andy:

Mr. Gore, addressing a hall filled with scientists in Chicago, showed a slide that illustrated a sharp spike in fires, floods and other calamities around the world and warned the audience that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”

… Mr. Gore removed the slide from his presentation after the Belgian research group that assembled the disaster data said he had misrepresented what was driving the upward trend. The group said a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said he planned to switch to using data on disasters compiled by insurance companies.

So what did that group say (here):

Indeed, justifying the upward trend in hydro-meteorological disaster occurrence and impacts essentially through climate change would be misleading. Climate change is probably an actor in this increase but not the major one — even if it impact (sic) on the figures will likely become more evident in the future.

Yes, that’s right, Andy Revkin changed “probably” into “possibly.” Revkin weakened the wording from a major report — he exaggerated — to make his case against Gore seem stronger.

UPDATE: My word choice was imperfect here, as was Andy’s in his story. Since it is not significant to my overall case, and since I do consider myself a journalist, I will change what I wrote. While Andy still refuses to give Gore the benefit of the doubt, and (so far) stands by his absurd accusation that Gore is no different than Will, I am going to give Andy the benefit of the doubt here. My argument is that Andy occasionally cherry-picks what he cites and makes misstatements that are no different from what Gore did — but very different from what Will did. Andy asserts in an email that it is 100% crystal clear that the sentence “The group said a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them” MUST be referring to their statement and not the report that they wrote that says climate change is “probably” a cause. Okay, the group is entitled to issue a statement about what they “believe” to be true, and that statement is entitled to be different from the report that they published, and Andy is entitled to quote the statement and not the report (even though he had earlier quoted that very line from the report on his blog). But I am then entitled to say Andy is choosing what he does and doesn’t cite to bolster his case — and that is what Gore did in this one instance briefly, until he was asked to change and he did. In any case, I provided two other instances in which Andy and Andy’s articles made statements that either were not scientifically accurate or were not supported by the links he provided. So let me restate my point:

In his articles and blog, Andy Revkin makes choices about what he cites to bolster his case. He also writes statements that are occasionally not scientifically accurate or are not supported by the links he himself provides. Does that make him no different George Will?

Of course not. What Revkin does is what we all do, including Gore. I was not trying to accuse Revkin of journalistic malpractice, but of making the same kind of choices and honest mistakes When such actions rise to the level of mistake or, in Gore’s case (or my case here), something between a correction or clarification, a correction or clarification should be made quickly. Now we will find out if Andy is journalist enough to realize that the widespread condemnation his article has received requires a correction and/or clarification itself.

Revkin owes Gore an apology for equating him with George Will.

To be clear, Gore’s statement that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented” is scientifically accurate (whereas most of Will’s statement’s are scientifically disprovable). For instance, the scientific literature supports the statement that the unprecedented 2003 European heat wave was driven in part by global warming (see “Breaking News: Global Warming Makes Heat Waves More Severe“). Certainly the Australians, who are suffering through a once–in-thousand year drought, understand this (see “Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in”). Revkin himself contributed the part of a recent NYT story on Australia’s extreme drought, heat wave, and wildfires that said (see here):

Climate scientists say that no single rare event like the deadly heat wave or fires can be attributed to global warming, but the chances of experiencing such conditions are rising along with the temperature. In 2007, Australia’s national science agency published a 147-page report on projected climate changes, concluding, among other things, that “high-fire-danger weather is likely to increase in the southeast.”

The flooding in the northeast and the combustible conditions in the south were consistent with what is forecast as a result of recent shifts in climate patterns linked to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research.

So Gore’s “mistake” if it can be called that, is at most a minor infraction and one largely of word usage.

This extreme weather issue can be a little tricky to talk about, so I will do another post on it later, to look at what the science says and how climate science advocates should talk about it. If I were Gore, I’d probably say “global warming is helping to create weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.” But that is truly a small point, not the same order of magnitude as a single one of Will’s howlers.

Again, I’m not going to redebunk what Will did — but it’s worth noting that Will attacked Steven Chu for accurately quoting the scientific literature (much as Revkin’s colleague Tierney did, see here), Will repeatedly misquoted experts who don’t agree with his conclusions (see here), and he generally repeated a litany of long-debunked disinformation (see CAPAF report here).

But apparently Revkin, although he is the chief science reporter on climate for the NYT, is simply unable to come to his own judgment about what Will wrote:

Mr. Will, peppered with complaints from scientists and environmental groups who claimed the column was riddled with errors, has yet to respond…. But the scientists whose research on ice formed the basis for Mr. Will’s statements said their data showed the area of the ice shrinking, not expanding.

Andy, the column IS riddled with errors. Why not just say so? Heck, this is a “News Analysis” piece that in theory gives you the latitude to do so. Indeed, why do you write:

Mr. Will, in a column attacking what he said were exaggerated claims about global warming’s risks, chided climate scientists for predicting an ice age three decades ago….

Climate scientists were not “predicting an ice age three decades ago” (see “Killing the myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus“). Your phrasing and the use of the word “chided” leaves the impression that you think Will’s statement was true, that “climate scientists” as a group were predicting this. You just perpetuated a myth that you know has been debunked many times.

Revkin’s entire analysis is a complete vindication of the critique leading U.S. journalist Eric Pooley wrote for Harvard: “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.”

One final point, Revkin cites Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University, who authored a paper being published in the March-April edition of the journal Environment. I will deal with the flaws in Nisbet’s analysis in a later post, but the money quotes are:

But Dr. Nisbet said that for Mr. Will, there was little downside in stretching the bounds of science to sow doubt.

Will wasn’t “stretching the bounds of science.” He was lying. Making stuff up. Repeating long-debunked myths. Revkin ends the piece:

Criticism of Mr. Will’s columns, Dr. Nisbet said, “only serves to draw attention to his claims while reinforcing a larger false narrative that liberals and the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”

Huh? George Will writes a column publlished in hundreds of newspapers and read by millions and millions of people — and the proper strategy to deal with this broad-based disinformation effort is … to say nothing? Gosh, I really hope Will doesn’t start writing about how cigarette smoking is actually good for you or start denying the Holocaust happened.

It boggles the mind that any serious reporter for the New York Times would quote such an inane point of view, let alone present it with no response whatsoever.

But let’s assume Andy really believes his final quote. I guess there is no need for any organized effort to communicate the facts to the public. After all, that effort merely plays into a narrative that the mainstream press is seeking to contradict those who hold a rival views of the facts. So I guess, if Nisbet and Revkin are right, there is no need whatsoever for the New York Times.

Seriously, Andy, what purpose does the Times serve? Either there is such a thing as facts — in which case Will is a liar and you should say so — or there isn’t — in which case every New York Times reporter should just find a different job, which, I guess, It’s pretty much what’s going to happen anyway, and maybe we just shouldn’t mourn that.

When future generations write about this time — and assuming that we continue to pursue the path advocated by those who spread disinformation, like Will and John Tierney, and those who enable them, like the Washington Post and the New York Times — they will marvel that any serious journalist equated Will with a man who has dedicated his life to understanding and communicating the science the public needs to understand to avert unmitigated catastrophe and who won a Nobel Prize for his effort.

At this point, I simply question whether Andy Revkin himself understands the state of climate science today and what happens on our current path of unrestricted emissions. I suggest he reimmerse himself in the recent literature and in discussions with leading climate scientists, if he wants to return to his former position as the leading climate reporter in the country.

But that will be a tough task since, right now, the best climate reporter in the country is Al Gore, a former journalist, a brilliant synthesizer and communicator, who clearly spends far more time than any other journalist in the country reading the literature and talking to experts, who like any good journalist, quickly corrects the small number of mistakes that are inevitable when you communicate to a large audience on a regular basis.

33 Responses to NYT’s Revkin embraces false balance, equates Will’s active disinformation with Gore’s effort to understand and communicate climate realism

  1. paulm says:

    Here we go…some of us are realizing that we have hit another tipping point and were still under 1C of additional GW.

    Adaptation, did I hear anyone mention adaptation? We had better get going here too? (how much CO2 will be generated by adaptation actions????)

    Study: Antarctic glaciers slipping swiftly seaward
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hJ-62rD3AVr6zA422y7R7bTiQP-wD96IIIGG0

    “If the west Antarctica sheet collapses, then we’re looking at a sea level rise of between 1 meter and 1.5 meters (approximately 3 to 5 feet),” Summerhayes said.

    [I thought this was more in the range of 10ft???? paulm]

    The warming of western Antarctica is a real concern Summerhayes said. “There’s some people who fear that this is the first signs of an incipient collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet.”

  2. Andy Revkin says:

    Can’t do a full response on this for now. But on the point of fact Joe cites (about “probably” versus “possibly”), I wasn’t referring to the report he cites, but to the direct comment the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters issued after becoming aware of Mr. Gore’s use of the slide. It’s pasted below. Note this line: “Whether this is due to climate change or not, we are unable to say.”

    Casting that as “possibly” is actually overly generous, in retrospect.

    CRED is fully aware of the potential for misleading interpretations of EM-DAT figures by various users. This is a risk all public datasets run.

    Before interpreting the upward trend in the occurrence of weather-related disasters as “completely unprecedented” and “due to global warming”, one has to take into account the complexities of disaster occurrence, human vulnerabilities and statistical reporting and registering.

    Over the last 30 years, the development of telecommunications, media and increased international cooperation has played a critical role in the number of disasters that are reported internationally. In addition, increases in humanitarian funds have encouraged reporting of more disasters, especially smaller events. Finally, disasters are the convergence of hazards with vulnerabilities. As such, an increase of physical, social, economic or environmental vulnerabilities can mean an increase in the occurrence of disasters.

    We believe that the increase seen in the graph until about 1995 is explained partly by better reporting of disasters in general, partly due to active data collection efforts by CRED and partly due to real increases in certain types of disasters. We estimate that the data in the most recent decade present the least bias and reflect a real change in numbers. This is especially true for floods and cyclones. Whether this is due to climate change or not, we are unable to say.

    Once again, we would like to point out that although climate change could affect the severity, frequency and spatial distribution of hydro-meteorological events, we need to be cautious when interpreting disaster data and take into account the inherent complexity of climate and weather related processes — and remain objective scientific observers.

    [JR: Sorry, Andy, but in your online article
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/science/earth/25hype.html
    you link to your own blog article here
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/gore-pulls-slide-of-disaster-trends/
    which directly quotes Pielke quoting the report:

    >> Dr. Pielke quoted the Belgian center: “Indeed, justifying the upward trend in hydro-meteorological disaster occurrence and impacts essentially through climate change would be misleading. Climate change is probably an actor in this increase but not the major one — even if its impact on the figures will likely become more evident in the future.”

    I focused on the alteration of that word because it was a word you yourself had quoted and because your cherry-picking of words and of what you choose to cite is really no different than what you accuse Gore of doing — actually, it is worse, since Gore “retracted” his statement, and you haven’t done so yet.

    I reassert that you need to issue a retraction on your blog and at the bottom of the online version of the article. Now if you want to explain yourselves there, that’s fine.

    Also, you have not dealt with my fundamental argument — that the equation of Gore and Will is scientifically and hence journalistically indefensible.]

  3. Randy Revkin says:

    Don’t leave this out: Revkin’s link to Nisbet’s paper cites as evidence… Andy Revkin! I guess if you can’t find anyone else to make an obviously false argument, just cite yourself! And, of course, Revkin made this clear in the NYT article…

    From Nisbet:
    One of the unintended consequences of this line of communication is that it plays into the hands of climate skeptics and further reinforces the partisan divide in climate change perceptions. Andrew Revkin, who has covered climate change for nearly 20 years for the New York Times, argues these claims are effectively countered by critics, such as Inhofe, as liberal “alarmism,” since the error bars of uncertainty for each of the climate impacts are much wider than the general link between human activities and global warming.32 These challenges, which are easier when the target of ridicule is a former political figure such as Gore, quickly reactivate a focus on scientific uncertainty and the heuristic of partisanship. In addition, the public is likely to translate these appeals to fear into a sense of fatalism, especially if this information is not accompanied by specific recommendations about how they can respond to the threats.33

  4. Andy Revkin is a hero of mine, but sometimes I wonder if occasionally John Tierney strides over to his cubicle and boxes his ears for being insufficiently “balanced” even when he’s reporting only a tepid version of the truth that his writing otherwise indicates he has a good handle on.

    As a science journalist, I can tell you, if something is controversial (to the public, not among those who know) there is pressure not to say things that are alarming, even if they are true.

    Consciously or not, I think the same article you link to here contains Revkin’s reasoning for his ‘balance’:

    In a paper being published in the March-April edition of the journal Environment, Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University, said Mr. Gore’s approach, focusing on language of crisis and catastrophe, could actually be serving the other side in the fight.

    “There is little evidence to suggest that it is effective at building broad-based support for policy action,” Dr. Nisbet said. “Perhaps worse, his message is very easily countered by people such as Will as global-warming alarmism, shifting the focus back to their preferred emphasis on scientific uncertainty and dueling expert views.”

    Seems there is a dividing line in this community between those who think the public needs to be alarmed and those who think the public needs to be cajoled. Now wouldn’t *that* be an interesting subject of inquiry…

  5. Gail says:

    Andy, how come I can’t find any place for comments at the nyt online version of your “analysis”?

  6. Linda S says:

    Andy, I think you missed Joe’s main point. We can fiddle around all day debating whether the word should have been “possibly” or “probably,” but in the meantime Rome is beginning to burn.

  7. ken levenson says:

    my head almost exploded when i read the article! (no exaggeration!!!!!)

    on the same page – in the print version – there is an article by Kenneth Change about how a climate satellite crashed back to earth just short of Antarctica….funny, it reminded me of the Gray Lady’s climate change coverage!

    it’s not only shocking that the NYTimes prints Revkin’s cloud of smoke – but given the dearth of coverage in the NYTimes it should be scandalous….

    How about an article on the recent MIT paper Andy? Isn’t MIT enough of an authority for the gray lady?

  8. max says:

    Note Andy did not address Joe’s main point about the false equivalence of Gore and Will.

  9. Matthew Nisbet says:

    A quick comment:

    A key point of Revkin’s article and my paper at Environment is the question of whether or not framing climate change in terms of catastrophe is an effective way to build broad-based public support for policy action.

    As Revkin describes and I detail in the paper, there are a lot of likely problems with Gore’s AAAS catastrophe frame. The research on fear appeals backs this up, see these citations from the Environment paper and this most recent study on climate fear appeals at the journal Science Communication (link below):

    E. W. Maibach, C. Roser-Renouf, and A. Leiserowitz, “Communication and Marketing as Climate Change Intervention Assets: A Public Health Perspective,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35, no. 5 (2008): 488–500; S. Moser and L. Dilling, “Making Climate Hot: Communicating the Urgency and Challenge of Global Climate Change,” Environment 46, no. 10 (2004): 32–46

    http://scx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/30/3/355

    At AAAS, Gore appeared to break with his more recent WE campaign strategy which I note in the paper at Environment features a more effective framing of the climate problem.

    I am currently working with several colleagues in funded research to test these alternative frames with different nationally representative audience segments with the goal of informing coordinated communication campaigns on climate change.

  10. Russ says:

    The whole thing was atrocious, but I agree the most offensive part (and one of the most extreme examples of false equivalence I’ve ever seen) was equating Gore’s quasi-exaggeration (which if an exaggeration was so purely from a scientific point of view, not a philosophical or common-sense one) with Will’s systematic and intentional lies about scientific history.

  11. thingsbreak says:

    Joe, it sounds like you’re unfamiliar with Nisbet. He’s a big fan of appeasing the antiscience groups rather than exposing their dishonesty (see the “Expelled” kerfuffle and various attacks on PZ Myers).

    And this says it all, frankly.

  12. John Hollenberg says:

    I would say that Andy gave a good explanation for his use of the word “possibly”. However, he hasn’t countered the main thrust of the article, his treatment of Gore and Will.

  13. Maarten says:

    When I read the NYT article in question, I just wondered: How can Al Gore’s tweaking of his message ever be news worthy, when there are so many other climate relevant things to report. What a waste of time and energy?

    Our reality is shaped by the conversations we imagine ourselves to be in. My reality is that the climate is rapidly going downhill, and that we can SAVE MONEY while changing course to avert catastrophe. When our children look back to this time, will they ask: Why in hell didn’t you act in time? or will they ask: Why did you ever think that it was difficult to change, since all these changes to zero carbon make so much sense from viewpoints other than climate protection? Or will they be too dead to ask any questions?

  14. Dennis says:

    The thing that frustrates me most about Revkin’s article is that Gore corrected his error right away, while Will — more than a week after his errors have been pointed out — continues to remain silent regarding his.

  15. lgcarey says:

    Hard to improve upon what Richard C. J. Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said in his email to Revkin, posted by Revkin as comment #1 to his DotEarth blog entry on this topic:
    http://community.nytimes.com/blogs/comments/dotearth/2009/02/25/gore-and-will-and-climate-and-the-press.html?permid=1#comment1

    In part “Andy, I admire and respect you, but in this case I fault you for seemingly equating the articles by Gore and Will. Your piece has them appearing comparable and comparably mistaken. That just doesn’t square with the facts. It’s a false dichotomy, and I doubt you could find well-regarded climate scientists who would agree with your framing. Gore is imperfect here and there. Will is just 100% plain dead wrong throughout. There’s a huge qualitative difference between them, and your readers deserve to hear that from you.” This is very disappointing, when sources that most folks would believe to be credible just completely screw up the real story.

  16. DavidONE says:

    [self-censored string of expletives].

    Whose side is Revkin on? He simply lets the “1970s ice age” thing slip by? That’s one of the most frequent and most stupid of the Denier babbling points.

    As for the rest… words fail.

    That’s the best the NYT can find for lead climate reporter? Shameful.

  17. DavidONE says:

    Mr Revkin,

    I just noticed you commented here. I also noticed that your response to a comment (http://community.nytimes.com/blogs/comments/dotearth/2009/02/25/gore-and-will-and-climate-and-the-press.html?permid=3#comment3 ) references Vicky Pope (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/11/climate-change-science-pope ).

    Do you really believe that the most pressing issue for climate change communicators is to focus on some unspecified exaggerations in the press? Is that the thing we really need to worry about the most? Do you think we’re moving too fast in reducing carbon emissions?

    Also, as others have pointed out here, the main issue with your piece is the equivalence you draw between someone who is clueless, factually wrong and possibly lying, and someone else who fluffed a couple of details in largely accurate portrayal of the science. You need to dwell on that and consider your response.

  18. Hmpf says:

    Christopher M. says:

    >Seems there is a dividing line in this community between those who think the public needs to be alarmed and those who think the public needs to be cajoled. Now wouldn’t *that* be an interesting subject of inquiry…

  19. Hmpf says:

    Oh great. The comments field ate my reply. Damn.

    Joe, is there any way you could retrieve my comment? I suspect it may still be there in the source code – I think I accidentally used a bracket that to the software here denotes that anything following it is a comment on the code…

  20. Steve Bloom says:

    Andy also wrote: “A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said he planned to switch to using data on disasters compiled by insurance companies.”

    This is a misleading statement since the dispute isn’t over the data at all but rather what the data means. It further misleads since it neglects to mention that this is a return to the same slide Gore had been using until a few months ago and, most importantly, that the companies (actually reinsurance — Munich Re and Swiss Re) agree with Gore about the interpretation of the data. Of note, RP Jr. has been attacking the two companies for their stance.

  21. Gosh Gee…

    Now that I see Al Gore has a lick of hair out of place, wears mis-matched socks and mis-pronounces words – now I can see it is all wrong, I can relax about global warming – it is not happening after all.

    I feel so relieved.

  22. Hmpf says:

    Err, never mind. Short version of what I said in my first comment:

    I think the split is not between different opinions on the best strategy of communicating on climate change, but rather it may be the population itself that is split in their reactions to (existential) risk. Me, I’m clearly in the camp of those who need to be alarmed. I need to feel there’s an immediate and great danger before I’m ready to act radically by changing my life radically, or/and by becoming politically active. I *am* thoroughly alarmed now, so I’m ready to act (and have already been working on modifying my life as much as possible.)

    My mother, on the other hand, is completely resistant to alarm. Or rather, I suspect she’s prone to being completely terrified; either way, she reacts to truly alarming news by freezing in inaction and shutting down all channels of communication.

    So, if both of these types are signficantly common, communicating on climate change is subject to a real double bind: no matter which strategy we adopt, we’re going to lose a large part of the public to inaction/demotivation. Is there an effective way of communicating with both, I wonder?

    **

    Something that just occurred to me: I wonder if the people who need cajoling can ever be truly expected to respond with a radical change in their own behaviour? What if it were only those who are able to be alarmed/able to *stand being alarmed* who are willing to act radically; if only those were able to become the drivers of larger social change? In that case, I suppose, it would make sense to focus our communications on causing alarm, because only that way would we be able to create a groundswell for radical change.

  23. James Newberry says:

    I have noticed a discernible change for the worse in the coverage of what I’ll call Climate Contamination recently in the New York Times. Strangely, this seems to have occurred after Exxon Mobil started running their advertisements on the very front page of this exalted newspaper. It is interesting to think what forty billion in profits can buy.

  24. crf says:

    Gosh, I really hope Will doesn’t start writing about how cigarette smoking is actually good for you or start denying the Holocaust happened

    I don’t think that is particularly fair to WIll, but I understand why you wrote it. So many commentators here when writing about climate change cherry pick, delve into conspiracies, and selectively cite cranks with doctoral degrees or qualifications. In the radical Islamic and far-right worlds, the same is done with things Israeli or Jewish, including the holocaust.

    Why? I don’t think it is because certain truths are politically difficult to come to grips with: for instance, dealing with climate change requires a world wide political effort, as well as national efforts, which may seem to but to bed any hope of the world turning back to simpler, but comforting, social and political eras, or may threaten certain libertarian ideas (even though that is not necessarily true). Also, so many feel depressed, economically and socially: dealing climate change seems like a cross they shouldn’t have to bear, especially when those seemingly “telling them what to do” are richer or smarter or have more social standing than they. There is audience willing to believe conspiratorial ideas behind most of the world’s problems: so people like Will or Inhofe exist. The same type of psychology can feed jewish anti-semitism in Islamic countries: and just as here, it is not a “grass-roots” endemic movement: it’s a keen exploitation of people’s social situation and life of hardships by often an elite, educated few seeing it as means to influence society.

  25. paulm says:

    Gore who?

    What about AGW folks.

    Lets focus on the important things.

  26. Hank Roberts says:

    Joe, I was with you up to where you referred to
    > his colleague Tierney
    That’s mean.

    It seems to me we’re seeing the editorial “balance” thing just readjusting itself.
    Bush and his ilk were in, the editors leaned away from them.
    Obama’s in and slowly assembling a team, and the editors are leaning away.

    It reads more like a tropism than a conscious choice to keep the level of bogosity constant, but it really does seem like as the anti-science drumming quieted down and departed Washington, the editorial folks felt like they had to keep the total amount of it constant and so started letting it leak in.

    One easy way is to unleash the headline writers, who do almost the same job the advertising writers do, they’re the “looky here” puffery type of writer, not trying to get the clearest and best information into a line or two, but catching eyeballs.

    Remembering always, the paper’s business is selling eyeballs to advertisers, and the writing is — the news that fits and they print.

    I wish I saw some hopeful answer.

    I’ll give you a scenario though. About the time the last big newspaper press is carted off for scrap, and the last suppliers of newsprint are out of business, some dinky little country with a dinky little satellite capability is going to put up a dinky little payload that is going to go POP over the middle of the USA and make a big enough EMP to take down all the electronic media.

    Or even more deniably, someone who’s already hidden a device somewhere in orbit is going to make it look like an accidental collision caused some warmonger’s orbital weapon to malfunction.

    Remember what really stopped World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
    Look it up. Both the USA and the USSR ‘tested’ nuclear weapons in space. Both of them demonstrated convincingly that they could produce enough of an EMP to shut each other down. And both backed away.

    That was with tube radios and cars that could be jump started rolling downhill.
    Mechanical telephone switchboards. Mechanical or relay-logic almost everything except the war-fighting gear that was reeeeally vulnerable to EMP.

    Now? “… Speaking with IEEE Spectrum, Technical University professor Manfred Broy explained that a modern luxury vehicle “probably contains close to 100 million lines of software code” all of which is processed by up to 100 microprocessors networked throughout the car.”

    This is why we need to keep the newspaper business working. It’s pre-analog.
    Most of those people could still use a typewriter if they had to.

    And we’d survive if they stayed around and stayed honest.

    I know, it’s off topic. But I really believe in people like Andy Revkin and want them to do what Ben Franklin expected of them.

  27. For me this isn’t nearly as much about George Will or the Post as it is about Revkin and the Times. To be sure, neither part of the tale is pretty.

    In the article in question, Revkin frames the debate as balanced between Gore and Will. Yet, from the point of view of the most informed people on the topic of climate change, the IPCC represents the middle of the road, not an extreme, and Gore himself is a dyed-in-the-wool moderate. Anything that casts Gore’s position as extreme drastically misframes the issues we should be talking about.

    Revkin clearly knows enough about the situation to know that the posited equivalence between Gore and Will is not just strained but ludicrous. His readers may not know this.

    The disservice of knowingly and falsely presenting the two as roughly symmetrical in the interest of a tidy little article is more than run of the mill journalistic laziness. It is a betrayal of the public trust. If ever a journalist were eligible for impeachment it would be Revkin as a consequence of this travesty.

    Any sensible points made in passing (and there were some) notwithstanding, his article is unacceptable and uncivilized, because Revkin surely knows better. I care little for George Will’s opinions. On this matter he is a confused old man, and will for the most part be ignored.

    Revkin is presumably not so confused, but if one presumes so, it seems that he is willing to confuse others. It is no exaggeration to suggest that by capitulating to the Times’ desire to be nonthreatening, Revkin may have contributed directly to worsening the scope of the catastrophe our world will face.

    Revkin owes us a vastly more cogent explanation or apology for this stunningly shallow and malign effort than he has managed to date. If he was pressured to produce this travesty by management at the Times, all the more so. I believe this matter is so severe that Revkin ought to make it his highest priority to repair it immediately or failing that to resign.

  28. Donald Dunn says:

    Few people recall the great CLIMATE COOLING crusade of the 70’s. It would do all of the CLIMATE ALARMIST well to do some research on the topic. The New York Times appears to be a fan favorite in the current climate change debate. They were on the forefront of those heralding the effects of the cooling of the climate. It appears the concern at the time was the climate was getting colder and we were facing a GREAT CALAMITY.

    Now fast forward…..we are on the other end of the spectrum…..give it another thirty years and the pendulum we swing the other direction.

  29. paulm says:

    more scary stuff

    San Francisco– The United States could suffer the effects of abrupt climate changes within decades—sooner than some previously thought–says a new government report.
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-12/teia-acs121908.php

  30. Ferrell says:

    DavidONE – Bringing up the 1970s global cooling yarn is a stupid babbling point? Oh?

    I think the point is this – the certainty of that argument matches the certainty of the current argument. It’s not just deniers who bring this up, but people who respect the scientific method. So make your arguments, and if they stand up to scrutiny, so be it.

    No one without the requisite science background should deny global warming, but please, stick to the facts, the insults do not add value. It is this dismissive smugness in many global warming arguments that really turns people off.

  31. David says:

    Sorry, I’m a little late joining this “debate.” Just wanted to point out, I was at Al Gore’s Chicago talk. The hall was not “half filled” with scientists. It was jam packed. We arrived about 20 minutes before the talk was due to start and were lucky to get in. People after us were turned away. The AAAS is not exaggerating when they used the word “overflowing” to describe the state of “fullness” of the hall.

  32. hapa says:

    gore’s talk, on youtube. the slideshow starts in part 3. this year’s version is another step up in power and detail.