The Economist embraces climate media-ocrity with one inane paragraph

In effort to outdo YouTube-quoting CBS, UK mag quotes a right-wing T-shirt!

It’s getting harder to hide the decline of the media with its missing-the-forest-for-the-tree-rings coverage.

From the BBC to the NY Times to the WashPost, we’ve seen major media outlets abandon journalistic standards.  Among the worst was CBS libeling Michael Mann based on a YouTube video “” while reporting his exoneration! And that doesn’t even include the media that just make stuff up, like the UK’s Daily Mail.

You might think the staid UK magazine, The Economist, would be above the sensationalist coverage that gives equal time to discredited disinformers, like The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (TVMOB), or relies on even more dubious unscientfic sources, like web videos.  But you would be wrong:

The news that some climate scientists tried to muzzle dissenting voices has spread like the common cold on conservative blogs, fuelling widespread suspicion that global warming is an elaborate hoax. Many climate sceptics are furious. “My Carbon Footprint Will Fit Nicely in Your Liberal Ass,” reads a typical T-shirt.

And with that paragraph, the once-venerated Economist magazine joins the race to the bottom with the speed of downhiller Lindsey Vonn.

1) Just to set the record straight, it was the the Bush administratio who, for 8 years, systematically muzzled government climate scientists from discussing impacts of rising CO2 emissions with the public or the media (see “Climate Science Muzzling Meets the House“).  The stolen emails reveal a couple of climate scientists emailing about whether to try to stop flawed analysis from being published, and one scientist emailing about whether to try to keep flawed analyses out of the IPCC reports.  The flawed analyses made it in.  Ironically, the IPCC is now being criticized for letting a couple of pieces of flawed analysis into the 1000-page final reports.

2)  “Many climate sceptics are furious.”  Uhh, really?  Stop the presses!  Clear the front-page!  Get me the President on line 1!

Memo to The Economist:  The sceptics have been “furious” for decades.  Heck, they were furious when they were told by their own scientific panel that they were pushing BS (see Scientists advising fossil fuel funded anti-climate group concluded in 1995: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of GHGs such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied”).

They remain furious over things like the Hockey Stick graph, even though it was vindicated years ago in a thorough examination by a panel of the prestigious (and uber-mainstream) National Academy of Sciences (see NAS Report and here).  Indeed, the news story in the journal Nature (subs. req’d) on the NAS panel was headlined:  “Academy affirms hockey-stick graph“!  Indeed, the one “Independent” critique of Hockey Stick has now been revealed as fatally flawed right-wing anti-science set up.  But the “sceptics” are still furious about it.  Go figure!

3)  “Fuelling widespread suspicion that global warming is an elaborate hoax.”  Widespread suspicion?  Elaborate hoaxThe Economist is simply repeating a flat-earther, birther, conspiracy-theory accusingthe scientific community broadly defined of conspiring in deliberate fraud – and not just the community of climate scientists, but the leading National Academies of Science around the world (including ours) and the American Geophysical Union, an organization of geophysicists that consists of more than 45,000 members and the American Meteorological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see “Yet more scientists call for deep GHG cuts“).

The notion of the hoax accuses all of the member governments of the IPCC, including ours, of participating in that conspiracy, since they all sign off on the 20-to-30 page summary reports of the IPCC word for word. And, of course, it accuses all of the leading scientific journals of being in on this fraud, since the IPCC reports are primarily a review and synthesis of the published scientific literature.

It even accuses The Economist of being in on this fraud, since the magazine has reported on the science over the years.

4)  The Economist quotes a t-shirt as evidence?  ’nuff said.

5)  The Economist does not quote a single climate scientist in this nonsensical piece.  It never quotes anyone disputing the muzzling claim.  Or the hoax claim.

Memo to The Economist:  If you feel obliged to report on the anger of the anti-scientific crowd, you still can’t leave inaccurate or inane assertions entirely unrebutted.

RealClimate says in its excellent recent post, “Whatevergate“:

… there has been what can only be described as a media frenzy (mostly in the UK) with regards to climate change in recent weeks. The coverage has contained more bad reporting, misrepresentation and confusion on the subject than we have seen in such a short time anywhere….

… since the emails were released, and despite the fact that there is no evidence within them to support any of these claims of fraud and fabrication, the UK media has opened itself so wide to the spectrum of thought on climate that the GW hoaxers have now suddenly find themselves well within the mainstream. Nothing has changed the self-evidently ridiculousness of their arguments…

Perhaps this is driven by editors demanding that reporters come up with something new (to them) that fits into an anti-climate science theme that they are attempting to stoke. Or perhaps it is driven by the journalists desperate to maintain their scoop by pretending to their editors that this nonsense hasn’t been debunked a hundred times already? Who knows? All of these bad decisions made easier when all of the actually sensible people, or people who know anything about the subject at all, are being assailed on all sides, and aren’t necessarily keen to find the time to explain, once again, that yes, the world is warming….

Eventually, people will realise (again) that the GW hoaxers are indeed cranks, and the mainstream window on their rants will close. In the meantime, huge amounts of misinformation, sprinkled liberally with plenty of disinformation, will be spread and public understanding on the issue will likely decline.

Hear!  Hear!

As Energy Secretary Steven Chu said this week, “If you look at the climate sceptics, I would have to say honestly, what standard are they being held to? It’s very asymmetric. They get to say anything they want.”

One of the reasons for the dreadful climate coverage is the media’s refusal to draw a distinction between what scientists say based on actual observations and analysis in the peer-reviewed literature and what anti-science disinformers say based on their total lack of knowledge of the science and general willingness to misrepresent the facts or make stuff up.

Related Post:

33 Responses to The Economist embraces climate media-ocrity with one inane paragraph

  1. Chris says:

    What’s sad to me is that a scientific issue is being used as a litmus test for political views. I should think that you can be conservative and a believer in what damn good science tells you. But, nowadays, it seems like conservatives are actively casting out people who believe in the science and it’s been frustrating to see otherwise intelligent people fall for BS hook, line, and sinker.

  2. MapleLeaf says:

    There are still some credible journalists out there who get what is going on here– This by Jeffrey Sachs.

    After reading that I felt better about the world, then I made the mistake of reading some of the comments. OMG. He must have hit the nail on the head b/c those in denial are fuming.

    Jeffrey Sachs needs our support.

  3. paulm says:

    must see video…we need to realize whats at stake…

    climate refugees

  4. dhogaza says:

    After reading that I felt better about the world, then I made the mistake of reading some of the comments. OMG. He must have hit the nail on the head b/c those in denial are fuming.

    Oh, yes. I really enjoy the ones that say “comment removed by moderator”, though!

  5. Kaitlin says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with you on this post. As a subscriber to The Economist, I read that article a week ago and saw nothing wrong with the paragraph you quote. It is simply stating facts that are true: climate skeptics have jumped on the email leak incident as evidence that climate change science is a hoax, and like it or not, those suspicions are widespread in America these days. The t-shirt comment is merely an entertaining and frivolous add-on, part of The Economist’s signature tongue-in-cheek style. There is nothing to suggest that the author is supporting climate skeptics’ beliefs, merely reporting on them, like any good media source would do.

    It seems to me that you’re directing your anger at the wrong party. And if the observations in the paragraph seem obvious–well, they are for those of us who are tuned into climate politics–but The Economist is geared towards a wider audience.

    Finally, I am disappointed that you fail to mention the context of the larger article, which was to express support for Cantwell’s cap-and-dividend bill. In fact, the sentences you quote were part of a paragraph that started with “Various obstacles block the way…”

    [JR: The whole article makes no sense. It was completely illogical, separate from the Cantwell stuff, which makes little sense, as I’ve blogged many times.

    But it is one thing to report on the long-standing anger of anti-science ideologues, it’s another to be their stenographer with no rebuttal. The Economist would NEVER have done that for the birthers.

    We totally part company here.]

  6. Robert Nagle says:

    Kaitlin, I don’t think Joe is attacking the substance of the articles; I think he is attacking the way they are framing the discussion. it is a rhetorical criticism.

    I am not a scientist, but I have found past Economist articles to be fine. (I think two months ago they had a good spread on climate change).

    I think even Mr. Romm would agree that Economist’s reporting on the issues is a lot better than most outlets even if it is business-centric.

    I would have no problem with this paragraph as long as the rest of the article covered the issues in a fair and honest way. If you’re writing something for a hostile audience, it can be an effective technique to co-opt their criticism and then gradually pick it apart. A lot depends on whether this excerpt is just a smartalecky intro or a typical indicator of what the rest of the article will be like.

  7. MarkB says:

    I find the following statement in the article to be more misleading:

    “Even among Americans who believe in global warming, there is little appetite for tackling it. A hefty 85% told Gallup that the government should place a higher priority on fixing the economy, with only 12% saying the opposite. ”

    Nonsensical conclusion based on a useless poll question. You’d get similar numbers when substituting “global warming” with “offshore drilling”. Such a false choice question is not even weak evidence Americans don’t want to deal with global warming, and the two choices are not mutually exclusive. The Economist could have looked at a broad range of polls suggesting solid support for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, including cap and trade.

    Generally sloppy reporting in the article, but we’ve certainly seen much worse.

  8. prokaryote says:

    Cold truths about the Northeast’s harsh winter
    We’re the nation that put a man on the moon, so we can’t be stupid. We’re just pretending, right? We’re not really taking seriously the “argument” that the big snowstorms that have hit the Northeast in recent weeks constitute evidence — or even proof — that climate change is some kind of hoax.

    That would be unbelievably dumb. Yet there are elected officials in Washington who apparently believe such nonsense.

    Focus on the positive, debunk the scam/fraud/terrorist-to-humanity.

  9. Dennis says:

    “One of the reasons for the dreadful climate coverage is the media’s refusal to draw a distinction between what scientists say based on actual observations and analysis in the peer-reviewed literature and what anti-science disinformers say based on their total lack of knowledge of the science and general willingness to misrepresent the facts or make stuff up.”

    It’s time for scientists to start a petition drive which states that scientists will refuse to speak to the media unless the reporter in question provides them an opportunity to re-write the scientific statements the reporter is attributing to them for accuracy.

  10. colinc says:

    @3. paulm

    Thank you so much for providing that link! This is a clip that everyone should see, not to mention the entire movie. I feel dismayed, disappointed and remiss that I hadn’t heard of it before. Furthermore, I was very surprised to see Newt Gingrich in this piece, given the topic and his partisanship, and was utterly stunned by what he said!! If only he’d had his “revelation” 20 yrs ago, civilization might have had a chance. Alas, from all the recent science I’ve been reading it is absolutely clear that the major feedback mechanisms are already in progress and I am certain that we’ll see accelerating changes that will boggle most minds… and lives.

  11. Mark Shapiro says:

    Don’t fear climate change.

    Don’t fear the solutions to climate change.

  12. Ernst says:

    I have only one thing to say: I f@!!!#@$g HATE CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS!!!!

  13. Steve Bloom says:

    Uh oh, Joe, you’re doing it too: “The stolen emails reveal a couple of climate scientists trying to stop flawed analysis from being published, and one scientist trying to keep flawed analysis out of the IPCC reports.”

    No, they don’t, not unless you believe that every bit of off-the-cuff hyperbole you’ve ever written in a private email should be considered to be evidence of actual intentions (quite aside from the issue of your ability to actually carry out the threat). The only bit of substance here is the idea that reputable scientists might avoid publishing in outlets they consider to be (or have become) poor in quality. Well, yes they might, and of course do all the time, but the emails are no revelation whatsoever in that regard.

    [JR: I have clarified the point.]

  14. Mark Shapiro says:

    Ernst – they pretty much hate us, too.

    And yet, we are all in this together. One global energy system, one atmosphere, one climate path. We now own the air, and that simple fact takes some getting used to.

  15. Steve Bloom says:

    I’m sorry, I should add that on the first point it’s clear that some of the scientists while acting as reviewers definitely did try to keep flawed analysis from being published, but that should not be said without noting that that’s what *all* reviewers are supposed to do. It’s thus peculiar to say that the emails “revealed” any such thing or indeed anything out of the ordinary relative to what should be expected in the way of informal shop talk among a group of scientists.

  16. Fred Teal says:

    Look, the denial on this issue is so incredibly intense because accepting the reality of global warming and all its consequences means we will need to make major changes in the way we are living. It will require significant sacrifices if we are to beat this thing. At some level, everyone knows this but the sweet life is just too seductive.

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    While using the t-shirts of NASCAR hayseeds (“‘My Carbon Footprint Will Fit Nicely in Your Liberal Ass,’ reads a typical T-shirt,” witicizes The Economist) as a primary source and promoting such pedisodomy is hilarious and worthy of the London School of Economics, all conventional economics that doesn’t allow for the fact that there are limits to growth is so spiritually, morally and intellectually bankrupt as to be tantimont to alchemy.

    Thus going forward there is no glibrag “The Economist” in my view, but instead “The Alchemist.”

    And yes as a matter of fact I do enjoy making up words, Economorons.

  18. jon says:

    Until the mainstream media’s 5 or so conservative owners are busted up and ownership is spread around to many many owners of varying views and ideas, then the corporate world will forever have their ‘Ministry of Truth’ doling out disinformation, no information and a lot of Tiger Wood and Celebrity fluff and crap than what the people, the main mass of people who haven’t a clue, as to whether what is being shoveled out to them has any value for them to make decisions.

    And this is the mainstream media where seldom is heard any truth or reality in information dissemination, all informing is slanted toward the ‘corporate’ benefit and the rest is… god only knows what the rest may be.

  19. Zan says:

    Joe, I’ve been disappointed with the UK’s Economist in the last several months, myself.
    But my husband thinks it’s still the most intelligent presentation of a conservative viewpoint,
    in case one wishes to follow that. The liberal TV host, Rachel Maddow, finds US conservative politics interesting to watch and some of us should definitely watch.
    The Sunday NY Times Magazine warned us long before Newt got big….
    But for those of us who can’t sit through a whole Tea speech, there’s the Economist.

  20. Simon says:

    “The stolen emails reveal a couple of climate scientists trying to stop flawed analysis from being published, and one scientist trying to keep flawed analysis out of the IPCC reports. He failed. Ironically, the IPCC is now being criticized for letting a couple of pieces of flawed analysis into the 1000-page final reports.”

    Hilarious, I hadn’t even thought about this obvious irony!

    Keep up the good work!


  21. Bill Waterhouse says:

    AUH satellite temps for surface, ch04, ch05 are all at record highs, since at least 1998, for Feb 2010. Haven’t seen media coverage on this, or any explanation from skeptical scientists who claim we can’t trust land-based temp measurements.

  22. prokaryote says:

    Anthony – “A carbon tax would be the best of all, but has no chance of passing”
    Please explain, why?

  23. Leif says:

    A Carbon Tax is my first choice in that it would be the cleanest to instigate, the hardest to “game,” the least over-head to operate, in short the most bang for the buck. I would rename it however and call it a “Pollution Fee” or “Disposal Fee. Perhaps “mitigation revenue” or even “Survival Savings” or Humanities Redemption.” It is all in the name.

  24. mike roddy says:

    Desperate to gin up a controversy and placate corporate and car related advertisers, the mainstream media has rendered itself irrelevant and embarrassing. As technology improves, people will get their news from blogs and relatively independent sources. Readers will remember the scoundrels who sold them on war and happy motoring forever, and will go elsewhere.

  25. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear scientists and engineers,

    Please — if your time allows — consider my comment, “Dear Scientists and Engineers: Help Inform Your Fellow Humans: A Contest!”, which is currently Comment 21 under the post about Texas’ state climatologist, a few threads back.

    Your help is needed!

    Thanks for your consideration, and Cheers!


  26. Anton says:

    “Having to cut back our lifestyles because our governments have used up all the black stuff without having a plan B, entering into wars to secure more of the stuff whilst we frantically try to solve the problem before it catches up with us, having to go without whilst we plug the gap between oil / gas & the renewable replacement sources, is not a message that would have quite the same effect upon people.”

    – Or on international Stock Markets and currency values, for that matter.

  27. Anton says:

    p.s., maybe your own blog post covering Robert Hirsch’s plea to minimize ‘outing’ of Peak Oil, backs up this thought process.

    Outing of Peak Oil would cause great Stock Market instability. Global Warming is an abstract concept as far as the markets are concerned, whereas an oil shortage is a very, very real thing as far the markets go.

    But the politics of Peak Oil mitigation still needs to move forwards, and in public. So how do you do this in public without actually speaking about it? Well you need another story – one that would cause a little less panic and impact to markets, one that gives room for optimism of human ingenuity rather than plays on our very worst fears.

    Has Obama ever spoken of Peak Oil, has he ever uttered those two words? Did Bush? Did Blair, has Brown? I don’t recall it (please point me in the direction of it, if I’ve missed it). Weird that, unyet the policies which will mitigate this, are being moved forward under the name of Global Warming.

    I can’t help but feel like I’m being told a tale… we will see… we will see how climate science stands up… but if we are to come to an end of the oil age in the next 20 years (or the decline of), then surely our carbon emissions are going to drop radically anyway?

  28. Steve Bloom says:

    Thanks, Joe, and for the clever new twist.

  29. JakeU says:

    JR, I completely agree with Kaitlin. You have misunderstood the specific ironic style of The Economist. Actually I liked the piece a lot. And I believe the cap-and-dividend idea is a splendid one.

    Maybe that’s because I’m not only a subscriber to The Economist since 1991 but also a member of an almost extinct species: being pro-market and pro-science at the same time.

    [JR: I totally understand irony. This piece wasn’t ironic. It was illogical. In this media environment, where the entire UK media is repeating these “ironic” anti-science statements as if they were true, you can’t print them as if they were ironic. Sorry. You MUST rebut them. FYI: cap-and-dividend is anti-market. By design.]

  30. Anton says:

    How come my following post was not allowed through by the moderators? (but my two subsequent, follow-up posts were?)

    Is it because I questioned climate science in it? It’s not a personal attack on anything.. I think we have a duty to look at the bigger picture and ask these questions…

    I would have been really interested to see what people on this site thought to asking these questions, particularly from the moderators who are obviously very, very actively engaged in these subjects.

    The scientist from the UEA has admitted that his data is ‘badly organised’ and that he cannot even tell us where some of it came from. I’ve been a believer in AGW, not saying that I’m now an unbeliever, but that is a pretty shocking revelation.

    How can this data form part of IPCC reports on AGW if the source of (some of) the original data is not even known? This isn’t very good news for climate science.

    As an average joe, not a scientist, but someone who believes in the solutions to Climate Change, clean energy etc… I find myself considering what we are trying to solve. Is it Climate change or is it Peak Oil?

    And also, I find myself asking why the key dates mentioned in Peak Oil literature (2020, 2050) are precisely the same as those mentioned in policy / prospective policy around Global Warming mitigation.

    And the fact that our leaders do not speak of Peak Oil, despite the fact that they are advised on it by the International Energy Association.

    Carbon Cap & Trade schemes which the US wants to introduce within its own economy, and that many nations want to move to on the back of Copenhagen, will certainly help us in managing the decline of easily-available oil.

    Oil tends to be the real driver for governments’ behaviours, are we sure that Global Warming isn’t being used by them, to prevent having to present a much less palatable face to the reasons that we need to get moving on reducing our carbon emissions (and potentially cutting back on the luxuries & impacting upon our way of life)?

    Saving the poor cutesy drowning polar bears tugs at the heartstrings and makes us think we are doing some good, being better citizens, by ‘doing our bit’.

    Having to cut back our lifestyles because our governments have used up all the black stuff without having a plan B, entering into wars to secure more of the stuff whilst we frantically try to solve the problem before it catches up with us, having to go without whilst we plug the gap between oil / gas & the renewable replacement sources, is not a message that would have quite the same effect upon people.

    I fully realise that that’s a geo-political / somewhat psychological analysis of the problems we face, but… maybe we need to look at this from more than one angle.

    Looking after our planet makes sense anyway. We’re out of the oil (in the West), so it makes sense to be moving on anyway. I have a gut feeling that AGW is being overplayed into a modern day boogie-man, whilst the real plot plays out militarily in the Middle East, diplomatically in the Falklands, etc. etc. etc.

    I appreciate that’s not the scientific analysis that is normally par for the course on this website, but then nor is “forgetting” where your climate data came from, either.

  31. Anthony says:

    prokaryote – Please explain, why?

    A carbon tax is theoretically more efficient overall since, by taxing carbon emissions directly, they create incentives for reducing carbon emissions across the whole economy rather than targeting specific industries or technologies, which can distort technological choices (thus giving rise to increased inefficiencies). It has the advantage of making consumers and business directly face the environmental costs associated with their purchasing decisions (rather than just giving away the right to pollute through permits under cap and trade as has been suggested in the USA policy context). This would encourage changes in behavior and research into new renewable and energy saving technologies, while making existing renewable energy technologies more cost competitive. The funds raised by a carbon tax could also be used to fund R&D into renewable and other energy saving technologies. A carbon tax also has the advantage of being more administratively simple.

    The challenge with a carbon tax is to set it at the right level (i.e. so that it fully captures the social costs of carbon emissions) – too low and carbon abatement will be insufficient. It would appear to be impossible to introduce a carbon tax in the current USA context given vehement conservative opposition to any new taxes (no matter how justified they would be).

    P.S. Why was my original post deleted?

  32. James Newberry says:

    The mainstream media is controlled by corporations who are interlocked financially with the fossil/fissile (uranium) extractors and weapons/war profiteers. They benefit from the oil/war economy central to British oil and American oil and banking, and other extractive industries money flows (such as weapons). There is nothing surprising about the Economist spin and we should expect much more as the immorality of these behaviors grows ever more apparent and desperate.

    Grow an organic garden this spring, it may get a little bumpy on the way to the American Dream (or Delusion).

  33. AW says:

    As others have stated here, you clearly don’t read the Economist regularly. It’s simply their style of writing, especially if the article was an opinion or advocating piece. It’s not disinformation, at least I would like to think not, because the ‘average’ person who actually believes everything the media says point-blank would not be reading the Economist anyway.

    [JR: I read it often. This is a news piece. And bad reporting, that’s all.]