Best. Headline. Ever.

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"Best. Headline. Ever."

Headline1

Okay, freelance business reporter Chris Morrison writing on the popular website Bnet doesn’t have the reach of the NY Times.  But you have to like his headline compared to the NYT’s, “Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming” (see In yet another journalistic lapse, the NYT once again equates non-scientists “” Bastardi, Coleman, and Watts (!) “” with climate scientists).

And his content and framing is vastly superior also:

… According to George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, some 87 percent of weathercasters also talk publicly about climate change.As you might gather from its name, the Center would be happy with that number if weathercasters also generally believed in climate change “” specifically, anthropogenically-caused global warming. But for the most part, they don’t. Another majority, 63 percent, told George Mason that global warming mostly stems from natural causes, while 27 percent called the entire theory of global warming a “scam”.

The problem, for George Mason (and me; I should note here that I generally accept AGW) is that modern meteorologists combine two qualities: the first is that they’re one of the most skeptical scientific groups toward climate change, following only oil and gas geologists; the second is that they’re probably America’s most visible scientists, by a long shot.

Well, they are mostly sciency-sounding weathercasters, rather than actual scientists.  Indeed, only about half of them even have a degree in meteorology.

So it’s possible that weathercasters, with only four-year degrees and no grounding at all in climate studies (a field quite distinct from predicting local weather), are guiding the national dialogue on climate change.

What’s guiding their opinions? Here are a few possibilities:

  • The models that meteorologists use can barely predict the weather a few days ahead, so they tend to scoff at models predicting years or decades ahead
  • Meteorologist see natural systems as implacable and impossible to affect through human agency
  • And like many people, they can confuse localized weather trends with what’s happening on a planetary scale
  • Many meteorologists were disgusted by an early attempt from Al Gore to convince them of global warming, and now view it as a political issue
  • Although only 17 percent of meteorologists have graduate degrees, most are confident in their ability to judge other sciences

Many of the above reasons come from the Columbia Journalism Review, which just published its own huge article on meteorologists in its January / February issue….

The CJR’s writer, Charles Homans, came to the conclusion that many meteorologists have an earthy confidence in their own intuition. From near the end of his article:

The biggest difference I noticed between the meteorologists who rejected climate science and those who didn’t was not how much they knew about the subject, but how much they knew about how much they knew””how clearly they recognized the limits of their own training.

“¦ when [Fox meteorologist Bob] Breck talked to local schools and Rotaries and Kiwanis clubs about climate change, he presented his own ideas: warming trends were far more dependent on the water vapor in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, he told them, and the appearance of an uptick in global temperatures was the result of the declining number of weather stations in cold rural areas. These theories were not only contradictory of each other, but had also been considered and rejected by climate researchers years ago. But Breck didn’t read much climate research”¦

Breck scorned his licensing agency, the American Meteorological Society, which long ago signaled its own support of climate change theory….

Well, it’d be a little more accurate to say that the AMS shares the broad and deep scientific understanding of human-caused climate change, which is based on extensive observation and research — see their statement here:   American Meteorological Society reaffirms “that the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; that humans have significantly contributed to this change; and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies”¦.”

But overall, kudos to Morrison for out-reporting the NYT.

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27 Responses to Best. Headline. Ever.

  1. prokaryote says:

    How long will it take till people will be put on trial, for playing down the threat of climate change, using unscientific claims?

    [snip]

    [JR: I have said that those who actively spread disinformation are -- if the nation continues to listen to them -- helping to bring about the unnecessary suffering of billions. But the answer to your question is "probably never." Yes, the professional anti-science disinformers, if they succeed, will be remembered as the promoters of the greatest disinformation campaign in the history of the world. It is much more likely that big corporate polluters are subject to civil suits, like the tobacco companies were.]

  2. Ivy Bear says:

    The last point about weathermen not knowing the limits of their knowledge should be taken to heart by all of the scientists involved in climate change discussions. Being a climatologist does not qualify you to comment on the economics of climate change. Being a coastal engineer does not qualify you to discuss the pros and cons of different communication strategies. Perhaps across the board, some recognition of the limitations of one’s disciplinary knowledge would enhance the quality of public discussions.

  3. Tim says:

    It’s also worth recalling that anything produced by any George Mason University entity is highly suspect, given GMU’s long-standing ties to, and monetary receipts from, the anti-science/pro-polluting Koch Industries criminals.

  4. mike roddy says:

    In LA Story, Steve Martin plays the local TV weatherman, which tells you all you need to know about the profession. They are clownish showmen, waving their arms crazily, with bad suits and frozen grins.

    The finger should be pointed at the station producers and owners. If the public relies on these guys for critical information about climate change, their bosses should make sure that they either demur or learn what the hell they are talking about.

  5. Don says:

    TV weathermen are part and parcel of the entertainment industry, which is what TV news has become. These weathermen tell people what they want to hear.

  6. paulm says:

    #1 …How long will it take till people will be put on trial”

    The ensuing chaos will be far more a distraction than the pursuit of the the deniers.

    [JR: Quite!]

  7. fj2 says:

    Perhaps, here are the sound bites:

    “Well, they are mostly sciency-sounding weathercasters, rather than actual scientists. Indeed, only about half of them even have a degree in meteorology.”

    ” . . . only 17 percent [less than one in five] of meteorologists have graduate degrees.”

    Yet, ” . . . they’re probably [positioned as] America’s most visible scientists, by a long shot.”

  8. BBHY says:

    People do have a problem understanding that we can’t predict the weather 20 days from now, but we can predict the climate 20 years from now.

    I’ve tried to explain that systems often become more predictable at larger scales.

    If I dump a truckload of sand over a cliff, I can’t possibly predict where each grain of sand will come to rest, but I can predict with absolute certainty that there will be a big pile of sand at the bottom of that cliff!

  9. K. Nockels says:

    Seeing the “Why I love Spring” segment on The Weather Chanel running over the news of people losing everything to massive flooding in the northeast, with the weather people sitting in beach chairs in Florida was truly tragic. It has made me a true believer in NO Solutions will be forthcoming to the climate crisis in time to save our childrens future. Vacations on the beach are the top stories in weather, Oh and where the best weather will to send your child in collage on spring break. Full segment advertisment for vactaion spots and the old line we only REPORT the weather, are getting us futher from the reality of our situation everyday. It seems there is no help forthcoming from this strickly entertainment, keep the bad news to a minnimum source.

  10. john atcheson says:

    Weathercasters are to climate scientists as journalists are to historians.

    And I would’t count on a journalist to dissect the fall of Rome or the lead up to the Civil War.

    So why do we assume a weatherman with a 6 week course in weather maps has anything worthwhile to say about climate?

  11. Spaceman Spiff says:

    Dunning-Kruger Effect

    Skeptical Science discusses this in the context of climate change, and he links to the original paper.

    More recent follow-up research, here.

    I see it played out again and again in blogs and discussion boards of physics, astrophysics and biological evolution — the more ignorant the person is of the particular science and data, the more certain they are of their conclusions, the less they know of the scientific process, and the more likely they are to see scientists as close-minded, practicing dogma and religion.

  12. Bill W says:

    Re BBHY #8, I like to use this example to explain the difference in forecasting short-term vs long-term, since anybody in a metro area can relate:

    It’s 5:30 PM on a weekday. I can’t predict the path of any single car on the freeway, but I can tell you with a high degree of certainty exactly where there will be traffic backups on the freeway.

    That anti-science weathermen are allowed to spread their disinformation in schools is, or should be, criminal.

  13. richard pauli says:

    “…they’re probably America’s most visible scientists…”

    No, no, no. Any idiot with the yearly dues and a weatherman’s job can be grandfathered in as a certified meteorologist. That makes it about the easiest “scientist” designation possible.

    It amounts to: “I’m a scientist, because I play one on TV”

  14. Alex Smith says:

    After extreme precipitation events in the North East, more records set… the population has not been told that these heavy downpours, and previous heavy snow, are part of climate disruption.

    Now it’s over 80 degrees, even 85 degrees, in Eastern Canada at the very start of April. The words “global warming” or “climate change” are NEVER even suggested by Canadian news network reporting. Just not a factor.

    We have to wonder how long people will doubt their own senses, just to keep the fossil economy going. How long before people get mad at the weather reporters, who have kept them in the dark for so long…

    Alex
    Radio Ecoshock

  15. catman306 says:

    BBHY wrote: ‘People do have a problem understanding that we can’t predict the weather 20 days from now, but we can predict the climate 20 years from now.’

    Twenty years ago i learned that ‘in 20 years (now) the climates in many places would become chaotic’. The recent floods in Atlanta and in New England and the major snowfalls in the DC area are evidence of the extreme sorts of weather we will be experiencing from here on in. And, of course, hotter and drier in many places.
    I haven’t read many credible local climate predictions. We’re probably crossing thresholds every year. And linear regressions become impossible when the variables suddenly go from linear to exponential without warning, as the parameter crosses some threshold. Surprise! Predictions are difficult, if not impossible when systems are chaotic. But I’d guess that many years from now when all of the effects of man-made global warming and climate change have run their course, the average surface temperature of the planet will be between 0 C. and 100 C. With liquid water on our planet’s surface, there’ll always be hope for the future.

  16. substanti8 says:

    With apologies to Winston Churchill, here is what the history books might say in 200 years (if civilization still exists):

    Never was so much suffering by so many people caused by the lies of so few.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Is David Koch a weatherman?

  18. You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

    Two more reasons:

    1) Lack of access to peer-reviewed journals due to cost

    2) Climate change is missing in the curriculum

    Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences
    Selden, NY
    Global Warming: Man or Myth?
    My Global Warming Blog
    “Global Warming Fact of the Day” Facebook Group

  19. catman306 says:

    Maybe not, but he’s evil because he promotes lies that lead to climate chaos that may destroy mankind. Myself, and most everyone here, would promote the restoration of ‘the balance of nature’ if that were somehow possible. Have you missed hearing that old phrase “balance of nature”? Do you suppose it appears anywhere on any of the various servers that his and his brother’s many companies utilize? Or in their minds?

  20. PurpleOzone says:

    A TV weatherman has to know the low pressures and the high pressure and the movements of the jet stream in order to predict the weather. They need not think about what causes the jet stream to change customary course from year to year or decade to decade. Different skills and knowledge base are needed to do climate science; yet since it seems to come down to weather in the end, a weatherman can easily feel he/she ought to understand it. When they don’t, there can be intellectual recoil.

    The same setup applied when the geophysicists produced plate tectonic theory. Many geologists had trouble swallowing it. They had done PhD thesis carefully exploring one small area of ground to understand all details of that piece of ground. They then specialized in a region, or in identifying indicators with economic interest, like finding oil. When the sweeping generalizations of global geology came in, they were swept way out of their comfort zone. (Also, American geologists had been trained that continental drift was hooey; I used to hear them whisper to each other after hearing papers on plate tectonics: “But do you believe in continental drift?”)

    Climate science is not an easy field to do research in. You have to know complicated mathematical laws of atmosphere physics, computer calculation and modeling, atmospheric chemistry, and be able to understand and synthesize a wide variety of data types. Of course, you will likely specialize in one or a few aspects, but you still need basic understanding of most of the field. I’m not thinking of any other field that requires so much interdisciplinary background.

    Even research meteorologists, very good ones, have felt snowed by climate science. It is so like meteorology, and yet so different.

    As for TV, showmanship is the most important criteria to get on. I know personally 2 people who are talking heads on TV occasion. I did not regard either as credible before they appeared on TV; they were selected for mouthiness, presence and certainty; not for their knowledge. Think about it: an actual climate scientist will take about statistical significance of the present data; a denier simply says climate change isn’t happening.

  21. caerbannog says:


    I see it played out again and again in blogs and discussion boards of physics, astrophysics and biological evolution — the more ignorant the person is of the particular science and data, the more certain they are of their conclusions….

    You can see this in spades at http://forum.signonsandiego.com/showthread.php?t=104941

    I posted a lead-off piece at the above link (discussion board on my home-town newspaper’s web-site) describing where McLean et al. went wrong with their attempts to attribute most of the recent observed warming to the SOI index. Most of the responses to my post just *scream* “Dunning-Kruger”. The combination of utter cluelessness and smug self-confidence is really something to behold.

    If you are not above staring at train-wrecks, then you might want to take a look. But then again, you may not (especially if you value your brain cells).

  22. PSU Grad says:

    @ #18:

    “Two more reasons:

    1) Lack of access to peer-reviewed journals due to cost”

    That’s not quite true anymore. The AMS provides free on-line access to all of their journals from calendar year 2007 and before. I’ll grant it’s not the most recent stuff, but it’s still fairly current. In 2011 I believe they’ll allow free on-line access to journals from calendar year 2008 and before, and so on.

  23. Dean says:

    All in all, I think I’d prefer my weather forecaster not to talk about climate change and just do the forecast. They aren’t likely to add much to the quality of the discussion if they tried, so maybe they shouldn’t try.

  24. PurpleOzone says:

    Some forecasters do a good job reporting on climate change. Bob Ryan in DC has an excellent background in meteorology, and communicates on global warming well. (He’s also a great showman and has good hair.)

    I’m wondering if the AMS could hold sessions at their conferences where climate scientists could give overviews for weatherman. In “weatherman speak”. This wouldn’t help in the cases of station owner directed distortion, or terminal stubbornness, but it might help honest weatherguys to understand better.

  25. AJ says:

    You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows…

  26. davey says:

    Elizabeth Kolbert deftly sums up the “weathercasters are climate change experts” in this week’s New Yorker – http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/04/12/100412taco_talk_kolbert

  27. paulm says:

    I think weather forecasters are starting to having 2nd thoughts on this GW thing…

    http://www.accuweather.com/video/58063217001/the-heat-is-on-in-the-east.asp