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NY Times, WSJ, and Washington Post all rejected op-ed/letter from 255 National Academy of Sciences members defending climate science integrity

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MSM largely ignored it, but unintentionally clever ploy by Science with polar bear artwork got the anti-science crowd to read it

http://blogs.news.com.au/images/uploads/floatypoley.gif

Last week, I wrote about the remarkable letter in Science supporting the accuracy of climate science, signed by 255 National Academy of Sciences members, including 11 Nobel laureates.

The insufficiently-covered letter has been kept alive as a story for two reasons.  First, the editors at Science ran the letter with a ‘photoshopped’ ‘collage’ (see above).  Second, we learned that the authors first tried to get some of the newspapers that have been publishing dubious attacks on climate scientists to publish the piece as an op-ed, but were rejected.

Let’s start with the second.  I asked the lead author, Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick, if the bombshell about the rejections buried in the NYT Green blog story were true.  He wrote me back:

We sent it first as an op-ed (one at a time, in order) to the WSJ, then the NY Times, then the Post. Each rejected it. No reasons given (they don’t usually). We then took it to Science, rather than try other smaller circulation newspapers. They agreed, and as you know, ran it on May 7th. The media coverage has been substantial, though mostly electronic media. And in terms of “mainstream media” more attention was given OUTSIDE of the US than inside — so some of the major papers in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Portugal, but not here. But some good coverage here too. I’ve attached a long, long list of media coverage (incomplete, but you’ll get the idea why I say “substantial’).

Here is the full list.

It is no surprise that the WSJ turned them down — frankly, I wouldn’t have bothered with the WSJ at all given the extremist views of their editorial page.

But the New York Times has published a number of series of pieces repeating dubious attacks on climate science and climate scientists — including a couple of dreadful ones the front page –  for which they have been roundly criticized:

So this would have been a simple way for the one-time ‘paper of record’ to begin to restore balance to their coverage.

As for the WashPost, they have utterly abandoned their op-ed page to the anti-science crowd (see “The Washington Post goes tabloid, publishes second falsehood-filled op-ed by Sarah Palin in five months “” on climate science and the hacked emails!” and “And the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to “¦“).  It’s also not a surprise I suppose that they turned down the scientists, but again, it would have been a very simple way to show that they were at least superficially interested in restoring balance.

I asked Gleick why “the mainstream media mostly ignored this letter once it was out” and in addition to his above comment, he added:

To be honest, I don’t understand why the media in the US refuses to address climate, or does so in such a shallow way, or cannot differentiate between the mainstream science and the incredibly vocal but small minority of climate change deniers.

I don’t want to waste a lot of time on the essentially irrelevant mistake Science made.  I’ve seen some pretty silly stuff written about it on the blogosphere — and not just from the anti-science crowd.  Gleick has a good HuffPost piece, “Remarkable Insight Into the Climate Denial Machine.”

In a remarkable bit of irony, the art chosen by editors (not by the authors of the letter) at Science to accompany the letter was a picture of a polar bear on an ice floe. To the embarrassment of the journal, this photo is “photoshopped” — combining polar bear, ice floes, clouds, and other elements into a perfectly lovely, albeit made-up piece of art. Oops. The journal, of course, when they realized their mistake, agreed to swap out the photo and post a sheepish correction.

But this incident has also provided a fantastic peek into the way the climate denial “machine” works — and I call it a machine, because it truly operates like one. The small but vocal part of the infosphere dominated by the climate deniers seized on this “fake” photo to try to paint the entire climate science community as fake.

Science itself took down the image, replaced it with the one below, and added this correction:

Due to an editorial error, the original image associated with this Letter was not a photograph but a collage. The image was selected by the editors, and it was a mistake to have used it. The original image has been replaced in the online HTML and PDF versions of the article with an unaltered photograph from National Geographic.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/vol328/issue5979/images/medium/328_689_F1.gif

Much ado about not bloody much.

Indeed, in the spirit of what you can find on the blogosphere about this “kerfuffle” (Gleick’s word for it in his email to me), let me praise Science for its initial “mistake.”  The U.S. status quo media were never going to cover this letter very much because … well, because they are status quo.  And that meant the anti-science bloggers could ignore it.  And that meant their (dwindling) legions of readers and linkers weren’t  going to see the letter.  But now many of them have, and perhaps one or two, unconsciously, will be moved.

More seriously, it was silly of Science to have any image at all that might pigeonhole this important letter or detract from it even microscopically as happened here.  The letter ain’t about polar bears.  Next time, Science, how about this one, which comes from research published in your own pages (see Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds):

A Hockey Stick in Melting Ice

figure

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32 Responses to NY Times, WSJ, and Washington Post all rejected op-ed/letter from 255 National Academy of Sciences members defending climate science integrity

  1. Raul M. says:

    The last time I was offered a “free” gas powered car, I replied, “yes,
    thank-you, I do want some yard art.” I don’t think that I ever did drive
    that car.

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe quoted Peter Gleick: “To be honest, I don’t understand why the media in the US refuses to address climate, or does so in such a shallow way, or cannot differentiate between the mainstream science and the incredibly vocal but small minority of climate change deniers.”

    I would humbly suggest that Peter Gleick consider the hypothesis that it has something to do with the fossil fuel corporations raking in HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in profit EVERY DAY from continued business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels, and the fact that “the media in the US” is almost entirely owned by a handful of giant corporations, who use their enormous, near-totalitarian control of the information that reaches the American people to propagandize in the corporate interest, rather than to impartially inform and educate the American people in the public interest.

  3. The letter has gotten respectable pick-up here in Canada, including in an excellent Edmonton Journal article today:

    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/technology/Challenging+climate+change+deniers/3021533/story.html

    Thomson’s is quite a lonely voice in Alberta, unfortunately…

  4. Icarus says:

    I would humbly suggest that Peter Gleick consider the hypothesis that it has something to do with the fossil fuel corporations raking in HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in profit EVERY DAY from continued business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels, and the fact that “the media in the US” is almost entirely owned by a handful of giant corporations, who use their enormous, near-totalitarian control of the information that reaches the American people to propagandize in the corporate interest, rather than to impartially inform and educate the American people in the public interest.

    That’s actually about the most accurate, eloquent and succinct description of the problem that I’ve ever read. Well said.

  5. Wit's End says:

    Agreed, Icarus. HumbleSecurlarAnimest, may we quote you at will?

  6. Wit's End says:

    What a bunch of twaddle anyway. If there had been a drawing of a polar bear on an ice flow, would that have been considered deceptive? Photoshopping is as much art as any photograph, all of which is developed in any variety of methods that alter the outcome, and it should be considered an illustration.

  7. Russell says:

    If environmental hype and climate denial come across as flip sides of the same counterfeit coin, it’s because the mugs who mint the slugs work both sides of K-Street.

    The corporate flack catchers, disinformation artistes, and factoid manufacturers whose shops line that dismal urban canyon care less about matters scientific or environmental than Marshall McLuhan’s immortal wheeze that, with the advent of television, advertising has become more important than products.

  8. Raul M. says:

    Some sociologists may want to study the quick change over in corporate
    attitude toward the ones that are hired to do the Gulf Coast clean-up
    walking along the beaches picking up dead fish and tarballs. Certainly,
    some who have been hired are surprised to find that they are welcomed
    on some of those exclusive beaches.

  9. Aaron Lewis says:

    The folks at Science know their readers. The promise is gentile content for gentile readers.

    The social contract at Science is to report the nice clean news coming from labs in “Ivory Towers.” Look at how politely and abstractly the output of GCM is phrased, when the reality of the impact is floods and drought that lead to destruction and death. The GCM are abstract models, and the composite photo was a visual abstract model.

    Did we really want Science to use a real untouched photo of the drowned corpse of a polar bear? That would be the kind of image that gives people nightmares. Do we want people to know that global warming is already having those kinds of terrible effects?

    Not only do we have a general public to educate about AGW, we also have a scientific public that has not thought through what the polite words in the abstract of the last article about AGW actually mean. Do we want to alienate them with some gruesome and repulsive image?

    I think the use of the composed image was a professional judgment call on the part of the folks at Science that was consistent with the current culture in the academic community. I cannot fault them for the decision. I can say that we need to very rapidly change the culture in the academic community.

    Now is the time for “Real Science”, gruesume images and all.

  10. Peter Bellin says:

    Not to mention the media attention to the Senate Climate bill.

    In the LA Times, there was a very brief article on page A11. I did not get a chacne to read my local paper, but I doubt that was on page 1.

    What can one say?

  11. Jeff Huggins says:

    Applause and Aaarrgghhh!

    I applaud Dr. Gleick, the other scientists who signed the letter, the journal Science, and the AAAS regarding this letter. Bravo!

    (I also applaud Joe and CP for covering it, of course.)

    That said, let’s be honest, clear, and analytic about this: The media’s coverage of the letter in the U.S. was downright dismal.

    No, it was not great. It was not good. It was not surprisingly respectable. It was not OK. It was not even disappointing. It was dismal.

    C’mon, scientists. You know how to do analyses and to respect the data. The mainstream media’s coverage of this letter was dismal.

    As of today, The New York Times has not even mentioned the letter in the paper. They didn’t mention it Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday (Science day!), yesterday, or today.

    And, I watch the cable news shows (and often channel-surf among them) on most evenings: I haven’t seen or heard the letter mentioned once.

    To be clear, I’m not blaming the folks who wrote or signed the letter. I’m not calling the effort a waste of time. Not at all. I think it was a great effort, and we need more of them. But, the way to progress involves honesty, honest assessment, and clear thinking, and the mainstream media dropped a big ball on this one. Let’s put blame where it’s deserved.

    Also, the question is not really whether the letter was covered in a small article on page 17. Nor is the question merely one of coverage — i.e., the fact of it rather than the quality of it. The very limited coverage I’ve seen places the emphasis, as usual, on the “controversy” and disagreement. “Look: People criticized the scientists, and now the scientists are fighting back.” “What a great fight!” “Popcorn, anyone?” The limited coverage I’ve seen does NOT put the emphasis on the problem (global warming) itself or on the reality and robustness of the scientific understanding. The limited coverage I’ve seen places most of its emphasis on “the boxing match”.

    Indeed, the best portions of this letter are NOT those that focus on the fight and criticism, although (under the circumstances) those are important. Instead, the best aspects of this letter are those that clearly state and convey the reality and importance of the global warming problem itself, along with all the signatures.

    The reason it’s important for us to be honest and analytical about this is that the media will have to get their act together in order for us to make the degree of progress we need to effectively address global warming. Period. So, we shouldn’t “white-wash” the media problem, pat ourselves on the back, and move on. No way. Instead, we should PRESS the media (e.g., The New York Times) to explain clearly why it didn’t cover the letter. We should insist on clear answers. We should rebut those answers if they aren’t responsible and sound. We should insist on coverage now! (After all, The New York Times could still cover the letter: It would still be “new” to 99.9 percent of readers, and the concrete substance of the letter is still vitally important anyhow, even though the letter was published a week ago.)

    It’s time to name names and insist on answers. Andy Revkin, why did The Times not publish the letter, and why has The Times STILL not covered it? Andy Revkin, have you gone upstairs and even asked Bill Keller those questions? Paul Krugman, why has The Times not covered the letter? Have you asked Bill Keller what the problem is? What did he say? Clark Hoyt (the Times’ Public Editor), why has The Times not covered the letter, prominently? Have you asked Bill Keller? If so, what did he say? If not, why not?

    And Curtis Brainard (CJR’s The Observatory), have you covered the fact that The Times has not covered the letter? Have you monitored the extent and nature and quality of the media’s coverage of this letter, as I had suggested? Have you asked The Times why they haven’t covered this letter yet?

    I don’t think that it’s going to help matters if the scientific community shrugs its shoulders, gives the media an undeserved “B” or even “A-” on this, or says, “well after all, the media will be the media”.

    No.

    I think it’s time for the scientific community to INSIST on improvement within the media and to “make a stink” about those media organizations that are not being responsible. Actually, the time for that was years ago. Too much time has passed already.

    Scientists had better get OUT of their own comfort zones and become vocal, active, and insistent. After all, many other people don’t really “get” the problem, really. Most scientists do. So, scientists actually have a deep and pressing responsibility TO speak out and insist on responsible action. Ten years from now, a far-too-large portion of the public will be able to say “at the time, we didn’t really realize the size or urgency of the problem” — “the media didn’t cover it that well, and anyhow we aren’t scientists.” BUT, scientists won’t have such an excuse. Scientists will be left with saying, “we understood, but it’s not really our job or normal style to speak up”. But of course, on matters such as these, that’s no excuse. Not even close.

    And, do you realize this: Even today, The Times’ coverage of the new American Power Act (proposed legislation) consists of a fairly small article on Page 16! You heard me right: Page 16. That’s not page 10, nor page 8, nor page 5. It’s far away from the front page. Why in the heck is The Times’ coverage of the proposed legislation not on the front page?

    Andy? Paul? Bill Keller? Clark? Curtis? What’s up? Answers please!

    Sigh,

    Jeff

  12. BB says:

    Y’all better be careful with this stuff–’praising’ subterfuge because
    it enhances the message to an audience that may not have otherwise
    looked at it. Some would say that’s still unethical.

    Maybe it is much ado about nothing (because presumably that sort of enhancement wasn’t really necessary even though someone thought it was)…but now when someone else does it that you don’t like, you can’t reach for that arrow in the quiver.

    I doubt that you’d say this sort of thing is only ‘good’ when done to advance climate science … but to me that’s sort of like saying waterboarding is ‘good’ because we might get something out of a bad-guy that wouldn’t otherwise talk.

  13. Tony Sidaway says:

    I don’t agree that this letter got insufficient coverage. The Guardian, in fact, reproduced the letter in full, as did several other newspapers.

    [JR: Which U.S. newspapers reprinted it?]

    You need to lose your inferiority complex. As of now, the number of nations that are not aware of the threat of climate change and actively considering measures to combat it is negligible. We achieved saturation quite a while ago. The effect of various controversies is minimal, the nay-sayers lack traction because the problem is obvious and big.

    So what do you need to do? Stop whining about the wankers. Ignore them. They have no coherent science, their politics is as attractive as leprosy, and their public relations coups founder on the rocks of their relentless contrarianism. They’re disgusting the world with their antics Play a straight bat and leave them to it.

  14. Chad says:

    Why did so few people sign this letter? There are over 2000 members in the academy! I think 1700+ people need a smack upside the noggin.

  15. Wit's End says:

    Does anyone know whether everyone in the academy was asked to sign, or how that process happened?

  16. dhogaza says:

    Also, apparently Revkin did blog about the letter over at dotearth. Not that this is any excuse for it being turned down by the op-ed editors …

  17. Seth Masia says:

    I hope Aaron Lewis meant genteel, and not gentile. There’s a difference.

  18. Chad says:

    I agree, Wit’s End. I would love to know why only 255 people signed it. Was only a small fraction of the academy asked? Were those who were asked in fields more relevant to climate change than those who were not?

    A letter with a large majority of academy members’ signatures would be more impressive.

  19. mike roddy says:

    I’m already pretty cynical, but MSM’s ignoring that excellent letter represents a new low. The signatories need to pursue this further, and communicate not only the contents of the letter, but the obvious conflicts of interest by major news outlets.

  20. caerbannog says:


    I agree, Wit’s End. I would love to know why only 255 people signed it. Was only a small fraction of the academy asked? Were those who were asked in fields more relevant to climate change than those who were not?

    Peter Gleick explains it all here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-h-gleick/climate-change-and-the-in_b_564362.html

    Excerpt:

    It is hard to get 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to agree on pretty much anything, making the import of this letter even more substantial. Moreover, only a small fraction of National Academy members were asked to sign (the signatories are all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences but were not speaking on its behalf). Because of a desire to produce a statement quickly, the coordinators of the letter focused on those sections of the NAS most familiar with climate science and the ongoing debate.

  21. PurpleOzone says:

    Science magazine might have used an image of an upside down car floating into a floating portable classroom down the river in Nashville. Or the corpses in the car. Fortunately the temporary classroom was empty of children as it went downstream and disintegrated.

    Oh, I forgot: we aren’t supposed to say that 2 x the previous record rainfall is due to global warming.

  22. PurpleOzone says:

    #14 Chad. Peter Gleick said they only contacted the members in related sciences, in the interest of time. They wanted to get the letter out quickly.

  23. substanti8 says:

    “genteel, and not gentile”

    Oy vey!

    “only contacted the members in related sciences”

    Then why isn’t Richard Alley on the list?

  24. Wit's End says:

    Thanks Caerbannog and PurpleOzone!

  25. Robert Coleman says:

    I would ask everyone reading this to write the public editor of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, and ask him to explain why this so-called “paper of record” has refused to print this extraordinary letter from these respected scientists. If mainstream journalists are still wondering why the respect for their profession is at an all-time low they need only look at incidents like this.

  26. Chad says:

    Thanks for the link, caerbannog.

    Though it makes me wonder why anyone would claim that it is hard to get NAS members to “agree on anything”, if what they are agreeing on is true. The problem with only asking some small fraction, and only getting positive responses from an even small fraction, is that no one can tell what fraction of people responded positively. If they asked a thousand and only 255 signed it, that’s actually very embarrassing for science. If they asked 256, it means a heck of a lot. If we don’t even know how many they asked, you can be sure that smart deniers will assume a number much higher than 255.

  27. Roger says:

    Sorry to say, there have been similar letters in the past, indeed one signed by 1700 scientists, in ca. the mid 1990s, with similar results.

    (I can dig out the details, but I wanted to get this comment out quickly–no joke.)

    Sometimes we seem so hopeless!

  28. A Siegel says:

    Of course, always interesting to see where one falls. Having posted in multiple sites:

    At GESN: Scientists Issue Powerful Statement … http://getenergysmartnow.com/2010/05/06/scientists-issue-powerful-statement/

    At Daily Kos, Must Read: Scientists Issue Powerful Statement http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/5/7/864353/-Must-read:-Scientists-issue-powerful-statement There are only 361 comments and Daily Kos frontpager Meteor Blades called this the longest time that an environmental-related diary rested on the site’s ‘recommended list’

    Hmmm … neither of these are in the listed coverage (nor the sites that I crossposted to).

    Sigh …

  29. johna says:

    The MSM is probably just waiting; to give it equal space with the Hartwell paper.

  30. Greg says:

    Sorry if this was already posted but did anyone see this?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/scientists-stunned-as-grey-whale-sighted-off-israel-1971890.html

    There haven’t been any grey whales in the Atlantic in 300 years and it likely came through the newly melted Northwest passage…

  31. James Newberry says:

    MSM (main stream media) alternate description:

    Militarism Status of Mining (war profiteering, petrochemicals and uranium for war powers)
    Money Street Mining (Hydrocarbon companies are mining materials for destruction, not building energy sustainability)
    Militarism State of Multinationals (with government as subsidiaries)
    Mining, Sycophants and Militarism

    Money: a nation-state sanctioned tradable symbol of political power (along with ecological collapse, private wealth/power and unlimited public debt including quadrillion dollar climate debt)

    Now that we have deregulated Wall St. with economic meltdown, killed dozens of workers at the methane “Kleen Energy” gas plant (CT), the coal mine (WV) and the horrendous Gulf Coast oil blowout (five miles deep), what is next for the four horsemen of energy hubris? An actual fission meltdown that would finish us off? Or just the daily equivalent of thousands of nuclear weapons changing the ecosphere?

    Goodbye lizards, frogs and friends in the ocean.
    I-Cry-O-Sphere. Ecological bankruptcy. Fiscal bankruptcy.
    Corporatism-R-US. (Fossil/Fissile/Fraud/Failure/Finance/False/Finish)

  32. RoySV says:

    Just as background it appears that USA Today and The Los Angeles Times both have larger circulation than WPo.
    Perhaps the west cost needs some more love…

    Wall Street Journal 2,092,523 News Corporation
    USA Today 1,826,622 Gannett Company
    New York Times 951,063 The New York Times Company
    Los Angeles Times 616,606 Tribune Company
    Washington Post 578,482 The Washington Post Company

    (All figures from Wikipedia today)