National Academy of Sciences slams climate disinformation campaign, flawed media coverage

WashPost editorial: Climate change denial becomes harder to justify

Last week I blogged on the major new climate report from the National Academy of Sciences, which called on nation to “substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions” starting ASAP.

A commenter pointed out a paragraph I missed buried on page 35 in the brief discussion of how “Many factors complicate and impede public understanding of climate change”:

Most people rely on secondary sources for information, especially the mass media; and some of these sources are affected by concerted campaigns against policies to limit CO2 emissions, which promote beliefs about climate change that are not well-supported by scientific evidence. U.S. media coverage sometimes presents aspects of climate change that are uncontroversial among the research community as being matters of serious scientific debate. Such factors likely play a role in the increasing polarization of public beliefs about climate change, along lines of political ideology, that has been observed in the United States.

Wow (considering the source).

The NAS is pretty darn bland and conservative as evidence by 90% of the contents of this report.  So this is a hard slam against the mass media for being suckered by the fossil-fuel-funded anti-scientific disinformation campaign and generally miscovering the story of the century.

And for those in the anti-scientist and/or breakthrough bunch who primarily blame the victims for both the disinformation campaign and the resulting polarization, the U.S. National Academy is calling BS on you.

UPDATE:  The Washington Post has another editorial slamming the deniers, based on the NAS report.  The whole thing is worth reading.  Here are some excerpts:

… In a report titled “America’s Climate Choices,” a panel of scientific and policy experts also concludes that the risks of inaction far outweigh the risks or disadvantages of action.

And the most sensible and urgently needed action, the panel says, is to put a rising price on carbon emissions, by means of a tax or cap-and-trade system. That would encourage innovation, research and a gradual shift away from the use of energy sources (oil, gas and coal) that are endangering the world.None of this should come as a surprise. None of this is news. But it is newsworthy, sadly, because the Republican Party, and therefore the U.S. government, have moved so far from reality and responsibility in their approach to climate change….

Climate-change deniers, in other words, are willfully ignorant, lost in wishful thinking, cynical or some combination of the three. And their recalcitrance is dangerous, the report makes clear, because the longer the nation waits to respond to climate change, the more catastrophic the planetary damage is likely to be “” and the more drastic the needed response…..

What happens when Congress asks a question and gets an answer it doesn’t like? The response from Texas Rep. Joe Barton, senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, provides a clue. “I see nothing substantive in this report that adds to the knowledge base necessary to make an informed decision about what steps “” if any “” should be taken to address climate change,” Mr. Barton told the New York Times.

He’s right, of course “” there is essentially nothing new, and that’s the point. Every candidate for political office in the next cycle, including for president, should be asked whether they disagree with the scientific consensus of America’s premier scientific advisory group, as reflected in this report; and if so, on what basis they disagree; and if not, what they propose to do about the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms that, absent a change in policy, loom on America’s horizon.

Great editorial.  Now the WashPost just needs to fix its own reporting (see Washington Post story about impact of global warming on Greenland never mentions sea level rise).

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21 Responses to National Academy of Sciences slams climate disinformation campaign, flawed media coverage

  1. Colorado Bob says:

    Climate study gets pulled after charges of plagiarism

    Evidence of plagiarism and complaints about the peer-review process have led a statistics journal to retract a federally funded study that condemned scientific support for global warming.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Good for NAS. They are noticing that until now the dialogue has been going like this:

    Deniers: “The earth is flat, and a cabal of grant seeking scientists is inventing evidence to try to prove that we are a sphere. We won’t stand for it”.

    Scientists: “Here is the link to the spectral evidence demonstrating surface curvature of 1/3875mm per meter, as published and peer reviewed at the Journal of Atmospheric Physics, Nov. 2010 page 74”.

    We need that, too, but the statement from NAS was overdue- and still understated. How about:

    Scientists: “It’s not just that you are unqualified to have opinions about atmospheric observations. All of your calculations are wrong, your opinions are meaningless, and these contributions to the public dialogue are causing enormous damage”.

  3. Mike says:

    Bob: Wow!

    The USA Today article says: “In a March 16 e-mail to the journal, Wegman blamed a student who “had basically copied and pasted” from others’ work into the 2006 congressional report,…”

    A student pasted together parts of a report for Congress! That’s shocking.

  4. George Ennis says:

    This is another example of what Chris Hedges describes in his book ‘The Death of the Liberal Class”.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    Kudos to the NAS.

    Kudos also to USA Today for the investigative reporting of the Wegman studys, as USA Today funded the plagiarism experts.

    Pew’s Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has compiled a table on the top 25 media organizations, by viewership:

    Internet searching with a media name from the Pew list and the keywords “climate change” kicks out an interesting variety of recent articles.
    It would be a nice masters project to do more systematically.

  6. Joan Savage says:

    Kudos to the NAS.

    Kudos also to USA Today for the investigative reporting of the Wegman study, as USA Today funded the plagiarism experts.

    Pew’s Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has compiled a table on the top 25 media organizations, by viewership:

    Internet searching with a media name from the Pew list and the keywords “climate change” kicks out an interesting variety of recent articles.
    It would be a nice masters project to do more systematically.

    revised submission with typo correction

  7. Ed Hummel says:

    Could it be that the seeming change in the WP recently (at least their editorials) is the beginning of change we can really believe in that could conceiveably spread. The cynic in me wants to say it’s all fake or an illusion while the little of me that still tries to be optimistic says just maybe…..

  8. Robert Brulle says:

    To all:
    If you want to read more of the refereed literature on the topic of political polarization over the issue of climate change, the latest issue of the academic journal Sociological Quarterly has a symposium on climate change politics. It is available free. Here are the links.
    Robert Brulle

    1. The Politicization of Climate Change and Polarization In the American Public’s Views of Global Warming, 2001–2010 Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap

    2. The Unbearable Lightness of Politics: Climate Change Denial and Political Polarization Robert J. Antonio and Robert J. Brulle

    3. Climate Change, Public Opinion, and The Military Security Complex Joane Nagel

    4. Democratic Politics And The Long March On Global Warming J. Craig Jenkins

  9. Zetetic says:

    About the Wegman study being pulled…. It occurs to me that since it was a federally funded study, that bringing it up would be a good idea when the next time a denialist mentions that counter-AGW research doesn’t get government funding.

    It’s a clear example of federal funding going specifically to critiquing AGW research, and the writers of the report apparently engaged in unethical behavior to do so.

    Back to the subject…. I’m also glad to see the ACC report come out, and apparently make it’s recommendations in terms that are more clear to the public.

  10. paulm says:

    Joe this blog is indispensable.

  11. Sou says:

    OT – looks like dreadful fires in Alberta, Canada, destroying Slave Lake, a town of 7,000. A couple of provinces across, Manitoba is fighting floods. This year is another huge year for disasters already and its not even half way through.

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    What Strikes Me (and Should Strike Us All)

    What strikes me, and should strike us all, is this: We know that the vast majority of scientific organizations agree on the reality and problem of global warming. We know about the deniers and their approaches. We know (that is, most relevant scientists who care about the topic know) that the media have a major influence on public understanding, confusion, attitudes, and so forth. And relevant scientists know the ins/outs and quirks of human psychology as they relate to our ability to face and address big long-term problems — and the sorts of things that will be necessary to gain attention and achieve effective action if we want to gain attention and achieve effective action.

    So what strikes me? We have the necessary understanding: we just don’t choose to act on it. What do I mean by “we”? Well, for one thing, I’m talking about the collections of scientists and scholars who (presumably) have the accumulated understanding (I won’t call it ‘wisdom’), i.e., those collections of folks and pieces of real estate that we call ‘universities’.

    We act as though we’re waiting for some “miracle” to happen, some new piece of insight or data that will solve the problem, or else we’re merely waiting for catastrophes that are big enough and frequent enough that they’ll get the public’s attention. (After all, that way we won’t have to do the things necessary to get the public’s attention ourselves!) But alas, there is no miraculous insight coming, or at least probably not — and we certainly shouldn’t sit around waiting for it to come. Pockets of people — who are presumably experts in all the various fields — understand the sorts of things that are needed. They just aren’t acting vigorously, courageously, and creatively enough based on that understanding. So we all talk, talk, talk, and write, write, write.

    The other weekend (on Mother’s Day) I went to a climate-related march in San Francisco, announced here on CP. Between 100 and 140 people showed up: I counted a number of times. It seems that people are comfortable talking and writing, talking and writing, and talking and writing more; but far too few people are willing to do much else.

    Be Well,


  13. J Bowers says:

    The UK just had its warmest April for 350 years (with forest fires, etc). A two week heatwave starts on Saturday to probably make May the warmest for 350 years as well.

  14. USAToday:
    “George Mason University said in 2010 that it was investigating the charges of plagiarism. University spokesman Dan Walsch says the study retraction was a “personnel matter” and declined to comment.”
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    What is going on with that George Mason University investigation into the Wegman plagiarism charges and John Mashey’s review?

    Have they retitled it ‘from here to eternity’ and hoping that everyone will forget about it? Where’s Cuccinelli when you need him?

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The NAS is suitably forthright, and describes the ideological roots of denialism accurately. They have to go further, though, speaking out more boldly, upbraiding denialists and urging people to vote for their children and oust denialists. The Washington Post, however, is guilty, in my opinion, of simple humbug. Even ‘The Fundament’ (aka The Australian) in this country claims in its editorials to acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic climate destabilisation, while its opinion pages, letters, even news reports are utterly biased to denialism in its crudest manifestations. The Washington Post still peddles the ‘equivalency’ and ‘disputed science’ lines, where it counts, in news and opinion (who reads editorials any more?). As for the NAS’s advocacy of a carbon price, that has twice in this country been a boon to the hard Right denialist Opposition Leader Abbott, aided 100% by the Murdoch MSM apparatus, to run a simple, manic, moronic scare campaign, based on explicit appeals to greedy self-interest and a sub-text of outright denialism. Of course, with that regard for the truth that is now de rigeur in our politics, Abbott denies being a denialist, although he still occasionally gets carried away when in the company of fellow Dunning-Krugerites, where he denies that he ever denied being a denialist. Of course his political success, which signals the end of the Dullard regime, the most lamentable in Labor Party history, has been immensely aided by the Government’s almost comical idiocy and incompetence in selling the carbon price policy.

  16. What’s up with George Mason University? It may have something to do with what was reported at Think Progress–that one of the notorious Koch brothers “virtually owns” it.

  17. Tim L. says:

    A good editorial, but it won’t be until the WhiteWashPost stops running George Will’s unmitigated climate denialist b.s. that I’ll believe their editorial board “gets it” on climate.

  18. Charles says:

    Thank you, Dr. Brulle for the links to the great essays from Sociological Quarterly. They are a sobering read. For example, from the research by McCright and Dunlap, we see this conclusion:

    “Our results indicate that this conflict is also diffusing throughout the American public. Liberals and Democrats are more likely to take the side of the scientific consensus and many environmental movement organizations, proclaiming that global warming is real, is human-caused, and is a worrisome threat. On the other hand, conservatives and Republicans are more likely to dispute or deny the scientific consensus and the claims of the environmental community, thereby defending the industrial capitalist system.

    “This trend poses a challenge for proponents of reflexive modernization, as a growing percentage of the American public—and not just self-interested industrial/conservative elites—denies the scientific evidence documenting anthropogenic climate change and thus the need for ameliorative action. This diffusion of anti-reflexivity throughout society results in a declining portion of the populace willing to acknowledge a major negative consequence of industrial capitalism. The culture wars have thus taken on a new dimension, with serious implications for long-term societal resilience.”

    Education by itself ain’t gonna change things … unless you consider other approaches. Here’s what Antonio and Brulle conclude:

    “Recognizing that we are embedded in the biosphere compels envisioning a possible post-neoliberal community that cultivates awareness of our social interdependence and responsibility to fellow human beings, future generations, and other life on the planet. This sense of collective fate could be forged in efforts to illuminate what confronts us, form strategies to deal with it, and in the shared intensity of collective action aimed to alter our relations to others and to nature. All this may sound utopian, but globalization and its environmental wall has changed the scenario—in a “full world,” where global resource consumption is extended to hundreds of millions or billions more people, continuous, unplanned exponential growth simply cannot be sustained.”

    I’m part of a group of educators in a mid-sized Canadian university that is attempting to cultivate awareness of social and ecological interdependence. It seems to us that such ontological shifts will be part of the required actions.

  19. Mike Roddy says:

    Tim L, you’re right. The Post can’t have it both ways, which includes George Will throwing bones to the deniers. Either you stand for the truth or you don’t.

  20. MBN says:

    It’s alright. We’ll just sue them all for gross negligence and reckless endangerment. Obama has been a complete failure on this front. Huntsman, a Republican, has now made stronger statements than Obama. Remarkable. It took until 2011 for a series return punch to the deniers, better late than never.