49 Responses to Washington Post Embraces False Balance in Flawed Piece on Heartland Affair
NY Times Andrew Revkin Walks Back Some of His “Overstated” Phrases About Peter Gleick — Or Does He?
The media loves he-said, she-said stories. Those have the most narrative drama and require the least amount of actual judgment on the part of reporters or editors. Just relate the core facts and then slap some opposing quotes and you are done!
And so we have the Washington Post‘s story on the Heartland affair, “Climate scientist admits duping skeptic group to obtain documents.”
Of course the piece had to quote Heartland Institute President Joseph L. Bast. But recall that several leading climate scientists slammed Heartland last week for “spreading misinformation” and “personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals.” Bast himself told Climate Progress last year, the “ecological impact” of mining and burning fossil fuels is “not negative”! And remember his 2006 quote on second-hand smoking that “no victim of cancer, heart disease, etc. can ‘prove’ his or her cancer or heart disease was caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.”
Surely one representative of the misinformers is more than enough in any serious news article on climate. But no, the WashPost actually quotes the long-debunked Richard Lindzen to close its piece — please, put your head vises on for this one:
Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has questioned whether climate change will cause effects as severe as some predict, said he has been struck by “the viciousness” of his opponents. But Lindzen feels obligated to keep questioning what Gleick and others say about climate change impact “because they’re lies, it’s that simple. What would you do if people were truly misrepresenting things, and it has consequences for society?”
The WashPost quotes Lindzen attacking others for telling lies and misrepresenting things? Here are RealClimate scientists debunking a “series of strawman arguments, red-herrings and out and out errors” by Lindzen. Then we have climatologist Kevin Trenberth explaining that the flaws in Lindzen-Choi paper “have all the appearance of the authors having contrived to get the answer they got”. Here is The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder debunking Lindzen, “Global warming denialists have been re-discredited”
How could the Washington Post run those head-exploding quotes from Lindzen?
But they are sober stuff compared to Lindzen’s crocodile tears about how he’s been “struck by ‘the viciousness’ of his opponents?” Last year, he smeared his one-time close friend climatologist Kerry Emanuel:
Emanuel “would tell me that he really felt that it would be a mistake not to take advantage of the issue . . . there is funding . . . it could benefit the department,” Lindzen said in an interview. “I always took a more moralistic view. There has to be a foundation.”
In addition to two misinformers, the Post led the piece off with a confusionist:
“My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved,” Gleick wrote in a post on his Huffington Post blog.
Gleick’s admission “is the latest in an escalating spiral of polarizing warfare between self-described ‘Climate Hawks’ and so-called Climate Deniers,” which leaves the majority of scientists and the public “caught in the crossfire,” American University professor Matthew C. Nisbet, who studies the issues, wrote in a blog entry.
[Pause to clean up grey matter because your head vise wasn’t strong enough.]
You can see Nisbet’s biases in his word choice. Climate Hawks are supposedly “self-described” whereas Deniers are “so-called.” This is just a subtle restatement of false balance. In fact, many deniers are “self-described” (see here). Lindzen himself is!
“I actually like ‘denier.’ That’s closer than skeptic,” says MIT’s Richard Lindzen.
And I don’t know of any climate scientists who describe themselves as “Climate Hawks.”
Nisbet is someone who spends far more time criticizing climate science advocates than he does deniers. That’s his right, but the WashPost shouldn’t be quoting him as if he were some unbiased honest broker. Indeed he is a widely refuted confusionist — see Leading expert withdraws name fromClimate Shift report, explains how key conclusion that environmentalists weren’t outspent by opponents of climate bill “is contradicted by Nisbet’s own data.”
In that report, Nisbet tried to blame the polarization on Gore, but as Prof. Robert Brulle explained: “The discussion of Al Gore ignores basic scholarship on the climate denial efforts, and supports an ideological position that is not grounded in an empirical analysis.” Many of the leading social science researchers in this country agree with Brulle’s conclusion, including McCright and Dunlap and Krosnick (see here).
Nisbet has made clear whom he blames for the polarization, despite what the social science literature and polling data say. He downplayed the role of the deniers and false balance in the media, causing Brulle to say, “I think this conclusion is bogus.” He is not the guy to turn to for some independent assessment of “polarizing warfare.”
Yesterday, I excerpted part of NYT blogger Andrew Revkin’s piece on Gleick and said he should retract his overstatements about Gleick.
Revkin replied today in a head-exploding way. He wrote:
I didn’t demand he retract the whole piece, as anyone can see, just the overstatements about Gleick. Still, face-saving move, I get it.
Then Revkin did in fact retract some of the overstatements:
I will acknowledge that certain phrases, written in haste, were overstated. Gleick’s reputation and credibility are seriously damaged, not necessarily in ruins ordestroyed.
Duh. Awesome. But here’s the amazing part. Revkin didn’t go back into the original post and make the changes. At least as of 7:40 pm EST — 7 hours after the acknowledgment of error — the now-acknowledged overstatements were still there!
Oh well, lesson not learned.
Then Revkin proceeds to rewrite some history about some earlier errors of his. I pointed out Revkin has made countless mistakes that he has never formally retracted or apologized for [see, for instance, “NYT’s Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!) and repeats outright misinformation“]. He writes:
Romm’s claim that my news story on a recent lack of warming was wrong doesn’t acknowledge the sequence of scientific papers since that time….
Uhh, no. My claim his story was wrong was based on my identification of several errors — including a factor of 10 (lowball) mistake in the temperature rise in the past 10 years!
Now here’s the thing. If you check the sentences that I said were wrong or misleading, he went back and changed every single one of them in his online story for the Times — but without indicating that he made the change and without mentioning who had pointed out his errors.
So he can lecture someone else about admitting mistakes.
I critique Big Media so much because they have 10 to 100 times my readership and occasionally they fix their mistakes, even if they have a hard time admitting it.
Bizarrely, Revkin quotes some blogger who can’t count asserting I devoted only 27 words in my post to saying “Gleick was wrong.” But I reprinted Gleick’s entire mea culpa. All told, I devoted nearly 400 words to describing Gleick’s errors and agreeing with Gleick’s assessment that he committed a serious lapse of my professional judgment and ethics.
But again, I was quite confident that Big Media would overhype that part of the story. My aim is to put some perspective into the issue and criticize those who have the credibility and audience of Big Media. In this case, Revkin walked back some of his statements, sort of, so I stand by my post.
Finally, Revkin ends his piece this way:
I’m not proud of any errors, but I do make them. It’s enormously creditable that Peter Gleick has owned up to his terrible error in judgment.
The only people I see out there in the climate fight who – as far as I can tell — never admit to an error are people with agendas from which they can never stray. They’re perfect.
Obviously only the deniers — the rejectionists — never change their views as the facts change and never admit they were wrong.
I suppose Revkin wants folks to think he is talking about a certain climate blogger, but as a scientist who has written literally millions of words on this subject in the past few years, it would be impossible not to make mistakes and I admit them regularly — see, for instance, ironically enough, my post about whether you should cancel your subscription to the New York Times.
Aside from the errors common to all bloggers, I’d add that I have made two big errors in my two decades working on this issue. I have consistently underestimated the timing and speed of climate impacts and the level of greenhouse gas emissions that would likely cause catastrophic warming. In the 1990s, I was actually a 550 ppm guy! Now I’m a 450 ppm guy and I still may be too high! There’s also a mistake I’ve made in my approach to blogging that I’ve worked to fix in the last year or two. But I think I will leave that for a separate post.
NOTE: ThinkProgress is among several publications to have published documents attributed to the Heartland Institute and sent to us from an anonymous and then unknown source. The source later revealed himself to be Gleick. Heartland Institute has issued several press releases claiming that one document (“2012 Climate Strategy”) is fake and asserting other claims regarding the other documents. ThinkProgress has taken down the 2012 Climate Strategy document as it determines the document’s authenticity.