Wall Street Journal: Selectively pro-science

–Our guest blogger is Prof. Scott Mandia, in a repost.

“Rigorous scientific studies have not identified links between autism and either thimerosal-containing vaccine or the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine” (Miller and Reynolds, 2009).  The scientific community also tells us that the world is round, that smoking is strongly linked to lung cancer, and that humans are causing global warming.  Recently, there were multiple editorials and op-eds in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) bemoaning the fact that people have not believed the scientific community on the question of vaccine safety. 

Unfortunately, while the WSJ touts accurate science with regard to vaccines, the WSJ is anti-science when it comes to climate change.  Read on for an analysis of the WSJ’s coverage of climate change and to read an excellent Letter to the Editor that was never published.

The WSJ has an archive of editorials and op-eds in a category labeled Climate Change that is only available to subscribers.  (Non-subscribers can see a few lines of content for each article but not the entire piece.)  Between October 2008 and January 25, 2011 there were a total of 86 articles in the archive.  I decided to sign up for a one-year subscription ($103) that featured a two-week free trial period.  After reading all 86 articles, I canceled via phone and was not charged.

I scored each article using the following criteria:

PRO: Article supported the scientific consensus.
CON: Article did not support the scientific consensus, mocked or attacked the science or scientists, or cherry-picked data to cast doubt.
MISSING: Article ignored any mention of human activities as a cause of climate change but did not misinform otherwise.
N/A: Article was about non-science issues such as the pros and cons of cap and trade, carbon tax, political strategies, etc.
Figure 1 below shows the results:

Fig. 1: WSJ Editorials and Op-Eds and Correct Climate Science

Fig. 1: WSJ Editorials and Op-Eds and Correct Climate Science

There were only 4 op-eds (no editorials) that were pro-science!

Figure 2 below is the result of removing the 29 N/A articles and combining the CON and MISSING articles into one category.

Fig. 2: WSJ Editorials and Op-Eds and Correct Climate Science

Fig. 2: WSJ Editorials and Op-Eds and Correct Climate Science

Figure 3 below shows a pie chart of the WSJ’s coverage of climate science.  It is the OPPOSITE of  the scientific consensus!

Fig. 3: WSJ Coverage Opposite of Science

Fig. 3: WSJ Coverage Opposite of Science

97% of climate science experts and every international scientific organization endorses the conclusion that human activities are primarily responsible for modern global warming.  An honest newspaper should reflect that consensus.

Why does the WSJ mis-report climate science 93% of the time?

After reading the editorials and op-eds it becomes clear that the WSJ does not like the SOLUTIONS to climate change so they attack, misinform, and ignore the science in the hope of avoiding or delaying dealing with the issue.  A more honest approach would be to accept and explain the science of climate change and then debate how best to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Why did the WSJ side with science in its autism/vaccine articles and not with climate change science?  The most likely answer is that they were protecting the pharmaceutical industry that profits from producing vaccines and other medicines while also protecting the fossil fuel-based industries that profits from the current carbon status quo.

The WSJ should be telling its readers what they NEED to hear and not what they WANT to hear.

They have an obligation to report the overwhelming consensus on  scientific issues so that their subscribers can make informed decisions, especially when those decisions have great financial consequences.

When considering future investments, WSJ readers cannot peer into the crystal ball if their heads are buried in the sand.

Dr. A. J. Dessler wrote a letter to the WSJ pointing out the irony of coverage of climate change science which he has allowed me to post here. The letter was not published by WSJ:

Your Editorial, “The Autism Hoax” Jan 8-9, 2011, highlights the failure of the medical scientific community to quickly put down an errant 1998 publication in The Lancet that blamed childhood vaccines for a coincident rise in diagnoses of autism. An explanation for this extended time for resolution can be offered by considering a parallel with what is happening with the present scientific findings on global warming. The Editorial states, “Researchers have all the while continued to churn out studies disproving the vaccine-autism link”, but nothing much happened for a decade. Similarly the atmospheric science community continues to “churn out studies” proving that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are largely responsible for global warming. Professional scientific organizations have collected, condensed, and synthesized these studies to estimate a range of climate consequences that can be expected.

However, the media, sensationalizing the inevitable contrary work by a negligible minority of the qualified scientific community, has caused doubt to pervade public perception. It is perhaps puzzling that statements on global warming by, for example, the American Academy of Sciences, American Meteorological Society, and America Physical Society, have not dominated media reporting. But the media usually gives roughly equal weight to the skeptical ideas of a small number of qualified scientists. As in the vaccine-autism debate, this has inflated the ideas of only a few to produce conflict in public thinking. It is important that the media not exaggerate skeptical ideas of a few individuals over the considered work of many hundreds of qualified researchers, lest the vaccine-autism circus be repeated.

— A. J. Dessler holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Duke University and is presently and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University.

Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences at Suffolk County Community College, Long Island, NY.  Mandia holds an M.S. Meteorology from Penn State University and a B.S. Meteorology from University of Lowell (now called UMass – Lowell). Mandia has been teaching introductory meteorology and paleoclimatology courses for 23 years.

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10 Responses to Wall Street Journal: Selectively pro-science

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo to Scott Mandia and Bravo to Dr. Dessler!

    And SHAME in the Wall Street Journal!!

    Professor Mandia’s analysis is remarkable. This is the sort of analysis and criticism we need much more of. The WSJ folks should be deeply ashamed of themselves: they are in the land of zero credibility, and they deserve it. The harms they are causing go FAR BEYOND whatever misinformation their readers might use when making investment decisions. Their dishonest and deeply misleading coverage influences our democracies ability to understand the situation and to make informed choices. What’s at stake? The future of our children, our children’s children, people around the world, thousands of species, and the very nature of the world we live in.

    If this analysis is anywhere near correct, these folks (who are choosing to not cover the science and to confuse the matter in their own near-term self interests) are committing a genuine crime against humanity, a moral outrage against humanity, or call it a huge sin if you like that sort of language.

    I am astonished. The WSJ should acknowledge this problem, fire those responsible (which means that some of them should fire themselves; i.e., resign), and do a “180” — committing to cover the science accurately and to convey the (very newsworthy and vital) reality that all of the largest bona fide scientific organizations, and over 97 percent of qualified relevant scientists, agree that climate change is real, is a real problem, and is caused by the human activities we’ve been talking about all along.

    I think this analysis is quite remarkable. Now the questions are: Who else will cover this remarkable analysis? And will the WSJ change its tune?

    Bravo again to the authors!


  2. paulm says:

    Don’t we just love responsible organizations.

  3. Robert In New Orleans says:

    Who owns the Wall Street Journal?, follow the ownership.

  4. Mark says:

    I think it is fair to say that the WSJ is not even selectively pro-science. They are pro-business, and most strongly pro-business for the businesses that advertise in the WSJ.

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    Good summary, thanks.

    Murdoch knows the science of climate change just fine. The problem is that, like Koch and Boyce, he has persuaded himself that his own “prosperity” is somehow good for the world. There’s a word for this outlook: insane.

    In the long run, Murdoch is just screwing himself by damaging the WSJ’s credibility.

  6. climate undergrad says:

    (ahhhh – duplicate comment issues)

    Scott this is really amazing work – I would love to help document how other papers behave as well. This could be what future law suits are made of!

    This inspired me to write the following email to a few friends and family;

    A recent study was performed on Wall St. Journal articles on climate change. Of the 86 articles listed in the Wall St. Journal Climate Change archive;
    -93% either do not support the scientific consensus, mock/attack the science/scientists, or ignore any mention of human activities (but did not misinform otherwise)
    -7% supported the scientific consensus

    -100% of National Academy of Sciences support the consensus position
    -100% of American (and International) Scientific Organizations support the consensus position
    -97% of actively publishing climate scientists support the consensus position
    -99%+ of peer-reviewed literature on the subject support the consensus position

    Ironically, in a recent article entitled “The Autism Hoax” the WSJ criticizes scientists and the media for not giving more credibility to the overwhelming consensus position, stating, “Yet it is only recently that professional journals and media have rediscovered a responsibility gene.”

    There are three ways I can imagine “debating” the conclusion that the Wall Street Journal does not accurately represent Climate Science to it’s readers;
    1. The WSJ in fact does in fact endorse the consensus position (i.e. the first story is wrong)
    2. Human-Caused Climate Change is not in fact the consensus position (i.e. The “consensus” statistics above are wrong)
    3. Human-Cause Climate Change isn’t happening (i.e. fuck the consensus)

    Dad, please reconsider your WSJ subscription, and XXXXX, I would love to hear what your dad thinks about these statistics (and if he wants to choose 1,2, or 3).

    The above is meant to be purely factual, for my opinions on this matter:

    The WSJ on Autism continued: “They (the health community) also bear some responsibility for the dollars that have been diverted from research into finding the real causes of the terrible affliction that is autism. Let’s hope they now broadcast the vaccine truth as much as they encouraged the vaccine panic.” So the WSJ is clearly NOT consistent on what the media’s responsibility is on scientific consensus positions – so what are they consistent on? In the autism case, their reporting shows a (justified) bias towards the pharmaceutical and medical industries. In the climate change case their reporting shows a (completely unjustified) bias towards the oil, coal, and gas industries. Yay big business!!!!

    Bias is bias. If you value accuracy in your reporting (umm… duh?) I can’t see why you would want a big-business spin on everything you read. And if you do, skip the WSJ and go straight to some company website.

    Oh wait, even exxon mobile reports climate change more accurately.

  7. climate undergrad says:

    Is there a maximum length for comments? – A post of mine didn’t seem to go through and yet registered as a duplicate…

    Really Short Version:

    1 – Scott this is amazing – If I can help expand this to other papers I would be glad to.

    2 – How can the WSJ get away with this when even exxon can’t?

    Friends and family with WSJ subscriptions have been emailed to reconsider…

    [JR: I won’t post very long comments, but long is ok.]

  8. DavidCOG says:

    This comes as no surprise if you know a little about Rupert Murdoch. Every publication he takes over turns to dingo dung.

    He’s a sociopath who has an innate hatred of the “elite” – which is effectively anyone who disagrees with him. Take a look at RUPERT MURDOCH – A PORTRAIT OF SATAN and you should be able to understand why and how he has turned once respectable publications in to anti-science propaganda rags (e.g. The Times of London).

    Murdoch is up there with the Kochs for being most responsible for eroding a liveable climate on this planet.

  9. DavidCOG says:

    P.S. Everyone should familiarise themselves with Murdoch’s portfolio and avoid buying any of it:

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Nano Particles used in Untested H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccines

    Vaccines which have been approved by the responsible government authorities for vaccination against the alleged H1N1 Influenza A Swine Flu have been found to contain nano particles. Vaccine makers have been experimenting with nanoparticles as a way to “turbo charge” vaccines for several years. Now it has come out that the vaccines approved for use in Germany and other European countries contain nanoparticles in a form that reportedly attacks healthy cells and can be deadly.

    Beijing Tests confirm deadly effects on humans

    The fact that WHO, the European Medicines Evaluation Agency, the German Robert Koch Institute and other health bodies today would permit the population to be injected with largely untested novel vaccines containing nanoparticles says more about the powerful pharma lobby in Euiropean politics than it does about the sanity or moral integrity of the civil servants responsible for health of the general public.

    The September 2009 issue of the respected European Respiratory Journal, made public on 19 August, and available since 21 August online, contains a peer-reviewed article with the title, “Exposure to nanoparticles is related to pleural effusion, pulmonary fibrosis and granuloma.”

    In their report, the scientists concluded something so alarming it is necessary to quote at length:
    “Immunological tests, examinations of bacteriology, virology and tumour markers, bronchoscopy, internal thoracoscopy and video-assisted thoracic surgery were performed. Surveys of the workplace, clinical observations and examinations of the patients were conducted. Polyacrylate, consisting of nanoparticles, was confirmed in the workplace. Pathological examinations of patients’ lung tissue displayed nonspecific pulmonary inflammation, pulmonary fibrosis and foreign-body granulomas of pleura. Using transmission electron microscopy, nanoparticles were observed to lodge in the cytoplasm and caryoplasm of pulmonary epithelial and mesothelial cells, but are also located in the chest fluid. These cases arouse concern that long-term exposure to some nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious damage to human lungs.”3