In an article for Yale’s Environment 360, prominent science journalist Michael D. Lemonick rebukes the New York Times for its credulous 8,000-word profile of climate denier Freeman Dyson. As the Wonk Room previously noted, in March the New York Times Magazine ran a fawning cover article about Dyson by Nicholas Dawidoff, a baseball writer. Lemonick, who noted climate scientists describe Dyson’s ideas about global warming as “clueless,” “appallingly ill-informed,” and “flat-out wrong,” took particular umbrage at Dawidoff. When asked by NPR’s On the Media if whether it mattered if Dyson was right or wrong, Dawidoff answered:
Oh, absolutely not. I don’t care what he thinks. I have no investment in what he thinks. I’m just interested in how he thinks and the depth and the singularity of his point of view.
Lemonick responds with a sharp critique of Dawidoff and the New York Times:
This is, to put it bluntly, bizarre. It matters a great deal whether he’s right or wrong, given that his views have been trumpeted in such a prominent forum with essentially no challenge.
Lemonick, the senior writer at Climate Central and a twenty-year veteran science journalist for Time Magazine, interviewed Dyson, who freely admitted, “I have no credibility” on climate science or policy:
I have two great disadvantages. First of all, I am 85 years old. Obviously, I’m an old fuddy-duddy. So, I have no credibility. And, secondly, I am not an expert, and that’s not going to change. I am not going to make myself an expert.
Dyson’s happy explanation that his decades as a theoretical physicist should not substitute for actual knowledge raises into question the judgment of Dawidoff and his editors at the New York Times Magazine.
The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin writes in to agree with Lemonick:
I find it hard not to echo my old friend Mike’s reaction to the NPR interview (we cut our teeth in journalism together in science magazines in the 1980s).
The only reason I grind away at the ugly interface of climate science and policy year after year — believe me, I’d way rather write about pythons or songwriting — is to provide some reliable sense of what we know, don’t know, need to know, and can’t know (the fundamental uncertainties) and what real-world choices are left based on that mix.
I certainly want to know, and convey, the motivation of sources as much as possible, but primarily to help reveal for readers why someone may be taking a certain stance. To have that as the only goal is, well… what’s Mike’s phrase?
,In a related saga of journalistic embarassment, George Will pens another gibberish column attacking the “green bubble.”