Bret Stephens, the newly-hired New York Times columnist who faced a wave of backlash for obscuring the science behind climate change, has apparently been misunderstood.
Climate science advocates probably thought he wrote a column riddled with errors, misstatements, unfair comparisons, straw men, and logical fallacies to undermine the effort to prevent catastrophic global warming.
But, it turns out Stephens had the best of intentions.
In an email that CNN’s senior media reporter Dylan Byers tweeted out Sunday, Stephens said he was just trying to “to help the climate-advocacy community improve the quality of its persuasion.”
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) April 30, 2017
By that logic, when Stephens wrote in 2008 that global warming is a “mass hysteria phenomenon” and “much of the science has since been discredited,” he was just trying to improve our ability to debunk nonsense.
And when, in 2009, he compared scientists and those who accept their findings to Stalinists, anti-Semites, and communists, he was once again looking out for climate advocates.
In reality, Stephens is just a professional “bullshitter” that the paper never should have hired, as Vox’s Dave Roberts put it on Monday.
And the email to CNN is more bullshit. Stephens claims, “I take it as a fact that the earth is warming, perhaps dangerously so.”
No he doesn’t. In a November 2015 Wall Street Journal column, Stephens explicitly labeled climate change — along with hunger in America, campus rape statistics, and institutionalized racism — “imaginary enemies.” He further wrote:
Here’s a climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.
Obviously those are not the words of a man who takes it “as a fact that the earth is warming, perhaps dangerously so.”
Nor is the climate misinformation masquerading as his first Times column, the entire purpose of which is to persuade the reader that the earth is not warming dangerously. Stephens and the Times are “abetting climate change denialism,” as climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress.
In response to the widespread criticism he has faced, Stephens does not actually defend a single thing he wrote. He just wants the public to know that “clearly some of my critics need remedial education” in reading and writing. I guess that’s just an effort to improve the quality of the persuasion of climate advocates, too.
Lastly, over the weekend, Stephens tweeted this:
After 20 months of being harangued by bullying Trump supporters, I'm reminded that the nasty left is no different. Perhaps worse. https://t.co/uQ2L5lox6e
— Bret Stephens (@BretStephensNYT) April 28, 2017
Ironically, if you click through the tweet Stephens links to, it leads to a tweet by one of the world’s top climatologists, Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf:
— Stefan Rahmstorf (@rahmstorf) April 27, 2017
Stephens can try to paint his critics as the “nasty left” and “perhaps worse” than Trump supporters, but when normally staid climatologists cancel their subscriptions and take to Twitter to explain why, a columnist — and indeed, the whole paper — should pay attention.
There’s only one line in Stephens’ email to Byers that rings true about his column: “Nor am I infallible: Human fallibility was my very point.”