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Why journalists should not twitter, Parts 87, 88, 89

Andy Revkin starts in A Tweetcar Named Desire?

Journalists simply shouldn’t be twittering on science or other subjects that require more than 140 characters to discuss intelligently, which is pretty much every topic. The stodgy, old media have a great desire — a brutal Desire — to be like the hip, new media, but twitter is crack for serious reporters (see Should journalists twitter?).

Case in point: Yesterday, I published a guest piece in which I provided a long introduction — “The coming climate panic? Will U.S. conservatives usher in the era of permanently big government?” Former NYT reporter Andy Revkin then launched a series of uber-confused tweets that grotesquely misrepresented that post, muddled the science, and seemingly contradicted his own reporting.

Yes, I’ve been tough on Revkin in the past year, but these tweets are simply beyond ridiculous. Let’s start with the first, which manages to get one of my major points exactly backwards:

Romm says Right will be panicked into co2 control by epic disruption: http://j.mp/co2panic Hmm. Read Brulle: http://j.mp/co2slowdrip #agw

Uhh, no. My half of the post mostly makes the reverse point — hence my subhead, “Will U.S. conservatives usher in the era of permanently big government?” I’m arguing, as I have many times, that listening to the “Right” and not controlling CO2 would lead to epic disruption, and adaptation requires much bigger government than CO2 control.The second half of the piece, by Auden Schendler and Mark Trexler, also doesn’t make that point. Indeed, they don’t talk about the Right very much at all.

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My point — and Schendler’s and Trexler’s — is that continued dawdling may well ultimately drive a desperate response at some point in the not-so-distant future. That ain’t close to “Romm says Right will be panicked into co2 control by epic disruption.”

Revkin, in his tweet, seem to have misread/conflated the piece and then mispresented it. All in under 140 characters. Not a “Stella” performance [sorry, couldn’t resist].

Then we have Revkin’s second tweet:

Joe R still sees Aussie’s Big Dry as co2-driven event http://j.mp/co2panic Not what climate scientists see: http://j.mp/AusDry #agw #climate

Uhh, no and no.

First off, the part about Australia’s drought was written by Schendler and Trexler, not me!

Second, the study Revkin cites (by Danielle Verdon-Kidd and Kiem) does not, as he implies, prove climate scientists don’t see what’s happening in Australia as climate driven. In fact, the study has very little to do with human-caused climate change. It “suggests” that the recent drought may be due to the Southern Annular Mode staying in the positive phase (a point which is disputed by others), but never discusses whether that is driven by human emissions, which is entirely possible.

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In fact, I’d urge Revkin or anyone interested in the science behind extreme weather in Australia to read “The continuing decline in South-East Australian rainfall: update to May 2009by Dr. Bertrand Timbal, of the Bureau of Meteorology’s Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research (CAWCR), which concludes:

This change in the relative contributions by the autumn and spring seasons now more closely resembles the picture provided by climate model simulations of future changes due to enhanced greenhouse gases.

Or read the AFP story from last year, get this: “Australian wildfire ferocity linked to climate change: experts”:

“Climate change, weather and drought are altering the nature, ferocity and duration of bushfires,” said Gary Morgan, head of the government-backed Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

Or read the excellent RealClimate Post, “Bushfires and extreme heat in south-east Australia,” which itself has many links.

The scientific literature is clear that many subtropical and near-subtropical areas will see less precipitation under climate change — see for instance “Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climateand “Drought warning as the tropics expand.”

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Revkin’s tweet is simply not supported by the science — I gag at even having to write that sentence — even if 140 characters could do credit to this important subject, which it cannot. Moreover, let’s look at what Schendler and Trexler actually wrote:

Meanwhile, that very planet is visibly changing””epic droughts, fires and dust storms in Australia; floods in Asia, alarmingly fast melting of land ice in Greenland and Antarctica; the prospect of an ice-free summer on the Arctic Sea; raging, unprecedented fires throughout the world; and mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue spreading to regions previously untouched. Measurements show that the oceans are rising and becoming more acidic, while the Earth’s average temperature was higher in the past decade than at any time in the past century.

At some point, even climate change becomes teenager obvious: “Well, Duh, Dad! Look around you!”

Again, the constraints of twittering turn that into “[Schendler/Trexler] still sees Aussie’s Big Dry as co2-driven event,” which isn’t quite what they said. Now you may say, well, that’s what they are implying — to which I’d reply, they are implying that the climate impacts in Australia are part of a pattern of climate change that’s consistent with human-caused climate change, which is more than scientifically defensible.Heck let’s look at how Revkin himself wrote about Australia last year, in a piece of work I have repeatedly cited as an excellent example of how to write about uber-extreme weather events of this sort — “The New York Times ran a much better story today than their earlier AP-inspired stories, no doubt because ‘Andrew C. Revkin contributed reporting from New York’.” [see CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story “” never mention climate change]. The NYT reported:

The firestorms and heat in the south revived discussions in Australia of whether human-caused global warming was contributing to the continent’s climate woes of late “” including recent prolonged drought in some places and severe flooding last week in Queensland, in the northeast.

Climate scientists say that no single rare event like the deadly heat wave or fires can be attributed to global warming, but the chances of experiencing such conditions are rising along with the temperature. In 2007, Australia’s national science agency published a 147-page report on projected climate changes, concluding, among other things, that “high-fire-danger weather is likely to increase in the southeast.”The flooding in the northeast and the combustible conditions in the south were consistent with what is forecast as a result of recent shifts in climate patterns linked to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research.

So please tell me how Revkin can attack what Schendler and Trexler wrote?

But in the mindless realm of Twittering, that’s what passes for analysis.

I would add that while it’s clear that Australia’s extreme weather is consistent with the predictions of climate science, it’s also clear that the extreme weather in Australia has been made more extreme by global warming (see “Must-have PPT: The ‘global-change-type drought’ and the future of extreme weather”). Warm-weather droughts are generally worse than cooler-weather droughts — and this has been a hot-weather drought, which is perhaps the worst of all. Future droughts will increasingly be very hot weather droughts.

Now Sustainable2050 did “take on” Revkin in a couple of tweets:

@revkin To me, Verdon-Kidd and Kiem don’t seem to rule out Climate Change as driver for Big Dry. Also have a look at http://bit.ly/BigDryRC

To which Revkin replies:

@Sustainable2050 It’s not about ruling out AGW; it’s about ruling it IN (which is what @climateprogress seems to want to do).

To which Sustainable2050 replied (I think I have the order of these tweets right):

@revkin OZ Big Dry: But Ruling IN AGW is not disproven by the paper you mention; and it is supported by prof. Karoly: http://bit.ly/BigDryRC

To which I say, Stop the Madness! I’m ruling all these tweets out of order!

If Revkin thinks he can debunk a blog post with some tweets, he is dead wrong. Tweets are too Lilliputian. I’d say he is transforming himself from journalist to blogger, but then lots of bloggers don’t tweet, and frankly this episode has convinced me that it isn’t something I want to do (other than the automatic tweeting of my blog headlines).

Let me end with what I wrote in this September post — Van Jones seeks a “Healing for our Politics”: “Let’s be One Country” PLUS my response to Tapper’s tweets “” Should journalists twitter? — about the media’s insatiable desire to tweet, which has, I think, a Tennessee-Williams-esque self-destructiveness:

Memo to media on tweets: Even more than blogging, twittering blurs the line between news reporting and just blurting out an opinion. It eliminates all possibility of nuance and thus strikes me as it inappropriate for reporting/commenting on complex issues. I think it is a very problematic activity for serious reporters and is more likely to undermine one’s reputation for substantive journalism than to provide anything resembling “news” to the public.