A test for establishment climate journalists

Image courtesy of Flickr user just.Luc

Over at Keith Kloor’s blog, I wrote:

Keith, respectfully- either you can acknowledge that [Bjorn Lomborg] engages in blatant misrepresentation of key indicators of climate change like [sea level rise] and [temperature] trends, or you cannot.

If you can’t, I’m not particularly interested in whether it’s a refusal to do so due to adherence to some imagined journalistic allegiance to neutrality or out of a lack of ability to understand that he’s doing it.

If climate journalists either can’t see what he’s doing or refuse to acknowledge it, then we’re in far worse trouble than I ever imagined.

I’ve submitted a similar question to Dot Earth. Can establishment climate journalists acknowledge what Lomborg does? If not, what hope is there that the general public can make an informed assessment of his credibility?

Untold gallons of figurative ink have been spilled over the efforts of climate “skeptics” to discredit Michael Mann and colleagues’ paleoclimatic reconstructions on the grounds of bad statistics. Republicans even went so far as to get “statistics expert” Ed Wegman to put an official seal on the supposed discrediting, and we can see how that’s all working out for them. Meanwhile, the overall conclusions of the Mann et al. papers have been upheld by independent reviews, other multiproxy reconstructions, and independent lines of paleoclimatic evidence, even though some of Mann’s initial statistical choices could have been better.

By contrast Lomborg takes a metric like temperature or sea level rise and then cherry-picks an interval to get the lowest possible trend out of it. If it’s an interval of two years at the time of press, so be it. If he needs to write another article and using the same interval no longer gives the lowest possible trend, he’ll use four. It’s inarguable that using his own intervals from previous claims completely contradicts his current ones, and that there is no physical, statistical, or logical justification for doing so. He is just cherry-picking. Period.

But you’d never know it reading Andy Revkin’s or Keith Kloor’s blogs. Why not? What good is climate journalism if it must slavishly attend to largely unfounded claims of “skeptics” but can’t identify clear-cut cases of misrepresentation by people like Bjorn Lomborg?

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29 responses to “A test for establishment climate journalists

  1. If I read your logic correctly, shouldn’t you be posing your challenge to the reporters/editors at Nature and Science (the news sections), as well as major papers such as the NYT, LA Times, etc? How about the Huffington Post?

    I’m not sure why you foist this special responsibility on Andy and me to address Lomborg’s latest claims in the manner you see fit. I won’t speak for him, but there’s a whimsical quality to my blogging, since I do it for free and in my spare time. I do it to keep myself intellectually engaged in issues that interest me and to be part of a larger conversation. I don’t approach my blog with some special sense of duty that you seem to think I should have. As I mentioned to a commenter recently, I would like to do more reporting but that’s not possible, given the time that requires. Sorry if all this disappoints you, but as I mentioned at the outset, there are many other prominent outlets for you to address this complaint to.

    • Keith,

      You’re continuing to completely avoid the question, which is relatively straightforward. I’m not particularly interested in the “why” if the answer turns out to be “no”. Is your answer “no”?

      Thanks.

      Edited to add:

      shouldn’t you be posing your challenge to the reporters/editors at Nature and Science (the news sections), as well as major papers such as the NYT, LA Times, etc? How about the Huffington Post?

      And in response to this, my point is that if dedicated climate journalists can’t call a spade a spade, then there is surely no hope for general reporters let alone the public as presumably the latter two groups are in an even greater position of ignorance of Lomborg’s misrepresentations than the climate journos.

    • “I don’t approach my blog with some special sense of duty that you seem to think I should have. ”

      Yeah! Like truth or forthrightness or accountability or not-standing-idly-by-while-someone-gets-mugged-or-otherwise-hurt-like-by-a-potentially-chaotic-climate or any of that crap.

      So…. your answer pretty much boils down to… “I don’t care enough to do so”?

      Seems a bit slimey of a response, dude.

      -Greg Craven

  2. Gee, nobody wants to play with you. Ever wonder why?

      • Here’s a clue for those lacking–this post should properly be titled “Yet Another Attempt To Dictate Agenda For Independent Bloggers–Failed Again.”

        [Still waiting, Tom. -TB]

    • Tom, you can’t even keep a promise to yourself to stay away from KK’s. Tsk tsk.

      For those unfamiliar with Fuller, he was last seen lying about his naval service and tried to chalk it to faulty memory with fart jokes…but his excuse appears to be another lie.

      TB’s questions aren’t the only ones Fuller doesn’t have the balls to answer.

      • One certainly hopes that both the data collection and analysis used in climate science is of a higher standard than that referenced by Former Skeptic.

        If not, it would cause me to question why there are not more skeptics.

      • And, Former Skeptic, you forget that I am the one you are accusing of lying. As I know that is not the case, it pretty much means I never have to take anything you say seriously again. Sort of like our host here, come to think of it. ;)

      • See, Former Skeptic, the difference between me and you is that when Mosher and I detailed the wrongdoings of the Hockey Team we used quotes from what they did and provided context published in various sources using attribution. We signed our names to what we did and worked 80-hour weeks for six weeks to get it right.

        You’re an anonymous numbnut accusing me of lying about my military service–something that has cost people their job or elected office in the past. You provide no evidence, no reason for your accusation.

        This is emblematic of how you people operate. And you claim to be the forces of good against the evil arrayed against you.

        You disgust me. I spent four years in the Navy trying to serve this country. I then joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War to protest against a conflict I thought was horribly mistaken.

        Other than slime me behind the anonymous wall of the Internet, what the hell have you ever done?

    • LOL. It was meant for lurkers in the blog. I wasn’t talking to you, Tom – save to point out that you can’t even keep your own word at KK’s.

      You can’t wish away your record of blatant falsehoods and misrepresentations about climate AND yourself on the internetz, Tommy dear :)

      But seriously, you’re not answering TB’s questions, then? Or the questions about your naval service at Eli’s?

      How about answering those on your own blog? Oh yeah, you quit that too. Yawn.

      • See, that’s the thing, Former Skeptic. If you tell lies about people, or insult them, or berate them, it seems a little funny when you then demand that they do stuff.

        Something our host could also benefit by learning.

  3. I think it’s a relevant and important question.

    But whatever answer one gives to such a question, one will be attacked by one side or the other. That obviously makes some people apprehensive to answer (and putting the bar very high on not making a statement that they may later regret, so they’ll never be certain enough to go on record with one’s hunch or provisional answer. The more is at stake for giving a ‘wrong’ answer, the more likely people are to avoid giving an answer).

    This is a consequence of the intense polarization on the topic.

  4. A relevant quote from William Connolley over at Eli’s (http://rabett.blogspot.com/2010/11/hole-widens.html ):

    “they [the MSM] don’t want to splash this about until it is clearly safe (legally? politically?) to do so.”

    Referring to the Wegman scandal, but the same line of thought applies here I guess. And it’s only natural, though also regrettable.

    • This tendency, while perhaps natural as Bart notes, is especially infuriating when said journalists then try to brandish their self-image as intrepid chips-fall-where-they-may, call-‘em-as-I-sees-‘em, coolly detached mavericks, engaged in speaking truth to the powers that be. Well, all one can say to that is … NOT!

  5. Keith,

    I agree that it’s not an unreasonable question. why the dodge?

    • It’s my understanding that some interpretations of the conventions of journalism prevent certain journalists from even saying things like, “The claim ‘2+4=7′ misrepresents arithmetic.”

      It would be “taking a side” or something like that. So the journalist has to find someone else making that undeniably true statement, and then quote him or her in place of stating the truth outright. This is supposed to maintain the journalist’s “objectivity” which I guess means maintaining a pose of agnosticism on any and all things.

  6. Things nails it. Bart means to be reasonable, but does not directly address the question: Why are so many so free with baseless accusations against scientists, but won’t hold deniers to any standards at all?

    One possible answer: Scientists are nice people, and busy. Deniers tend to be right wing bullies with likely right wing money behind them for legal actions.

    Still, people like Revkin & KK should be reminded often that they hold deniers to no standards.


  7. One possible answer: Scientists are nice people…

    Indeed. Here’s Ray Bradley on the Wegman plagiarism scandal (linky http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/globalwarming/2010-11-21-climate-report-questioned_N.htm ):

    “It’s nothing personal. I don’t want these guys fired or anything,” Bradley says. “They should just retract or withdraw the report as you would any scientific publication that has these sort of problems.”

    Contrast Bradley’s response with deniers’ calls to have climate-scientists fired and even criminally prosecuted.

  8. Tom, Former Skeptic:

    Way off topic. I don’t give a damn about Tom Fuller’s past occupations. All further comments will be deleted.

  9. I’ve said, repeatedly, that Collide-a-scape’s place in the scheme of things is to have something connected to Audubon, which people will believe is an environmentally-friendly magazine, basically give the Breakthrough Institute’s anti-environmentalist propaganda a greenwash, so people can say “even Audubon admits global warming’s not a big problem and environmentalists are stupid and evil.” Very similar to the functionality of the formerly somewhat liberal New Republic which eventually acquired the nickname “even the liberal New Republic” because so many sentences in the National Review or the American Spectator started with that.

  10. re: caerbannog
    Yes, Ray is a nice guy and he has been incredibly patient. George Mason University is now 8+ months into this, and has yet (as of a week or so ago) been unable to give Ray an inquiry report, that is the simple “does this look like plagiarism or not?” It’s so hard, especially when handed DeepClimate’s side=-by-sides.

    Meanwhile, over at WUWT, one of the most superb displays of Dunning-Kruger I have seen is in evidence.

    After much vilification, Ray actually appears and posts a simple explanation, following which … well read for yourself. Don’t miss “bayonets”.

  11. I’m normally unsympathetic to demands made by one person on other people’s/other bloggers’ agenda (a common Roger Pielke Jr trick, btw). However, to the extent that Keith and Andy rely on Lomborg, this seems like a reasonable question.

  12. Marion Delgado, stop making so much sense, you’re making my head explode.

    Brian Schmidt, can you point to something that I’ve written that demonstrates where I “rely on Lomborg”?

    I can only point to one instance where I’ve actually written about him for a publication (that dastardly Audubon magazine, to boot!)
    This short 2002 profile:
    http://www.audubonmagazine.org/fieldnotes/fieldnotes0201.html#5

    And I’ve made off-handed remarks about him in exactly 5 posts at my blog
    over a two year period. (If you’re that interested, you can punch in his name in my archive at the blog.)

    So can somebody please tell me again, what is the big deal here?

    • Keith,

      Can you please simply answer the question?

      Can you acknowledge that Lomborg engages in the misrepresentation of climate change metrics like SLR and temp trends?

      Thanks.

  13. Thingsbreak, would you start by submitting an inventory of all on both sides who have cherry picked start and stop dates, effectively misrepresenting SLR and temperature trends? It’d be useful to have on hand, if it were complete.

    Or maybe do a post inviting submissions for a cherry-pickers Hall of Shame…

    That would actually be useful.

  14. TB,

    What are you, giving your class a test? Isn’t it obvious by now that I’m not playing this game with you. If you want to analyze what I wrote about Lomborg in that article or any of my blogs posts, have at it. That’s fair game. But playing gotcha? Nah, I doubt you’ll get any other “establishment journalists” to play along, either.

    But Tom Fuller has given you a useful suggestion that all sides can have a field day with.

    • I’m not sure how it’s “gotcha”. My motivation is plainly stated.

      I want to see if climate journalists who are given platforms like you and Andy have written for are capable of acknowledging that Lomborg engages in misrepresentation. It seems as though you cannot, which I find to be incredibly disappointing, though not as surprising as I would have 5 years ago.

  15. A non-climate-related example from today:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2010/dec/02/sumatra-rainforest-destruction-patrick-moore

    So, Monbiot points out that ex-Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore now uses his green credentials as a figleaf for corporate greenwash work. He states that about as clearly as one could hope, and contacts Moore to get some answers on the specifics. I was particularly amused by this nugget:

    Moore denies that he is at war with the green movement. At one point in our correspondence he asserted: “I do not attack environmentalists, show me an example.” It happened that on the same day he had sent an email to the green group GMWatch, in which he told them: “You are a bunch of murdering bastards.” When I pointed this out to him, he told me: “I made an exception for murdering bastards.

    Again, with little fuss, Monbiot manages to clearly show Moore doesn’t meet Moore’s own proclaimed standards. He goes on to show him copying text verbatim from his client’s PR brochures and passing it off as his own views.

    Some journalists are of the “I must find a quote for each side of the 2+2 = 7 debate” school, and some of the Monbiot school (actually making judgement calls). Perhaps attacking the journalists won’t help; it’s about which journalists get printed. That said, it seems difficult to respect a journalist who would write “we contacted GMWatch and a spokesman told us, ‘no, we are not a bunch of murdering bastards.’ ”

    I was watching ‘good night and good luck’ last night; there’s a scene where the boss of CBS is accusing Edward R Murrow of setting out to attack McCarthy – of risking his reputation for balanced reporting. Murrow is given the line: “I can’t for the life of me find any justification for this. I simply cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument.”

    As I was watching it, it occurred to me the only person who gets even close to Murrow now is… John Stewart. On the Comedy Channel. Does this strike anyone else as worrying?

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