Climate tweeting, blogging, and Oz’s big drought

I’m willing to give Andy Revkin the benefit of the doubt about this:

Joe R still sees Aussie’s Big Dry as co2-driven event Not what climate scientists see: #agw #climate

For the record, he’s citing this paper which lists four contributing factors (1. ENSO- jury out on anthropogenic forcing; 2. IPO- jury out on anthropogenic forcing; 3. positive IOD; 4. positive SAM ) obviously of which the IOD and SAM are considered to be non-trivially forced by anthropogenic influence.


It’s not looking good for Revkin at this point. How to explain this? Unlike some of the commentors at Climate Progress or the NY Times, I have no doubt about Revkin’s desire to educate vs. obfuscate/whether he is on the wrong side of truth generally. But in establishment journalism, it’s easy to fall back on journo crutches, of which the Hippie Punch is an industry favorite. The hippie punch is the kissing cousin of the kind of journalism that the Freakonomics salespeople peddle. It’s worse than not true, it’s actively misleading. It conflates and moreover demonizes a possibly true position that has the misfortune to come from the left-hand of the reductionist political spectrum with a far more consequential and untrue claim from the right. Like the people who didn’t think invading Iraq was such a brilliant move are equivalent to those who said we’d be greeted as liberators and everything was sunshine and flowers.

I am having trouble coming up with an explanation for this Revkin example besides gross negligence and/or a hippie punch. Any ideas are welcome, though to put my prejudices up front I’m more likely to be persuaded by something that doesn’t include Andy being on the dole to any group.


13 responses to “Climate tweeting, blogging, and Oz’s big drought

  1. Pingback: Make Money With Google Today » Blog Archive » Blogging News Digest – 106th Edition

  2. “Clarification of results of GRL paper Ummenhofer et al. (2009) What causes Southeast Australia’s worst droughts? Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L04706, doi:10.1029/2008GL036801
    The implications of our work (Ummenhofer et al. 2009) have been misunderstood in some media commentary, with some reporters asserting we have discovered that south-eastern Australia’s recent “Big Dry” is not related to climate change. This is not correct….”

    Would someone who twits, or tweets, or whatever it’s called, please forward that cite to Andy Revkin?

  3. I like the term hippie punch and it’s everywhere. Usually aimed at environmentalists/Greenpeace to say they’re just as bad as Marc Morano or Glenn Beck or whatever.

  4. Gross negligence for a loose tweet? That seems overly harsh.

    Attribution of a single instance of drought is a tricky business. Can you find a single publication that would unambiguously say, “this particular drought would not have happened without global warming?” I rather doubt it. I’d expect to see something like “we’d expect to see more droughts, and there is some probability that this one is enhanced by global events via x y and z’. There’s nuance here that cannot be captured in a tweet or short blog post.

    Though perhaps the exercise of writing the blog post would lead one to realise the nuance.

    • The gross negligence was (potentially) on Revkin’s attack on Romm using a paper that didn’t say what Revkin claimed it did. It took me all of 20 seconds of Googling to see that. The options are that Revkin A) didn’t actually read and understand the paper he claimed rebutted Romm or B) did and made that claim any way.

      In terms of other papers more explicitly addressing the influence of anthropogenic warming on this drought, see the PDF Hank Roberts linked to above which contains some relevant references. No this drought can’t definitively be attributed to anthropogenic warming alone (Romm doesn’t claim so). But neither are “climate scientists seeing” that it has no impact.

      • carrot eater

        It has to be option A. I don’t often read him, but I’ve not seen Revkin act in bad faith. He’s just a journalist handling complicated material, and he’ll not always understand the implications.

        If it’s only about the above Tweet, I just see this as an example of the dangers of tweet. You send out half-baked thoughts or reactions before doing your homework – before talking to the paper’s authors, and other people in the field. Let’s see if it turns into an article with more context.

  5. Right, which is why I’m saying it’s negligent rather than deliberate.

    The bigger picture issue here is not that Revkin made a mistake. He’s human.

    The point is that there is no consequence for someone like Revkin to attack someone like Romm, and in fact there are institutional forces that actually encourage it. Romm may overstate the case on some issues, but by and large his statements are backed up by the science. Obviously the same can’t be said about people like Morano or Monckton, but more to the point there are other people who genuinely get things wrong and aren’t called on it by established media- like Lomborg.

    The essence of the “hippie punch” is that it’s completely consequence free and in fact is something that earns “credibility” by giving the appearance of going after “both sides” when the two aren’t even remotely comparable in terms of truth.

    If Revkin went after someone like Watts or McIntyre and was wrong, can you imagine what the comments section of Dot Earth would look like? Or if he went after one of the Pielkes?

    • I see what you’re getting at, and it’s a reasonable thesis.

      It is, to some extent, unavoidable. The only way to help it would be for Romm to be more circumspect, and not “overstate the case on some issues”. If the journalist feels obliged to nit pick in the name of balance, then don’t provide the nits.

      I’m starting to see Romm and Al Gore as providing similar dynamics to the discussion. I generally ignore both, but I see similarities.

      Rabid commenters aside, how often does Watts say enough about something to even be right or wrong? Whenever I look, he’s not creating his own content, but just copying and pasting press releases, with some snide comment attached.

      • But Revkin went after Romm on something that he wasn’t really overstating (or if he was, not in the way that Revkin claimed). You’re blaming the victim a little here.

        I can kind of see the parallels between Gore and Romm, and I don’t really listen to either about the science itself (noting that I tend to also get a lot out of Romm’s discussion of energy issues vs. climate issues), but I think it’s foolhardy to ignore their import as policy-shapers.

        No one is going to be perfect, and we shouldn’t expect perfection. What we can do is identify systemic problems and try to improve on them.

        As far as Watts goes, he sticks his neck out from time to time and inevitably gets his head handed to him.

  6. Fair enough. I haven’t (and honestly, won’t) take the time to see what Romm said on this topic, and compare against the literature, so I’ll not have anything useful to say on this exact topic.

    As for systemic issues: if you were Revkin’s editor, how would you ask him to change his story selection? Make it a bit more concrete. I read him infrequently enough that I won’t know the difference, but I want to see it spelled out a bit.

    As for those links on Watts, ouch. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t stick his neck out more.

  7. We all soured on Revkin, frankly, for the last time after he had just left the NYT and was still web-logging on climate, etc.

    Instead of abandoning the many false positions he put forward, which we’d all chalked up to being the price of being published in the Grey Lady, given that the WaPo is explicitly denialist and could therefore Red/Green-bait the Times – instead of all that, he went even further immediately. And not just in tweets. So now we know: false equivalences, deliberate lack of long-term memory, etc. are either the price of continuing on the web – in which case, why bother? – or literally are Revkin being Revkin.

    He’s not a foe of science or the environment, but he IS one of those people where you are going to see climate denialists go “Even Andrew Revkin agrees that …”

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