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CNN is spun right round, baby, right round

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 January 2009

With the axing of the CNN Science News team, most science stories at CNN are now being given to general assignment reporters who don’t necessarily have the background to know when they are being taken for a ride. On the Lou Dobbs show (an evening news program on cable for those of you not in the US), the last few weeks have brought a series of embarrassing non-stories on ‘global cooling’ based it seems on a few cold snaps this winter, the fact that we are at a solar minimum and a regurgitation of 1970s vintage interpretations of Milankovitch theory (via Pravda of all places!). Combine that with a few hysterical (in both senses) non-scientists as talking heads and you end up with a repeat of the nonsensical ‘Cooling world’ media stories that were misleading in the 1970s and are just as misleading now.

Exhibit A. Last night’s (13 Jan 2009) transcript (annotations in italics).

Note that this is a rush transcript and the typos aren’t attributable to the participants.

DOBBS: Welcome back. Global warming is a complex, controversial issue and on this broadcast we have been critical of both sides in this debate. We’ve challenged the orthodoxy surrounding global warming theories and questioned more evidence on the side of the Ice Age and prospect in the minds of some. In point of fact, research, some of it, shows that we could be heading toward cooler temperatures, and it’s a story you will only see here on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Ines Ferre has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will the day after tomorrow bring a deep freeze like that shown in the movie? Research more than 50 years ago by astrophysicist Milanchovich (ph) shows that ice ages run in predictable cycles and the earth could go into one. How soon? In science terms it could be thousands of years. But what happens in the next decade is still up in the air. Part of the science community believes that global warming is a man-maid threat. But Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute predicts the next 20 to 30 years will actually bring cooling temperatures.

Dennis Avery is part of the ‘science community’? Who knew? And, while amusing, the threat of ‘man-maids’ causing global warming is just a typo. Nice thought though. Oh, and if you want to know what the actual role of Milankovitch in forcing climate is, look at the IPCC FAQ Q6.1. Its role in current climate change? Zero.

DENNIS AVERY, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The earth’s temperatures have dropped an average of .6 Celsius in the last two years. The Pacific Ocean is telling us, as it has told us 10 times in the past 400 years, you’re going to get cooler.

For those unfamiliar with Dennis Avery, he is a rather recent convert to the bandwagon idea of global cooling, having very recently been an advocate of “unstoppable” global warming. As for his great cherry pick (0.6º C in two years – we’re doomed!), this appears to simply be made up. Even putting aside the nonsense of concluding anything from a two year trend, if you take monthly values and start at the peak value at the height of the last El Niño event of January 2007 and do no actual trend analysis, I can find no data set that gives a drop of 0.6ºC. Even UAH MSU-LT gives only 0.4ºC. The issue being not that it hasn’t been cooler this year than last, but why make up numbers? This is purely rhetorical of course, they make up numbers because they don’t care about whether what they say is true or not.

FERRE: Avery points to a lack of sunspots as a predictor for lower temperatures, saying the affects of greenhouse gas warming have a small impact on climate change. Believers in global warming, like NASA researcher, Dr. Gavin Schmidt disagree.

I was interviewed on tape in the afternoon, without seeing any of the other interviews. Oh, and what does a ‘believer in global warming’ even mean?

DR. GAVIN SCHMIDT, NASA: The long term trend is clearly toward warming, and those trends are completely dwarf any changes due to the solar cycle.

FERRE: In a speech last week, President-elect Obama called for the creation of a green energy economy. Still, others warn that no matter what you think about climate change, new policies would essentially have no effect.

FRED SINGER, SCIENCE & ENV. POLICY PROJECT: There’s very little we can do about it. Any effort to restrict the use of carbon dioxide will hurt us economically and have zero effect on the Chicago mate.

Surely another typo, but maybe the Chicago mate is something to do with the man-maids? See here for more background on Singer.

FERRE: As Singer says, a lot of pain, for no gain.

Huh? Try looking at the actual numbers from a recent McKinsey report. How is saving money through efficiency a ‘pain’?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FERRE: And three independent research groups concluded that the average global temperature in 2008 was the ninth or tenth warmest since 1850, but also since the coldest since the turn of the 21st century.

DOBBS: It’s fascinating and nothing — nothing — stirs up the left, the right, and extremes in this debate, the orthodoxy that exists on both sides of the debate than to even say global warming. It’s amazing.

This is an appeal to the ‘middle muddle’ and an attempt to seem like a reasonable arbitrator between two opposing sides. But as many people have previously noted, there is no possible compromise between sense and nonsense. 2+2 will always equal 4, no matter how much the Hudson Institute says otherwise.

FERRE: When I spoke to experts and scientists today from one side and the other, you could feel the kind of anger about –

That was probably me. Though it’s not anger, it’s simple frustration that reporters are being taken in and treating seriously the nonsense that comes out of these think-tanks.

DOBBS: Cannot we just all get along? Ines, thank you very much.

Joining me now three leading experts in Manchester, New Hampshire, we’re joined by Joseph D’Aleo of the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project. Good to have with you us.

JOSEPH D’ALEO, CO-FOUNDER WEATHER CHANNEL: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: He’s also the cofounder of The Weather Channel. In Washington, D.C., as you see there, Jay Lehr, he’s the science director of the Heartland Institute. And in Boston, Alex Gross, he’s the cofounder of co2stats.com. Good to have you with us.

Well that’s balanced!

Let’s put a few numbers out here, the empirical discussion and see what we can make of it. First is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has very good records on temperatures, average temperatures in the United States, dating back to 1880. And here’s what these numbers look like. You’ve all seen those. But help us all — the audience and most of all me to get through this, they show the warmest years on record, 1998, 2006, and 1934. 2008 was cooler, in fact the coolest since 1997. It’s intriguing to see that graph there. The graph we’re looking at showing some question that the warming trend may be just a snapshot in time. The global temperatures by NOAA are seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1995.

So let me start, if I may, Joseph, your reaction to those numbers. Do you quibble with what they represent?

D’ALEO: Yes, I do. In fact, if you look at the satellite data, which is the most reliable data, the best coverage of the globe, 2008 was the 14th coldest in 30 years. That doesn’t jive with the tenth warmest in 159 years in the Hadley data set or 113 or 114 years in the NOAA data set. Those global data sets are contaminated by the fact that two-thirds of the globe’s stations dropped out in 1990. Most of them rural and they performed no urban adjustment. And, Lou, you know, and the people in your studio know that if they live in the suburbs of New York City, it’s a lot colder in rural areas than in the city. Now we have more urban effect in those numbers reflecting — that show up in that enhanced or exaggerated warming in the global data set.

D’Aleo is misdirecting through his teeth here. He knows that the satellite analyses have more variability over ENSO cycles than the surface records, he also knows that urban heat island effects are corrected for in the surface records, and he also knows that this doesn’t effect ocean temperatures, and that the station dropping out doesn’t affect the trends at all (you can do the same analysis with only stations that remained and it makes no difference). Pure disinformation.

DOBBS: Your thoughts on these numbers. Because they are intriguing. They are a brief snapshot admittedly, in comparison to total extended time. I guess we could go back 4.6 billion years. Let’s keep it in the range of something like 500,000 years. What’s your reaction to those numbers and your interpretation?

JAY LEHR, HEARTLAND INSTITUTE: Well, Lou –

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I’m sorry.

DOBBS: Go ahead, Jay.

LEHR: Lou, I’m in the camp with Joe and Fred Singer and Dennis Avery, and I think more importantly, it is to look at the sun’s output, and in recent years, we’ve seen very, very low sunspot activity, and we are definitely, in my mind, not only in a cooling period, we’re going to be staying in it for a couple decades, and I see it as a major advantage, although I think we will be able to adapt to it. I’m hopeful that this change in the sun’s output will put some common sense into the legislature, not to pass any dramatic cap in trade or carbon tax legislation that will set us in a far deeper economic hole. I believe Mr. Obama and his economic team are well placed to dig us out of this recession in the next 18 months to 2 years, but I think if we pass any dramatic legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, the recession will last quite a few more years and we’ll come out of it with a lower standard of living on very tenuous scientific grounds.

DOBBS: Alex, the carbon footprint, generation of greenhouse gases, specifically co2, the concern focusing primarily on the carbon footprint, and of course generated by fossil fuels primarily, what is your thinking as you look at that survey of 130 — almost 130 years and the impact on the environment?

ALEX WISSNER-GROSS, CO2STATS.COM: Well, Lou, I think regardless of whatever the long-term trend in the climate data is, there a long- term technological trend which is that as time goes on our technology tends toward smaller and smaller physical footprint. That means in part that in the long term we like technology to have a smaller environmental footprint, burning fewer greenhouse gases and becoming as small and environmentally neutral and noninvasive as possible. So I think regardless of the climate trend, I think we’ll see less and less environmentally impactful technologies.

Wissner-Gross is on because of the media attention given to misleading reports about the carbon emissions related to Google searches. Shame he doesn’t get to talk about any of that.

DOBBS: To be straight forward about this, that’s where I come down. I don’t know it matters to me whether there is global warming or we’re moving toward an ice age it seems really that we should be reasonable stewards of the planet and the debate over whether it’s global warming or whether it’s moving toward perhaps another ice age or business as usual is almost moot here in my mind. I know that will infuriate the advocates of global warming as well as the folks that believe we are headed toward another ice age. What’s your thought?

Curious train of logic there…

D’ALEO: I agree with you, Lou. We need conservation. An all of the above solution for energy, regardless of whether we’re right and it cools over the next few decades or continues to warm, a far less dangerous scenario. And that means nuclear. It means coal, oil, natural gas. Geothermal, all of the above.

DOBBS: Jay, you made the comment about the impact of solar sunspot activity. Sunspot activity the 11-year cycle that we’re all familiar with. There are much larger cycles, 12,000 to 13,000 years as well. We also heard a report disregard, if you will, for the strength and significance of solar activity on the earth’s environment. How do you respond to that?

Is he talking about me? Please see some of my publications on the subject from 2006, 2004 and 2001. My point above was that relative to current greenhouse gas increases, solar is small – not that it is unimportant or uninteresting. This of course is part of the false dilemma ‘single cause’ argument that the pseudo-skeptics like to use – that change must be caused by either solar or greenhouse gases and that any evidence for one is evidence against the other. This is logically incoherent.

FEHR: It just seems silly to not recognize that the earth’s climate is driven by the sun.

Ah yes.

Your Chad Myers pointed out it’s really arrogant to think that man controls the climate.

This is a misquoted reference to a previous segment a few weeks ago where Myers was discussing the impact of climate on individual weather patterns. But man’s activities do affect the climate and are increasingly controlling its trends.

90 percent of the climate is water vapor which we have no impact over and if we were to try to reduce greenhouse gases with China and India controlling way more than we do and they have boldly said they are not going to cripple their economy by following suit, our impact would have no — no change in temperature at all in Europe they started carbon — capping trade in 2005. They’ve had no reduction in groan house gases, but a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in the standard of living. We don’t want to go that route.

What? Accounting for the garbled nature of this response, he was probably trying to say that 90% of the greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour. This is both wrong and, even were it true, irrelevant.

DOBBS: Alex, you get the last word here. Are you as dismissive of the carbon footprint as measured by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

GROSS: No, not really. But I think in the long term, efficiency is where the gains come from. I think efficiency should come first, carbon footprint second.

DOBBS: Thank you very much. Alex, Jay, and Joe. Folks, appreciate you being with us.

FEHR: Thank you.

In summary, this is not the old ‘balance as bias‘ or ‘false balance‘ story. On the contrary, there was no balance at all! Almost the entire broadcast was given over to policy advocates whose use of erroneous-but-scientific-sounding sound bites is just a cover for their unchangable opinions that nothing should ever be done about anything. This may make for good TV (I wouldn’t know), but it certainly isn’t journalism.

There are pressures on journalists that conspire against fully researching a story – deadlines, the tyranny of the news peg etc. – but that means they have to be all the more careful in these kinds of cases. Given that Lou Dobbs has been better on this story in the past, seeing him and his team being spun like this is a real disappointment. They could really do much better.

Update: Marc Roberts sends in this appropriate cartoon:


596 Responses to “CNN is spun right round, baby, right round”

  1. 1
    Andy Revkin says:

    Gavin, my strong sense is that this goes way beyond the mere tug of what I called the “tyranny of the news peg,” beyond “whiplash journalism,” and beyond “availability entrepreneurship” (Cass Sunstein’s view of folks exploiting some event that happens to fit an agenda, in this case cool temps). My hypothesis (not sure if testable) is that he’s catering to a fairly old, quite conservative viewership and shaping coverage to suit. Perhaps I’m wrong. Would love to discuss with Dobbs. But the moment we start picking and choosing voices and “facts” — to suit a particular argument or audience — we’re no longer letting reality rule our coverage.

  2. 2
    Jim Redden says:

    Without scientific literacy any recipient of the intended message of this show is at the mercy of their own ideology. I am left to wonder who and what were the behind the scenes forces that engendered this pile of hooey to the airwaves…

  3. 3
    Jepe says:

    Hilarious! I saved this article on my computer, in a couple of years we will see who was the fool.

  4. 4
    Joe Rojas-Burke says:

    Here’s the science journo credentials of Ines Ferré, according to CNN:

    Correspondent for CNN en Español based in New York since September 2004.

    Before that “Ferré covered important local events as a reporter for Telemundo, channel 47, in New Jersey,” and as a radio reporter “interviewed many guest experts of various backgrounds, political leaders and celebrities from the world of entertainment.”

    College degreee: communications.

    [Response: As I stated above, Ferré is a general assignment reporter who does not have a science journalism background. That makes this understandable, but also underlines the problems in not having beat reporters focus on these issues. - gavin]

  5. 5
    Mark C. Serreze says:

    I was interviewed by CNN reporter Innes Ferre regarding an
    absurd post in Daily Tech titled “Sea ice ends of at same level as 1979″

    http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=13834

    What the graph shows is that the global sea ice area for early January 2009 is on the long term average (zero anomaly). The author tries to read some relevance into the fact that the anomaly at the end of 1979 is also about zero. Given that there are many periods throughout the time series with a zero anomaly for the global total, it is puzzling why the end of 1979 was singled out. Presumably the point is to somehow cast doubt on global warming. However, if so, the author could have instead made an equally silly case for global cooling by contrasting the near zero anomaly of early January 2009 with the strong negative anomalies characterizing the later part of 2008.

    The key point is that looking at the global total area is not relevant. All climate models tell us that it is the Arctic sea ice cover that declines first, and that Antarctic ice extent falls only later, and may even (as observed) temporarily increase in response to changing patterns of atmospheric circulation. In other words, events are unfolding pretty much as expected. Finally, the statement that there was “substantial recovery” this year in the Arctic is simply rubbish. Ice extent at the end of the melt season in the Arctic was second lowest on record and ice extent is still (as of early January) well below normal.

    Simply put, this article is a masterpiece of cherry picking, misinterpretation and misrepresentation.

    I explained this all to Innes. They still ran a piece on it.

  6. 6
    Bob Ward says:

    This looks like a member of the editorial team has been got at by the right-wing lobby groups that feature in this piece. The members of these groups spend a lot of time courting editors. Similar efforts have been made in the UK, and I know that some BBC news editors have been got at in the past. Fortunately the intervention of science correspondents has prevented the knobbling of editorial staff from translating into misleading news reports.

    In the UK, this sort of item would be subject to the broadcasting regulatory code, designed to ensure that broadcasters respect the right of the audience not to be presented with misleading and inaccurate information. I guess nothing similar exists in the US. But is there any formal mechanism for challenging the content of such a programme?

    However, I fear that this is a further nail in the coffin of CNN’s coverage of science issues. Much more of this, and it will have sunk to the level of Fox News.

  7. 7
    EL says:

    I think Lou Dobbs is trying to compete with Bill O’Relly on Fox News. I’m not very informed on that type of business, but I’ll take a stab in the dark and say that their contracts are probably very similar. A shock reporter if you will.

    It’s a shame I didn’t save the email I sent the program a few weeks back. I’m not an Oscar Wilds or Charles Dickens but managed to make it drip with sarcasm nevertheless.

  8. 8

    Each year about 450 cubic kilometers of ice is melted from the poles. This cools our planet by about
    100 terrawatts. Without this cooling the surface temperature of earth would have risen to _____deg.C?

  9. 9
    jcbmack says:

    Gavin, this is a real shame, but on the bright side there is now new legislation on the horizon and scientists hired to improve matters.

  10. 10

    Just today Jim Hansen released his GISS analysis of 2008 global surface temperature is available at
    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2009/20090113_Temperature.pdf

    It is also available on the GISS web site at
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2008/

    he concludes:
    “Solar irradiance has a non-negligible effect on global temperature [see, e.g., Reference 7, which empirically estimates a somewhat larger solar cycle effect than that estimated by others who have teased a solar effect out of data with different methods]. Given our expectation of the next El Nino beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance.”

  11. 11
    Chris Colose says:

    This astounds me, but to be honest I am no longer surprised. It is no wonder there is such a confusion of “debate” outside the scientific community. As someone who writes for a student newspaper, putting this sort of propaganda and intellectual bankruptcy in front of viewers/readers is unimaginable to me. Judging from Mark Serreze’s post, it doesn’t seem like there’s much people can do about it.

  12. 12
    mememine69 says:

    We should be concerned everyone, so please hear me out but let me know if I’m over reacting here.
    This could be the start of a dangerous pause in our ongoing success with media sectors. I’m sure most us have begrudgingly noticed a crack in the amour in respects to our maintaining the edge in the media coverage. This colder than normal winter unfortunately is making people lose focus of the image of importance that we are working so hard instill in the minds of the general public. Consider us lucky in one respect as they generally have not noticed that a lot of our media is concerning the effects of climate change as opposed to the causes. And with 2008 being the coldest year this century, any future extended cold trend over a 10 or 20 year period say, must be deflected with how climate change can cause “climate instability” with a further focus of CO2 being man made and certainly a pollutant. I always try to tell people who doubt climate change that if they thought of an earth without humans, you could then easily see how we are having a definite effect on our environment.

  13. 13

    Well perhaps someone should point out that global warming is alive and well in California. See:
    In California, Hot and Dry Conditions Stir Drought Concerns

  14. 14

    Thanks Gavin for this report and your comments. One more statement jumps out as purposely misleading:

    NES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT “Part of the science community believes that global warming is a man-maid threat.”

    Implying that most do not believe global warming is man-made.

    Gavin, as a member of the science community – care to declare what fraction? Shouldn’t it be the “overwhelming majority” or “All but a few of the science community..” ?

    To say “part” is technically correct, but implies a fraction that is significantly less than most all of the group.

    His wording is sneaky.

  15. 15
    Danny Bloom says:

    CNN does its best, but its best is not good enough. While reporter Anderson Cooper goes around the world in corporate jets to report on OUR PERILOUS EARTH, he goes on Jon Stewart’s COMEDY CENTRAL DAILY SHOW to act like a jerk interviewing dogs in a mock election debate skit, and lowers himself to even saying “Get that B——- off the stage!” at one point in the tasteless skit. This kind of VIP me me me journalism, and lowering himself to such crapola, takes away from whatever seriousness he once had. He does not care about the Earth. He only cares about his silver highlights. It’s sad what CNN has become. All I can say is this:

    http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2008/11/28/sue-world-leaders-1-billion-for-global-warming/

  16. 16
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thanks for the weather report, Alastair — did you see the cartoon already?

  17. 17
    Paul Tonita says:

    It’s pretty frustrating to see this sort of reactionary journalism.

    Somewhat related to the yearly recap above from GISS, I was thinking about analyzing some numbers for simple illustrative purposes. I wanted to examine the yearly temperature anomaly when there would be very similar forcing from things like irradiance, ENSO and volcanic forcing. If those contributions were the same say in 1975 for example as they are now, would it be too simplistic to analyze the anomaly difference and then use the difference in atmospheric carbon dioxide ppmv and climate sensitivity to show somebody that these claims of impending cooling trends are nonsense?

    If so, does anyone know where could I find archived data for things like TSI and ENSO? Or am I (4th year animal science student) in over my head?

    [Response: See the Climate Data Links on the sidebar. Most of this is easily available. - gavin]

  18. 18
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Danny Bloom says: “CNN does its best, but its best is not good enough.”

    Bull Puckey! CNN isn’t even trying to get it right. This is utterly pathetic. The only ones stupider than the talking heads are the ones still listening to them. I turn on my TV for one half-hour a week to watch “The Big Bang Theory”–the only decent thing I’ve seen on the tube in 20 years. The Romans had their bread and circuses. America seems to be trying to see if it can do without the bread.

  19. 19
    caerbannog says:

    Here’s a good way to visualize the “cold snap” for the previous week: http://mapcenter.hamweather.com/records/7day/us.html?c=maxtemp,mintemp,lowmax,highmin

  20. 20
    EL says:

    #12 – I’m not going to lie to you, there is heavy spin going on with both sides of this debate. There is a lot of big players involved on both sides and a lot of stuff coming out of peoples mouths isn’t science, it’s propaganda.

    Does man have an impact on the environment? Yes, you cannot touch something unless you change it.

    How big of an impact is mankind having on the climate?………… That isn’t known.

    How much will the climate change? That isn’t known.

    Now there is other areas I will defend. Ecosystems are being impacted by mankind and some of them dangerously so. For example take the firefly (It’s called the lightning bug here), the population of that bug has dropped 90 or so percent in recent years (that’s globally btw). Researches think that it may be due to light pollution. I’m personally leaning more towards a possible change in lights or perhaps air pollution as I live in a low populated area and the decline is still extreme. There is simply no reasonable account for it to explain it properly. In any regard, one could only speculate about how many other species that will be displaced because of their decline. Like if you went into a cave and killed every single bat, just about the entire ecosystem in that cave would collapse as a result. It’s almost amazing how things can be linked. It’s a chaos problem honestly. Anyway, when resources start depleting and populations rise, the consequences can be read in history.

  21. 21
    Steve Reynolds says:

    gavin: “Oh, and if you want to know what the actual role of Milankovitch in forcing climate is, look at the IPCC FAQ…”

    I looked there, but I have also seen this interesting graph:
    http://lh4.ggpht.com/_4ruQ7t4zrFA/SWpkN7nSOFI/AAAAAAAABhY/5VaVC2d-A_s/future-glaciation.jpg

    supposedly from a peer reviewed paper:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/297/5585/1287
    2002 article in Science by Berger and Loutre.

    Is this info correct? If so, it seems to imply some natural cooling could be starting.

    [Response: Read the article (can't see the image on your link though). The natural cooling they are talking is about is scheduled to happen...... any millennia now. (actually, not for another 30,000 years). Not really something to be too concerned about. - gavin]

  22. 22
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jepe says “Hilarious! I saved this article on my computer, in a couple of years we will see who was the fool.”

    Oh, Jepe, I don’t see any reason to wait–you can claim the title of fool any time you feel like it.

  23. 23
    Jim Prall says:

    Re #7 Richard Pauli – what fraction are skeptics?
    I’ve been working on this a lot lately, and I’ve posted some annotated lists on my website (see link above). I’ve gathered around 1600 names, and I’ve annotated over 1100 of these to date. I note the cite counts of their top 4 most cited works, per Google Scholar, and link to their homepage and photo. It looks like ‘skeptics’ with some publication record make up around 4% of the names I’ve been able to collect so far. I have not gone through all of the names put forward by Inhofe/Morano, though I did add the few dozen that one blogger picked out as actual climatologists.
    I’m still weighing how to annotate for ‘skeptic’ status: some are very definite, but I’m uneasy about having a black-and-white “he’s a skeptic, he’s not” division. Up to now I’ve just tagged those who signed some prominent petitions or open letters, fellows of those “think tanks” that have been the most vocal arguing against the IPCC, or similar. In lieu of listing some as “skeptic” I’m thinking of indicating think-tank affiliations and open-letter signatories.

  24. 24
    Stephen Berg says:

    What a debacle! CNN should be ashamed of themselves! Miles O’Brien would have done much better.

  25. 25
    Arthur Smith says:

    I just ran across the following article on media pathology:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-rosen/audience-atomization-over_b_157807.html

    and I think it highlights the problem really well; what Dobbs and his backers are trying to do here (and Fox News has been doing all along) is move the reality of global warming out of the “sphere of consensus” into the “sphere of legitimate debate”, and then host such a debate in a way that pushes the vast majority of real scientists like Gavin off into the fringes of the “sphere of deviance”, so they can be more roundly ignored in future.

    Obviously this effort (surely at least indirectly fostered by entrenched fossil fuel interests) has been far too successful to this point; we have to know what we’re fighting here at least as a first step. How to win the war? I really can’t say – obviously the vast populace opposed to much of the Bush administration narrative of the past 8 years only finally succeeded through the recent election, and it’s hard to tell how much solid ground we have there even now…

  26. 26
    BillBodell says:

    And with 2008 being the coldest year this century, any future extended cold trend over a 10 or 20 year period say, must be deflected with how climate change can cause “climate instability” with a further focus of CO2 being man made and certainly a pollutant.

    That’s weird, I would have thought that should such an unlikely event as a “20 cold trend” (added onto the last 10 years) happen, one might have cause to re-think AGW.

  27. 27
    Eric Swanson says:

    I’m surprised that Dobbs didn’t include Senator Inhofe. The Republicans lost the election, so now it looks like their are trying a new tactic in their efforts to destroy the environmental sciences. Not that their anti-science is a new thing, but, like the rest of the Fundamentalist, they simply won’t accept any other world view which challenges their beliefs.

    I notice that Lou Dobbs has a web page which offers an e-mail link. Perhaps folks might express their opinions directly to Mr. Dobbs, as I did…

    E. S.

  28. 28

    Follow the money: It probably leads to the coal industry, but it could lead to the oil industry. Did the coal industry buy CNN or Fox? It is necessary to attack the source of the money rather than the propaganda. Just attacking the propaganda leaves the money source intact and more willing than ever to buy more propaganda. I doubt that merely discrediting CNN or Fox will do any good. They can buy a lot more propaganda than scientists can tell the truth. “Money talks.” The coal industry is too big at $100 Billion/year. I suggest a new tactic:
    1. Investigate the money trail and publish the money trail.
    2. Tell everybody another truth about coal: Coal contains uranium, thorium, lead, etc. in such large amounts that we are being poisoned by a lot more than just mercury and sulfur.
    3. Tell everybody that crude oil contains benzene, one of the strongest carcinogens known.

    The purpose of the improved tactic is to put coal out of business and oil into jeopardy. Once coal is out of business, there will be a lot less opposition to the truth and people will be able to hear RealClimate.

    I noticed that NBC was the only network that I saw the coal ash spill on. Does that have anything to do with the fact that Microsoft bought NBC and Bill Gates can’t be bought by the coal or oil companies? Not even NBC said that coal contains uranium.

    Javascript will not run on my computer.

  29. 29
    lulo says:

    The emotional responses elicited by you folks are telling. For years, we have been told that solar cycles and sunspots are irrelevant, that the striking correlation between solar cycle length and global temperature anomalies was a fabrication. It’s not a fabrication. It’s not hard to do it yourself, by applying an 11.5y running mean to solar data and it correlates way better than CO2. I did it. It works. Now, I completely agree with you folks here at RealClimate that this is probably because solar effects and oceanic effects produce the short-term variability on an overall trend that may well be due to greenhouse gases, but a few years ago, many pro-AGW types were spouting about that solar cycles had nothing to do with anything. Think back – were you one of them?
    I am increasingly convinced that solar activity is more important than vocal, mainstream ecoscientists have led themselves to believe. Cooling has been occurring for over seven years. Of course, we are repeatedly reminded of the normal climatic variability, that this is just a blip on the 100y trend (as if we aren’t capably ourselves of understanding this possibility), and that we are still above average, compared to the past 100 years. Of course, we are told, urban heat island effects are fully accounted for, terrible weather station sites can be ignored because the effect can apparently go either way and wash out in the end, and the removal of rural stations is just not important – just a concoction of people who are frustrated because they can’t get published. Some of these things are probably true, but hearing all of these aguments over and over starts to make me wonder if you folks have just invented a new religion. Is it politically correct to question the status quo? How do you treat people who openly question you. How likely are young, skeptical, untenured faculty to show their anti-AGW opinions?
    Who are you proponents? A few, honest climate modellers (perhaps there are a few amongst you beginning to worry about how your careers are going to look a few decades from now), and then lots of environmental scientists, geographers, activists, politicians and the gullible populace. Physicists are the ones who really understand how this evil molecule CO2 warms the climate. We all have the selective absorption plots etched in our minds, we all know how it absorbs longwave radiation emitted from the earth (and emits some itself in all directions), and we all know how fast it has been increasing in concentration. But we don’t really, really understand (with a few exceptions) exactly how the molecule does this. A few of the top climate scientists get it, but the field with the most AGW-skeptics is PHYSICS. Most of the physicists I know either believe that the effect has been overestimated, or that it is insignificant.
    Sometimes, these honest skeptics speak out (brave souls), but are tossed aside by the mainstream for not having publications ‘in the field.’ Look in the mirror and tell me that you would give an honest, even-handed critical review to an anti-AGW paper. Oh, you’ll tell yourself that you would, but face it. They are forced into energy and astrophysics journals, and are then criticized for not being in the mainstream, or even for being in an anti-AGW environment (which is probably true in the case of the energy and resource literature, but where else are they going to go).
    Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually do think greenhouse gases must cause some warming. I mean, they affect the net radiation balance, so how couldn’t they. But, the effect seems to be small enough that it is only 0.17 degrees above average with an extra 105 ppm. We all know that CO2 concentrations were much higher in the past, and that temperatures varied from cooler than today to seven degrees warmer than today with these concentrations. How on earth could it, thus, be the main factor? Secondly, climate models are complex and we get a lot wrong. The end products (eg. temperature) are really only individual components of models. If I mention this, people treat me like I’m the next Tim Ball or Lou Dobbs. Why? If it is because there is a simple explanation and I should know better, then just tell me. Don’t treat me like some kind of heathen.

    Even on the internet, inconvenient data are hidden. Go to the NSIDC, where lots of beautiful graphs are available for both the Arctic and Antarctic. When you get to the site, look for the Arctic data. Now look for the Antarctic data. Which was easier? Look how Mark Serreze explains the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice situation. While I agree that the CNN article was a ‘masterpiece of cherry-picking,’ and it wouldn’t surprise me if increased snowfall and snowmelt might somehow lead to an increase in Antarctic sea ice (more cold freshwater?), then why don’t you folks explain this in the media, instead of focusing on the Arctic and on the tiny portions of Antartica where it looks like the end of ice as we know it is nigh? It’s not like the media doesn’t like reporting on climate change for crying out loud. It’s all we ever hear. With respect to this interhemispheric difference, this type of masterful cherry-picking (to use your words) makes those of us who don’t actually have lower IQ’s than you folks suspicious. No wonder there are skeptics. The emotional responses are partisan, biased, irrational and unhelpful. Even the intelligent can be delusional.
    We are in the midst of a cooling period, albeit a very short one so far, that is in phase with the beginning of what may become a relatively inactive period for the sun. The solar wind is declining, the earth’s atmosphere is shrinking and there are fewer sunspots and it is getting colder. In the 1990′s how many models predicted this? I recall them well. The trend was just upward. Period. How well are solar effects included in the models? Perhaps it was thought that the solar effects were not important because the solar constant doesn’t change much (1364-1370 W/m2), but the correlation with climate does suggest that there is some amplifying mechanism that we should be looking for. The data scream at us that it is important, but we refuse to see it. It just might be as important as greenhouse gases. The CO2 effect may be overestimated (radiative forcing is not exactly what you would call a precise science, n’est-ce pas?). If climate scientists don’t open their minds a bit and listen to some of the criticism instead of applying emotional, knee-jerk reactions to any thoughtful criticism, and if you don’t stop treating the non-believers like right-wing, Exxon-funded blasphemous trash, then you are going to look very silly if you turn out to be wrong and you are going to ruin environmental earth science funding for decades in the process.

  30. 30
    lulo says:

    Greisch: Oh, come on… have you watched CNN lately (what a terrible excuse for a news channel – it’s amazing what Americans will put up with). It is the freaking Obama channel (which is a good thing, as he seems to have a good attitude and I think he will do good things). If they were paid off by big oil and coal, they would be behaving quite differently. Lou and Innes are allowed to say what they say because CNN loves the big simplified story. Fit for mass consumption in a dumbed down world. (Is it ironic that my CAPTCHA code is “reporter proves”? I guess, technically, no, but it is a funny coincidence).

  31. 31

    In re 10:

    Well, Gavin didn’t take me up on a Gentle-Peeps wager that “New Record Highs!” weren’t going to happen any time soon. Wonder if Hansen would be willing to?

    How about Hansen chills a bit until scientists have a better idea how much impact a (relatively) blank sun has on climate?

  32. 32

    Lou Dobbs also argues that NAFTA is a conspiracy between Canada and Mexico to take over US sovereignty. If it weren’t for the fact that he has a large audience and a convincing “anchorman” voice, I would find this amusing.

    I wouldn’t expect much better from his operation on climate matters.

  33. 33
    John Mashey says:

    1) CNN is a mass media *business*. I found this study from 2005.

    2) They get revenue from subscribers, and from advertisers, to whom they pitch “well-educated and affluent people” … which does seem contradicted by Lou Dobbs’ general style (populist outrage on any topic), but that’s what they claim.

    3) Companies advertise on Dobbs’ show on CNN, and at his website.

    4) Suppose someone with a website (not RC) collected names and contact addresses of companies that advertise with Dobbs (show or website).

    People might write such companies explaining that CNN is perfectly free to show whatever they want, but if companies are going to advertise on a show that can be so profoundly and purposefully anti-science … they might want to think twice about it. Some might write stronger words.

  34. 34
    Jim Bouldin says:

    #11: “Judging from Mark Serreze’s post, it doesn’t seem like there’s much people can do about it.”

    Oh yeah there is, and the key is Bob Ward’s post #6: “In the UK, this sort of item would be subject to the broadcasting regulatory code, designed to ensure that broadcasters respect the right of the audience not to be presented with misleading and inaccurate information. I guess nothing similar exists in the US.”

    Exactly the problem. NO accountability, whatsoever, for bulls**t journalism here. The only standard in part of the media is whether a “story” will generate readers/viewers (= fame, and indirectly, $$$). Journalists and media owners in this part know this. When they’re held responsible for disinformation, they’ll change course, and not until. (This does not, of course, apply to the many who do have a conscience and want to be accurate for accuracy’s sake.)

    We need something similar to personal libel and slander laws, but for disinformation in the media. That’ll change their thought processes.

    [Response: I appreciate the sentiment, but frankly this is a dead end approach. The answer to bad information is better information. - gavin]

  35. 35
    Neal J. King says:

    It occurs to me that all this cold-weather talk concerning the U.S. could be usefully countered by discussion of temperature anomalies in the Arctic. After all, if the unusually cold weather is due to an unusual amount of cold air from the Arctic, there must be an exchange of air going on, that carries air from more temperate regions into the Arctic. So there should be unusually warm weather up there.

    Is there any discussion or presentation of this anywhere?

  36. 36
    Neal J. King says:

    On a separate point: I think Lou Dobbs has always expressed a pro-business perspective, so the direction of this tilt is not a surprise.

    The good news is that Obama’s science team is strongly behind the mainstream science of anthropogenic global warming. I think there should be an effort made to engage them in the public-relations issues. In particular, Steve Chu, as Secretary of Energy, should be asked to take a strong and vocal position: He should certainly be clear on the technological options, and he’s probably well-informed on the climate science. And it’s pretty hard to dismiss a recent Nobel laureate in Physics as a dingbat, even on a Fox or CNN “news” program.

    If he takes this role seriously, Chu could be for the AGW issue what C. Everett Koop was for smoking. It would be really great if half of the published stories about AGW were NOT about fringe-science views, but maybe only 10%.

  37. 37
    SamWeiss says:

    Edward Greisch said: ” Does that have anything to do with the fact that Microsoft bought NBC and Bill Gates can’t be bought by the coal or oil companies?”

    Suggest you reexamine your “facts” : http://www.ge.com/products_services/media_entertainment.html

    On the CNN story – as I don’t watch cable TV I missed the program… poor me!

    That Dobbs show, as described, is perfectly understandable without resorting to conspiracy theories. In order to attract viewers (which are needed to sell advertisement) programs have to offer something new, extreme, or just weird. All Dobbs is doing is searching for controversy in the hopes that it will help his ratings. Media do this all the time.

    What differentiates scientific research from the popular media is (or ought to be) that the scientific community enforces a standard of honesty, accuracy, and transparency on itself.

    CNN is notorious for its un-researched reports (cf. the recent case of the pseudo-CPR from Gaza.)

    Does this mean the scientific endeavor will be destroyed by media malfeasance? NO. Ever since Galileo the scientific process in western civilization has outlasted not just “media” of different types but whole governance systems and nations.

  38. 38
    Patrick G. says:

    The first paragraph says it all:
    “…it’s a story you will only see here…”

    …because there is still “Common Sense” elsewhere, even if relevant expertise is missing.

  39. 39
    Ricki (Australia) says:

    Tut, tut.

    As an outsider, it seems obvious to me…the science dept of CNN was disbanded with the specific intention of getting this sort of stuff onto the news.

    It looks clearly to me like the money moguls are trying to up the pressure on Obama to delay proper action on reducing emissions. After all, why disband a science group and then continue to report on science. It was staged!

  40. 40
    Alan Neale says:

    The USA right has always tried to protect its intersts through the media. In the USA the right is far too well organised and savvy about the ways and means of making anything unpleasant in its eyes a bad thing. They have always done it and climate change is no different. This time though they are up against a reality that is scientific and hence a lot more difficult to dilute especially as the arguments go around the world and are not just at home.

    The deniesphere has recently had a bit of a rejuvination with the recentl cold weather selectively reported on and the Suns sunpot crisis (cycle of minimum activity) getting the old deniers excited again and again and again as the media and broadcasters seek to exacerbate the debate over and over again to fill the 24 hour slots.

    The USA must rememeber though, it is no longer and right wing contry predominently but a liberal one. Just watch the daily show and the colbert report or contact them and get them to do some great funny footage on this debate as their is nothing like laughter to convince the liberal masses. If the USA liberals are anothing like the UK ones then what they want is a fair dedate before any decisions are taken. This is how the BBC works and they tried for years to put it that way before even they realised that when it comes to emprical science you have to listen to the evidence and not argue about it from either way. Science has its own means of obtaining its own truth and real climate is one of these places that tell it.

    Anyway, if anyone had not noticed its the liberals turn to rule in the USA and CNN and others hopefully will not matter in this term especially when the next el nino hopefully sens the thermometer rising to dampen the skeptics again.

    Lets hope Obama somehow manages to get the USA world leaders in renewable energy.

  41. 41

    Luckily I don’t get CNN here. No cable, and Australian public TV is very good. It only partially makes up for the newspapers (I stopped buying The Australian when I realised they were on an anti-science jihad).

    The real problem is wilful inability to accept simple facts. I’ve had arguments with people who apparently understand the difference between climate and weather, then say something that clearly shows they don’t.

    I’m not sure how you address that. Supplying facts and logical argument for sure doesn’t. You have to wonder about people who are being deliberately dishonest; do they really think they can move to another planet? But people who are unable to follow a simple logical argument and maintain the truth of a fact from one end of a sentence to another make me wonder whether intelligent life has evolved elsewhere in the universe, because it hasn’t here. For lighter relief, how about this senator from the great state of Queensland, who objects to being called a climate change “denier” because it sounds like “holocaust denier”, then goes on to call environmentalists Nazis? Talk about the inability to maintain a consistent argument from one end of a sentence to another.

    (Disclosure: I am running as a Greens candidate in the next Qld state election.)

  42. 42
    Jim Bouldin says:

    #27 (Eric): Thanks for the link.

    I just sent a not-so-short letter to Lou Dobbs incorporating some of the points made by Gavin, and a couple others, and requesting a more factually accurate story be done.

    Couple of additional points I included:

    This potential bias [urban heat island] (and several others, such as time of observation bias and instrument change biases) have long been known, and have been adjusted for by Tom Karl and others using standard and well accepted statistical methods.

    Third, Wissner-Gross, responding to your question on carbon emissions (and what “130 year survey” were you referring to exactly?), states that technological advances will lead to a smaller carbon footprint. This hopeful statement is, unfortunately, entirely without evidence, viz: (1) carbon dioxide emission rates continue to accelerate, and (2) a per capita emissions decline due to technology is irrelevant unless it substantially exceeds the per-capita global population rise, which also shows no sign of abating.

    Fehr also states that “…it’s really arrogant to think that man controls the climate. 90 percent of the climate is water vapor which we have no impact over…”. These are senseless statements, viz: (1) scientists deal in evidence, not opinions about what is “arrogant” or not relative to human activities, and (2) the water vapor statement is simply non-sensical, and indicates to anyone who knows anything about the topic that he does not know the subject. (The climate is 90% water vapor–WHAT?)

  43. 43
    PeteB says:

    my comment left at Lou Dobbs website

    Lou,

    We have a phrase in England “done up like a kipper”

    I’m afraid that was what happened to you last night.

    Almost the entire broadcast was given over to policy advocates with a brief appearance by 1 real scientist – Dr Gavin Schmidt of NASA

    when Ines said “..you could feel the kind of anger..” I’m not surprised – there is no middle position between sense and nonsense

  44. 44

    Bill B., “unlikely event,” indeed! But why “added on” to the warmest ten year period in the composite record? Oh, wait, I’m not very good at cherry-picking; that would be 1998-2007, wouldn’t it? Guess I should have said “warmest twelve-year period in the composite record.”

  45. 45
    anna says:

    my goodness it is infuriating when people try to paint climate change as being a left or right wing issue. anyone with half a brain can quite clearly see it is neither, it’s a scientific issue.

    though i guess that doesn’t make for good current affairs programs does it?

    i’m interested by the tack taken by several people in the interview above, of supporting renewable energy and conservation generally, but maintaining that somehow CO2 has nothing to do with the climate.

    i got into a debate recently with some family members (ahh, christmas) about this. i tried to be polite and gentle in the face of their gob-smacking ignorance and extraordinary arrogance (i mostly succeeded). they were saying that they buy their electricity from renewable sources and have water tanks etc and thinks humans should pollute less, but that they “don’t believe in climate change” (and yes, i pointed out that it isn’t something you believe, either the evidence is there and/or the theory makes sense, or it doesn’t).

    they were unable to answer me when i asked if they think that CO2 is a pollutant.

    so they behave in a very ‘green’ way that is probably friendlier to the climate than most, but seemingly don’t know why they do it.

    all i can think is that seemingly it is becoming so socially unacceptable to be covetous of the earth’s resources that they’re changing what they do if not what they think (which probably matters more anyway).

    and so they should. because none of us has the right to damage the lives of our children and grandchildren, or anyone else’s. that would be truly arrogant.

  46. 46
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Lulo says, “A few of the top climate scientists get it, but the field with the most AGW-skeptics is PHYSICS.”

    Absolute horse puckey!

    From American Institute of Physics:
    http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/042.html

    From American Geophysical Union:
    http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/positions/climate_change2008.shtml

    The IUGG:
    http://www.iugg.org/resolutions/perugia07.pdf

    American Physical Society:
    http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/07_1.cfm

    [edit - stay polite!]

  47. 47
    Dan says:

    Lulo wrote: “If climate scientists don’t open their minds a bit and listen to some of the criticism instead of applying emotional, knee-jerk reactions to any thoughtful criticism, and if you don’t stop treating the non-believers like right-wing, Exxon-funded blasphemous trash, then you are going to look very silly if you turn out to be wrong and you are going to ruin environmental earth science funding for decades in the process.”

    It appears you may not understand how science is conducted through the scientific method. Which includes rigorous debate through peer-reviewed journals and scientific conference. That is where the true scientific criticism occurs.

    BTW, I have a physics and a graduate meteorology degree. I understnad the physics involved. It is quite basic actually. So don’t go there with the “skeptic physicists” crap.

  48. 48
    Alan Neale says:

    Re #47, This is the crux of it all. The public want the debate for everything is debated these days. However science is not debated by normal people but within the scientific forum and that excludes ordinary people. Unfortunately though AGW requires a plan of serious action and intent that most of the public do not know where the conclusion has come from and hence the media have whiped it up on both sides of the political divide. Leaving the scientific documentaries and attempts at discusing it aside the media and folks have moved it into the economic and political realm of what shall we do, if anything at all.

    The science is mixed up in part with the arguments about what to do about it. The UK this morning has announced a third runway at the world busiest Airport, Heathrow, London. The arguments run from aviation will be cutting emissions by using new types of Aircraft and joining up flights to reduce emissions etc to the UK needs this third runway in order to be a greater part of the global economy. Flying on generates 2% of our 2% of global emissions and stuff like it. Its an inpenetrable mess and the media debate the issue from many angles, environmental, economic and political.

    The bottom line is that although the UK Government talks the talk on AGW and has promised emissions limits apparantly in line with the EU framework it does appear to demonstrate that politics and economics comes first and AGW and the science a fair way behind.

    Progress and prosperity are the order of the modern world due to this some very intelligent people had better come out with some seriously deployable new technologies that emit little carbon but provide as much energy and more than fossil fuels presently do.

    Its almost impossible at the present time to see this occuring within the slated time lines of 2050 for a 80% cut. But that is just my opinion. It might well be possible or we could go the geoengineering route.

    Roll on Denmark 2009 and see if Obama has the stomach to get start the global mitigation required for th world relies on the USA for the big ideals and Kyoto has failed thus far.

  49. 49
    Leland says:

    Can someone explain in a bit more detail why I shouldn’t be concerned with correlation between satellite measurements and ground stations. As a non-expert this caught my eye:

    “Yes, I do. In fact, if you look at the satellite data, which is the most reliable data, the best coverage of the globe, 2008 was the 14th coldest in 30 years. That doesn’t jive with the tenth warmest in 159 years in the Hadley data set or 113 or 114 years in the NOAA data set.”

    My understanding was there was good correlation between ground/satellite – is this simply wrong? Satellite’s really didn’t say this was the 14th warmest in 30 years. And Hadley / NOAA really didn’t say 10th warmest in 100+ years?

    [Response: The satellites and surface records measure different things and have different responses to El Nino events and the like. Thus while the series are highly correlated, they are different enough (even assuming no systematic errors) that rankings among very similar years are not identical. As I said a few posts back, complex data can be described in many different ways - all of which can be strictly true - but that give very different impressions. - gavin]

    Something doesn’t connect for me. Perhaps this ‘difference’ is all within the noise level?

  50. 50
    Rod B says:

    Edward Greisch says, “Javascript will not run on my computer.”

    Have you checked for the Coal Company Trojan Horse?


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