It won’t have escaped many of our readers’ notice that there has been what can only be described as a media frenzy (mostly in the UK) with regards to climate change in recent weeks. The coverage has contained more bad reporting, misrepresentation and confusion on the subject than we have seen in such a short time anywhere. While the UK newspaper scene is uniquely competitive (especially compared to the US with over half a dozen national dailies selling in the same market), and historically there have been equally frenzied bouts of mis-reporting in the past on topics as diverse as pit bulls, vaccines and child abductions, there is something new in this mess that is worth discussing. And that has been a huge shift in the Overton window for climate change.
In any public discussion there are bounds which people who want to be thought of as having respectable ideas tend to stay between. This is most easily seen in health care debates. In the US, promotion of a National Health Service as in the UK or a single-payer system as in Canada is so far outside the bounds of normal health care politics, that these options are only ever brought up by ‘cranks’ (sigh). Meanwhile in the UK, discussions of health care delivery solutions outside of the NHS framework are never heard in the mainstream media. This limit on scope of the public debate has been called the Overton window.
The window does not have to remain static. Pressure groups and politicians can try and shift the bounds deliberately, or sometimes they are shifted by events. That seems to have been the case in the climate discussion. Prior to the email hack at CRU there had long been a pretty widespread avoidance of ‘global warming is a hoax’ proponents in serious discussions on the subject. The sceptics that were interviewed tended to be the slightly more sensible kind – people who did actually realise that CO2 was a greenhouse gas for instance. But the GW hoaxers were generally derided, or used as punchlines for jokes. This is not because they didn’t exist and weren’t continually making baseless accusations against scientists (they did and they were), but rather that their claims were self-evidently ridiculous and therefore not worth airing.
However, since the emails were released, and despite the fact that there is no evidence within them to support any of these claims of fraud and fabrication, the UK media has opened itself so wide to the spectrum of thought on climate that the GW hoaxers have now suddenly find themselves well within the mainstream. Nothing has changed the self-evidently ridiculousness of their arguments, but their presence at the media table has meant that the more reasonable critics seem far more centrist than they did a few months ago.
A few examples: Monckton being quoted as a ‘prominent climate sceptic’ on the front page of the New York Times this week (Wow!); The Guardian digging up baseless fraud accusations against a scientist at SUNY that had already been investigated and dismissed; The Sunday Times ignoring experts telling them the IPCC was right in favor of the anti-IPCC meme of the day; The Daily Mail making up quotes that fit their GW hoaxer narrative; The Daily Express breathlessly proclaiming the whole thing a ‘climate con’; The Sunday Times (again) dredging up unfounded accusations of corruption in the surface temperature data sets. All of these stories are based on the worst kind of oft-rebunked nonsense and they serve to make the more subtle kind of scepticism pushed by Lomborg et al seem almost erudite.
Perhaps this is driven by editors demanding that reporters come up with something new (to them) that fits into an anti-climate science theme that they are attempting to stoke. Or perhaps it is driven by the journalists desperate to maintain their scoop by pretending to their editors that this nonsense hasn’t been debunked a hundred times already? Who knows? All of these bad decisions are made easier when all of the actually sensible people, or people who know anything about the subject at all, are being assailed on all sides, and aren’t necessarily keen to find the time to explain, once again, that yes, the world is warming.
So far, so stupid. But even more concerning is the reaction from outside the UK media bubble. Two relatively prominent and respected US commentators – Curtis Brainard at CJR and Tom Yulsman in Colorado – have both bemoaned the fact that the US media (unusually perhaps) has not followed pell-mell into the fact-free abyss of their UK counterparts. Their point apparently seems to be that since much news print is being devoted to a story somewhere, then that story must be worth following. Indeed, since the substance to any particularly story is apparently proportional to the coverage, by not following the UK bandwagon, US journalists are missing a big story. Yulsman blames the lack of environmental beat reporters for lack of coverage in the US, but since most of the damage and bad reporting on this is from clueless and partisan news desk reporters in the UK, I actually expect that it is the environmental beat reporters’ prior experience with the forces of disinformation that prevents the contagion crossing the pond. To be sure, reporters should be able and willing (and encouraged) to write stories about anything to do with climate science and its institutions – but that kind of reporting is something very different from regurgitating disinformation, or repeating baseless accusations as fact.
So what is likely to happen now? As the various panels and reports on the CRU affair conclude, it is highly likely (almost certain in fact) that no-one will conclude that there has been any fraud, fabrication or scientific misconduct (since there hasn’t been). Eventually, people will realise (again) that the GW hoaxers are indeed cranks, and the mainstream window on their rants will close. In the meantime, huge amounts of misinformation, sprinkled liberally with plenty of disinformation, will be spread and public understanding on the issue will likely decline. As the history of the topic has shown, public attention to climate change comes and goes and this is likely to be seen as the latest bump on that ride.
1168 Responses to "Whatevergate"
“no-one will conclude that there has been any fraud, fabrication or scientific misconduct”
Not true. Many have already concluded so. Before climate-gate, in fact.
The self-examination disguised as investigation will, unfortunately, reach the expected self exoneration (sigh).
But I’m guessing that the game is up.
[Response: I should have made clear, that no-one will conclude these things actually based on any evidence. People jumping to conclusions on the basis of their existing prejudices is not news. – gavin]
Unfortunately, I think the only thing that will turn the public back towards reality is a few globally really hot years. Scientifically not very meaningful, but in the public’s percption the only thing that convinces!
That should not take too long though…
Mark A. York says
Have you seen the sad state of affairs at CJR in the comment threads? Good grief. Like most newspapers with articles on AGW, the comment threads are inundated by man-on-the-street sceptics repeating these wild assertions. Wisely, and I wish I could say the same for me, Curtis Brainard doesn’t do comment threads. It’s a good thing for him, but shows a lack of responsibility that Andy Revkin doesn’t shy from. Never let the false messengers win by gang comment is my view. I wish I was on the payroll so it would be worth the effort. As it is, thankless task is more the case.
Richard Pauli says
In a progressively destabilizing climate, it is inevitable that a stance that rejects science will necessarily become more shrill and increasingly desperate.
Any conglomerate-owned mass media outlet seeks comfortable news stories that supports their advertising revenue model. They are quite happy to report on a manufactured controversy rather than the horrifying unknown of colossal changes of adaptation and mitigation.
We are witnessing the decline of responsible mass media, but readers here – and “People Formerly Known as the Audience” now prefer to get information directly. http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2006/06/27/ppl_frmr.html
Real Climate is a great and important resource on this issue. The physics of climate change will unfold as it must; an informed audience will learn what it can and must, all others are finding their necessary endgame entertainment.
While it may be a media frenzy there is certainly plenty of fuel for the fire. It started with leaked (no evidence they were stolen) emails but with the major enquiries still pending the interest has quickly moved on to IPCC errors and the referencing of non-peer reviewed literature published by special interest groups.
I read this post expecting a serious rebutal maybe even the waving of the tired flag – we still have the consensus – but no. I’ll give you the media is uneven perfomer sometimes on the money often missing the point but its hard to argue this issue doesn’t deserve the attention it has received. This is a trillion dollar issue and greater examination of the issue is warranted.
There is also little doubt that the cold snap experienced by the nothern hemisphere (and some of the southern one at least where I live) has further challenged the publics belief in global warming. I know it was warm other places and generally warm across the planet but Joe Six Pack judges issues based on what is happening on his porch. In this case it was snowing, a lot. Joe isn’t entirely wrong to judge AGW based on this measure after all predictions were made that snow would reduce and now it is back in force. A theory is validated based on observations and Joe has observed a lot of snow. What is the lessen here? Dont make cataclysmic predictions the world will not end because of AGW and life (including human life) will go on. It just might be a bit warmer and for where I live that would be a good thing!
Douglas Fischer says
As usual, a fascinating series of observations. One reason the US media has perhaps not followed the email story so closely is due in part to an exhaustive analysis by the AP’s Seth Borenstein published late last year (http://bit.ly/aFpWtA).
But just because the US media hasn’t covered this story as rabidly doesn’t mean the Overton window hasn’t shifted stateside. As snow buried the East Coast this month we saw a rash of stories questioning the science and mocking Al Gore, most of it every bit as erroneous and unfounded as the email ruckus. Questioning the science was a dead end politically six months ago; that’s no longer the case.
You’re correct, though, in your final assessment: Public attention does come and go on this topic. The pendulum is swinging. I suspect, however, a graph of that might look rather similar to that plot showing global land-ocean temperature increases over time.
Horatio Sanz says
I’m a student at UEA. I’m sorry, but this post does not represent what the “climate” is like in these parts. I see Prof Jones almost daily and have had the opportunity to talk with him some.
I would follow his lead if I were you – stick to the science, come clean, and stop with all this twee fluff.
Benjamin Seghers says
“Who knows?” I do: supply and demand.
Three Major Firms Pull Out of Climate Change Alliance
ConocoPhillips, BP America and Caterpillar pulled out of a leading alliance of businesses and environmental groups pushing for climate change legislation on Tuesday, citing complaints that the bills under consideration are unfair to American industry.
The sudden pullout of three corporate giants from a leading alliance of businesses and environmental groups could be the death knell for climate change legislation languishing on Capitol Hill.
Texas Takes Legal Action Against Federal Government Over EPA CO2 Mandates
AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples today announced that the state is taking legal action in the U.S. Court of Appeals challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) endangerment finding for greenhouse gases.
“With billions of dollars at stake, EPA outsourced the scientific basis for its greenhouse gas regulation to a scandal-plagued international organization that cannot be considered objective or trustworthy,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Prominent climate scientists associated with the IPCC were engaged in an ongoing, orchestrated effort to violate freedom of information laws, exclude scientific research, and manipulate temperature data. In light of the parade of controversies and improper conduct that has been uncovered, we know that the IPCC cannot be relied upon for objective, unbiased science – so EPA should not rely upon it to reach a decision that will hurt small businesses, farmers, ranchers, and the larger Texas economy.”
David Wilson says
I tried to comment on your last post, to say how much your cool heads are appreciated (just in case there was any doubt :-), but your website hiccoughed and the comment was lost, so again today I am prompted to say, “thank goodness for your continued efforts”
what IS being accomplished by these knuckleheads is delay, at a time when concerted action is most required – if it is not indeed too late already
but I think that you should maybe have another look at your “who knows?” around the motivations of reporters and deniers, from reading Hoggan’s ‘Climate Cover-Up’ there is a case to be made for conspiracy but even if there is a conspiracy I don’t think it ends there
here’s a question for you – are the Exxon/Mobils and Dows and Cargills and Duponts and Halliburtons of this world, who have made such huge amounts of money (and damage of course) on the backs of scientists, really foolish enough to consciously undermine the future of humanity? by ignoring science? if so, how so? Joseph Tainter in his ‘The Collapse of Complex Societies’ casts some doubt on the notion that civilizations fail simply through incompetent elites – there is a disconnect in there somewhere – and I think the question of why the deniers are sooo stubborn needs to be closely looked at – since we cannot afford delay
for example – there are still lots and lots of smokers out there and not all of them are complete idiots, maybe W was right when he called oil an ‘addiction’ in more ways than by simple analogy
thanks again, be well, David Wilson.
David Wilson says
sorry … forgot to mention, if you are interested in Overton windows, you might also enjoy looking at Charles Taylor’s ‘Modern Social Imaginaries’
I don’t think the press coverage is going to die off.
As long as the pause in the warming lasts, or switches to outright cooling – the press coverage will stay on the story.
The press coverage will increase if the trend line departs further from the model mean trend line and decrease if the trend line approaches the model mean trend line.
Andy S says
The Canadian newspapers have gone bananas too, with exaggerations of the significance of errors and misrepresentations of scientific misconduct. Not a single error has been found in the ~1000 pages of the WG1 AR4 report, yet commentators who have never even cracked the spine on this volume confidently declare climate science and the IPCC process bankrupt. I hear otherwise intelligent and well-informed people uncritically echo these views in discussion forums and conversations.
Globe and Mail Op Ed example
I am quite honestly dumbfounded by this whole affair, there’s some undercurrent here that I simply don’t understand. And, with respect, I don’t think that an exoneration of the principals in the CRU affair will lead people to start coming to their senses, on the contrary, this will provide yet more evidence to the crazies that there’s a cover-up.
Depressing, isn’t it….
Is there some reason you refer to the CRU email incident as a hack? Would it not be just as likely (or perhaps more so, given the evidence in the email headers) that it ws a leak? In the absence of any evidence (unless you know something you have not mentioned) would it not be more appropriate to refer to it in less certain terms?
Also repeated use of hoaxers, cranks and other pejorative terms certainly isn’t going to win over minds of of those on the fence in this discussion.
[Response: Someone who thinks that GW is a hoax is a crank. And stealing people’s emails from a central server and publishing them is a hack regardless of where you do it from. Pretending that any and all commentary on this topic is ‘reasonable’ just to appear open to fence sitters is just hypocritical. – gavin]
I’m still reeling at claims Monckton is a mathematician.
He’s not. He’s got no published articles in the *mathematics* literature, he’s only qualification is , afaik, an undergraduate *journalism* degree, and never worked in the field. In fact the closest he’s come to it is inventing a jigsaw puzzle that turned out to have some interesting mathematical properties (But not that interesting when you understand permutation)
But the local press have been going on about the “mathematician monckton”.
Tom Fuller says
There’s a lot to talk about in your post. I don’t think there are that many people saying climate science has been discredited–and that includes the newspapers you cite above. It’s clear that various institutions are going to face more questioning in future, and I think that’s probably a good thing.
Monckton is taking advantage of this and is certainly enjoying his moment in the sun. But I don’t think it’s going to last–Tim Lambert exposed some fundamental weaknesses in Monckton’s arguments that will get followed up on fairly soon.
Obviously I disagree with your characterization of the Climategate emails. There is evidence of wrong-doing without a doubt, and enough prima facie evidence to call into question some scientific issues, such as Briffa saying he thought temperatures were warmer than today 1,000 years ago, Wrigley criticizing Mann’s work and also Jones’ co-author on the 1990 UHI paper.
The fact that you call Lomborg a skeptic is symptomatic of what is behind all this media furor. It is you people, and your more excitable fellow-bloggers, that are actually driving this story. Calling what happened at Albany with Keenan a settled dispute is another symptom, especially after Jones’ remarks yesterday. You all seem incapable of understanding that you have created an image of yourself, rightly or wrongly, that is perceived as tone-deaf to the quality of your messages and blind to both error and perceptions of unfairness.
Brainard and Yulsman are right to call for more U.S. coverage of this. I think you are at best premature in declaring that there has been no fraud, fabrication or scientific misconduct. If that is the same decision-making process you use in evaluating scientific data, you’re in more trouble than you think.
[Response: I’ve made a prediction, and we will see if it plays out. Feel free to email to acknowledge I’m correct if this actually comes to pass. Finding that people argued about the MWP 10 years ago might be evidence of wrong-doing to you, but I don’t quite see it myself. As to this ‘image’ I’m supposed to have created, I’m curious as to how you think I’ve managed that? Writing essays about the uncertainties in climate modeling, discussing the difference between weather and climate, discussing the uncertainties in aerosols or solar forcing or paleo-data, the difficulty of attributing single events, criticising exaggerations of media coverage, etc. etc. That people ignore what scientists say, and fill the media with garbage that you apparently take seriously is exactly the problem, and not the fault of the scientists. Find some single example where I’ve done anything to mislead or deceive the public about the nature of the science. Just one. And then rethink your rather offensive “You people” comment. – gavin]
I never did understand how Monckton was brought up as a expert on climate or any science for that matter. I doubt he could differentiate e^x, but maybe I’m wrong.
From my understanding, his degree is in journalism.
Balazs Fekete says
Pendulum is swinging. Those scientist, who are outraged by the current media distortions now, should have spoken up when Al Gore released “Inconvenient Truth”. Those IPCC scientists, who enjoyed the limelight three years ago as Nobel prize laureates, have to bite the bullet that the tide is turning. The public was told for years that the science was settled and supported Al Gore’s depiction of the imminent global warming disaster. All the mistakes and errors brought up now point to the direction that the looming disasters are not coming nearly at the speed that was anticipated. Besides, the IPCC reports are nowhere near as one sided as Al Gore. The “scientific community” made a colossal mistake pushing for actions prematurely. I have argued this for years (including at AGU meetings and special events held by the Union of Concerned Scientists) that ultimately there will be a back slash and chances are that by the time science will be truly ready to offer solutions the climate science will loose its credibility. Perhaps, a better strategy would be to admit mistakes and exaggeration (e.g. drowning polar bears, and malaria outbreaks in developed world, etc.) and propose a plan, how we can sort out uncertainties. When I read so called “deniers” to question GISS’s recent finding that 2009 was exceptionally warm and blame GHCN to purposely eliminate high altitude and high latitude meteorological stations, I can’t stop thinking how could the scientific community let the monitoring network decline so rapidly in the last thirty years. Sometimes, I am under the impression that we purposely abandoned monitoring so modelers don’t have to face observations. I work with various global data every day and I can’t believe how little progress we made in the last 20 years in terms of Earth observations. We have extremely high resolution satellite images of land cover changes. Most of the major cities were digitized so we have amazing maps in our GPS, Google sending camera crews to to provide street view. At the same time, we have to deal with declining meteorological stations, discharge gauges. In return, we have rotation of mutually incompatible “research” satellites just to make it more difficult to establish consistent climate records. It is unbelievable that almost twenty years after the first IPCC report, there is still room to debate if a particular year was warm or cold. I personally don’t trust our models to tell the weather in the next century, but they are certainly good enough to tell us, where we have model uncertainties. Perhaps, we could design observation strategies for the next twenty years (we should have done this thirty years ago) and carry out those observation so at least our grand children can narrow down the uncertainties. I can’t stop thinking what our grand children will say when they will have to deal with the leaking underground CO2 storages (that we pumped as our solution to clean coal power plants), when they crank through petabytes of climate simulations and find no reliable temperature records. They must say, our generation was insane wasting so much resources and ignoring what would have been the most important: to take an accurate record of what happening to us.
james allison says
Two years ago most of my intelligent independent thinking friends and associates were convinced AGW exists. Today all of them bar none say either that GW has existed since the LIA but it isn’t largely due to humans or they say the climate scientists have manipulated the data to show dramatic warming when common sense says there hasn’t been any significant warming. What do you think has gone wrong for the advocates of AGW?
R. Gates says
Under your final paragraph: So what is likely to happen now? I would offer the observation that nothing that has happened in the past several months seemed likely before it happened. If the whole system of coming to a consensus that leads to meaningful actions is looked at from a chaos theory perspective, I think this so called “bump” may lead to a more chaotic and unpredictable state of affairs for a while longer…i.e., we can’t predict what is “likely” to happen in the court of public/policy maker opinion for a more extended period before settling down. That settling down into a more stable and truely predictable state will only ocme about by the overwhelming obviousness of the first hand experiences and events as they unfold and are once more creating louder headlines in the media than the so called scandals are now…i.e. new record lows in sea ice, record highs in global temps, and other extremes predicted by AGW models.
In my experience people who take time and effort to read generally begin to appreciate science and the philosophy behind it. That is how scientists become scientists after all.
Who cannot remember being fascinated when first observing the beauty of a dragonfly’s wingbeat or learning about the orbits of planets or the timing of ocean tides or the elegant idea of a sample standard deviation?
I agree with those who have argued that recent misinformation in the media largely accrues from a failure in scientific literacy among journalists. How do we, as scientists (and well-intentioned voters) begin to bring back that simple childhood impression that — gee whiz, learning about science is pretty mind-expanding?
I can’t offer an answer. But I will suggest that is why I consider this website to be so useful. Please keep at it.
Andrew from Canada
Brian Angliss says
We may not be having quite the IPCC feeding frenzy that the UK has right now, but “skeptical” blogs are coming out hard against cap and trade, EPA regulation of CO2 via the Clean Air Act, even the results of the Penn State inquiry of Michael Mann (a member here), accusing PSU of a cover-up.
I looked into the cover up accusations and asked a number of experts (including another RC member, Dr. Rahmstorf) about the accusations. All of the experts said that there was no way that PSU would risk its reputation for anyone and the suggestion that PSU was being corrupted by Mann’s research money was pretty much laughable.
David Graves says
Ah, but we have the Wall St.Journal’s editorial page on this side of the pond. In the Feb. 16 edition, we have “The Continuing Climate Meltdown”, with the recycling of Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times, the misquoting of Phil Jones, and not a word on anything from WG1. So we are not lacking for fishwrap.
“… I actually expect that it is the environmental beat reporters prior experience with the forces of disinformation that prevents the contagion crossing the pond…”
I wouldn’t be so sure. Washington post had a few doozys the other day in the middle of “Snowpocalypse.”
Monckton may now frame the Overton window, but in shifting, the window is now on other figures who don’t deserve the legitimacy. Some of the more sensible UK media now seem to be giving respectful consideration to the views of the “sceptics” derided in the hacked emails. The feeling seems to be that the climate science community behaved badly to these sceptics, the climate science community is promising to be more open to critics rather that block them out, so the “sceptics” mentioned in the emails must be allowed to give their side of the argument. Hence the recent Harrabin Q&A session giving prominence to past temperature change and and the Guardian series on the CRU hack leading with a profile of Steve McIntyre and going on to discuss the supposed suppression of sceptical science by climate scientists.
My view is that the sceptics derided in the emails deserved that derision- for trying to undermine good science and impede the work of scientists, and for publishing work based on flawed methodology.
Harrabin has a new story titles “Climate ‘Armistice'” which the BBC website advertised with the link “Can two sides of climate debate be reconciled?”
This is the sort of phoney two sided debate that the “sceptics” have always wanted in the media, and they used the hacked CRU emails to portray themselves as abused sceptics stifled by the mainstream climate science community.
Climate scientists need to stress to the serious media that these critics are just as wrong as Monckton and the other characters who are now in the Window, and that they got angry in those emails for a damn good reason.
Oops. MS-Word mis-post. Would you please revise my last paragraph to? Thank you Andrew. It should have read:
I can’t offer an answer. But I will suggest that furnishing access to and discussion of the recent primary literature is why I consider this website to be so useful. Please keep at it.
Edward Greisch says
Thanks for the term “Overton Window.” The surest way to close/narrow it would be to have a populace that was smart enough and educated in science enough to understand the subject. That will happen after some more evolution takes place. AGW gone wild WILL cause evolution.
Meanwhile, back at the newsdesk, there sits an innumerate humanitologist. Your job, Professor, is to convince the Journalism professors and English professors that journalism students and English majors should be required to take the Engineering and Science Core Curriculum.
Another possible way to close/narrow the Overton Window is to point out some effects of AGW that already really irk, inconvenience or cost the general public. To do that, you will have to accredit AGW with effects that “could be weather” but probably aren’t. Rain on Olympic Snow, snow in Florida, food prices, desertification of various places, fires, etc.. Sure, I know, they could be weather. Individually. But all together? “There is a pattern” of stuff that is at least irksome to Joe Sixpack even though he doesn’t care about glaciers, the Arctic ocean, etc.. You, RC, need to make a presentation of this stuff and send it to newspapers, Nightline, etc.
Richard Tol says
Wishful thinking. It takes years to build a reputation, days to destroy it.
More worryingly, I note that you are set in your way: Ridicule those that do not agree with you. That worked, sort of, until November. Not any more.
If you care about climate policy, it is time to change your tune.
[Response: Some of the people who do not agree with us are ridiculous – treating their arguments as if they are reasonable is pointless. In your economics classes, do you spend all of your Q&A discussing going back to the gold standard when the class was on efficient market theory? However, because some arguments are dumb, does not imply that all arguments are dumb, and I’m more than happy to argue intelligently with people who have real issues to discuss – but right now those people are being drowned out by the idiots, or the people who are using this to push their own personal agendas. We are not going to get better climate policy by agreeing that the smearing, misquoting and misrepresentation of scientists is ‘ok’. It’s not and pretending it is, is pointless. – gavin]
Richard Ordway says
Quantum res abeo quantum subsisto idem eadem idem
In the mainstream peer-reviewed, juried world-wide science literature since 1824, the basics of human-caused climate change are as strong as five years ago.
-The peer reviewed literature and IPCC 2007- unanomously approved by 130 countries- while literally every single word was unanimously approved word for word in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers by 130 countires.
A. Reader says
Excuse me, but those journalists are doing just their job – something they apparently forgot to do for the past couple of years. With print media going through their own nightmare, maybe they realize now that focusing on real stories (instead of senselessly parroting what comes out of alarmist institutions like the IPCC) will retain existing and attract new readers. And they are right to do so since the proposed legislation to fight “gloabl warming” will cost the taxpayers of the west trillions of Dollars.
[Response: I doubt any journalism school teaches that ‘doing their job’ involves making up quotes, misrepresentating scientists and presenting innuendo as fact. But what do I know? – gavin]
David Graves says
It is also instructive to look at the Guardian link, since I had missed their “Special Report”–and oh how special it is. Fred Pearce, leader of the Guardian’s Special Report band of sleths, seems to ignore your observations about the many other papers on UHI effects, or your observation that whatever influence UHI effects may or may not have on temperature records, they can’t cause earlier springs, melting of glaciers or warming of the oceans. Keenan gets the Black Knight Award (think Monty Python and the Holy Grail)–your dismemberment of his arguments is dismissed as “a flesh wound”.
Anonymous Coward says
I have long been skeptical, not so much of the science but of the ability of its proponents to meaningfully affect policy. I now have to recognize that I may have been too pessimistic. I take the current level of hostility to science in the media is as a sign that you may actually be on the right track with the IPCC and all.
This isn’t about stupidity Gavin. The media has routinely been putting out worse propaganda on issues that impinge more directly on the interests of its owners and of the state.
If they’re so stupid, why are they so rich and powerful while those of us that even have a home to our name are struggling to pay for it? Wake up and smell the coffee. You’re going to need it if you intend to make a difference.
Martin Vermeer says
Call that a prediction. I’ll add two more:
2) The usual suspects will nevertheless claim (based on some out-of-context sentence from the undoubtedly copious investigation report that can be tortured to so confess) that, in reality, proof of scientific misconduct was found — and, at the same time,
3) that the whole inquiry was a stitch-up job anyway.
“It won’t have escaped many of our readers’ notice that there has been what can only be described as a media frenzy (mostly in the UK) with regards to climate change in recent weeks. The coverage has contained more bad reporting, misrepresentation and confusion on the subject than we have seen in such a short time anywhere. ”
Are you sure this happened only in recent “weeks”? not “years”?
Philip Machanick says
I was particularly fed up with the Guardian for going over to the dark side (incompetent reporting, not their spin on the subject which is why I set up my petition so we could let everyone out there know a lot of people haven’t gone barmy.
To put this into perspective, a lot of what not only Monckton but even the mainstream right opposition in Australia is saying 6 months ago would have been dismissed as crank La Rouchite babble. Unfortunately, it still is crank La Rouchite babble.
Politics may have an “Overton window” but science doesn’t. Either what we are working with stacks up or it doesn’t applying sound principles of scientific investigation.
For anyone getting discouraged, the question I put to a confused audience is:
The fossil fuel industry has a massive incentive to show conclusively that the science is flawed. To do so would cost them maybe 1% of the cost of one “clean coal” power plant. So why don’t they do this? Sure, such a study would be tainted by the funding source but if the science was good, it would stand up. So why don’t they do it? Answer: they have. I have no direct evidence of this, but oil companies in particular have a world-class internal science capacity; finding new oil is really hard stuff requiring supercomputer models. It would be truly stupid if they had not set their internal scientists the task of determining if there were cracks in the science. What would you do if you were an oil exec and your best scientists told you climate science was solid, and emissions cuts were the only option? Option A: Tell your shareholders you were changing your line of business, and tell the world why? Or Option B: bluff it out as long as you can, pay lobbyists and think tanks to confuse the public debate and hope like hell you don’t get your ass sued off when everyone gets wise to you?
Does Option B seem too stupid to be real? Ask the tobacco and asbestos industries and their victims …
Don’t give up. We won eventually on tobacco and asbestos, and people like those running RealClimate are playing a vital role.
As a Brit, I’ve been appalled by this new spate of nonsense, especially by the Guardian who have been relatively sound on Climate Change to this point (it was they, you recall, who drafted the joint editorial on the eve of Copenhagen).
I am happy, however, to discover, this it has apparently been an isolated oubreak of insanity which has not (yet?) spread across the pond.
Rob Zuber says
I’m not sure if you’re taking the threat seriously enough. Enormously wealthy conservatives like Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife are spending millions to absolutely put you guys out of business. They aren’t playing games. And they aren’t going to stop having the lies published in their media outlets until they do serious damage to science itself.
Unformtunately, the UK is not the only country where the media are reporting
about climate science in this manner. In the Netherlands, a similar race to report
unfounded claims is being run. In all fairness, there certainly are newspapers and
other media who do take the time to look more deeply into the subject, but at the
moment they are a minority.
More worisome is that a member of the PVV, a political party here, is making the
same (and worse) unfounded claims in the political arena. Calling climate
scientists names I dare not translate or repeat. And he is very very loud.
Other parties have shifted their statements on climate towards the sceptical side,
seemingly in an effort to keep up with the attention the PVV is getting in the
Dutch media. Even our minister of environment and spatial planning, a scientist
herself and knowledgeable on environmental matters, is not immune to this effect.
All in all, I think these are worrisome developements. So I hope that you are
right and the current misinformed media coverage is just a bump in the road to
public (and political) understanding of climate science. So that we can once
again focus on mitigating climate change, without having to explain why we should
at every turn.
Justin Wood says
Have you noticed this in the annotations battle you’re having with Keenan over on the Guardian article concerning the Jones & Wang 1990 China paper:
“Douglas J. Keenan (in reply): The term “findings” here refers to findings derived from the Chinese data: the article makes that obvious. The more recent analysis of available Chinese data by Jones et al. (2008) showed, as the article states, that “far from being negligible [as claimed in the 1990 work], the urban heat phenomenon was responsible for 40% of the warming seen in eastern China between 1951 and 2004″. Schmidt’s criticism is thus based on a misunderstanding of what the article says.”
I don’t have access to JGR myself so I can’t check properly, but everything I can see on the Jones et al 2009 findings again confirms that UHI does *not* play a significant role in the observed warming trend. The abstract to this 2010 paper, including Jones, http://www.springerlink.com/content/kr5w2616551w7810/ explicitly states: “Although impacts of UHIs on the absolute annual and seasonal temperature are identified, UHI contributions to the long-term trends are less than 10% of the regional total warming during the period.”
So what the heck is Keenan on about? A rather ironic assertion as to who exactly is misunderstanding the article. Or does he mean some other article?
I also note with frustration that Pearce has not really been challenged on his statement that Energy & Environment is a peer-reviewed journal — which it patently is not, in any meaningful sense of the term.
James Allan says
The UK print media is a national embarrassment. It comes as no surprise that they’re at the vanguard of this particular fiasco. The worst part is that none of these papers or reported will get any kind of comeuppance for their sloppiness after this dies down (the toothless PCC seems only capable of issuing wrist-slaps). They’ll just shrug their shoulders and move onto the Next Big Thing to focus their quixotic brand of non-journalism on.
You have to see this also from the other side. It was (and is) not uncommon that the media reports all sorts of nonsense “in favor” of climate change (like an increase in kidney stones, increase in bear prices, increase in shark attacks).
And don’t forget the weather: a few years ago you could read in every media that the summer is so hot because of the climate change. That the skiing resorts have no snow because of the climate change (I am Austrian, that was a constant theme). So it’s just consequent that the media now reports that because of the cold winter there has to be something wrong with climate change.
Paul Harris says
Across the road from me is a school. In the school car parks I can see a pile of gas guzzling 4 wheel drives: staff and students alike.
I am part of the fat white cosy elite (though I don’t have a car), but the poor brown non-elites of this country also like their 4 wheel drives: white and brown,rich and poor unite on climate/environment destroying way of life.
As you Americans enjoy yours, and as the Chinese and Indians seek to emulate you. The SUV is a human right, f…voting.
The argument is not lost, it is not winnable. The denialists are not just the cranks, the crackpots and those representing vested interests. They are all those people, globally, who either do not want to change their cosy way of life or who, from the industrialising countries, wish to emulate that way of life.
Here’s a mathematical equation for you scientists:
If US consumers wish to continue their way of life
And Chinese and Indian (not to forget Brazilian and Mexican)consumers
With to reach a similar living standard as US consumers
Then what are the odds on us saving the world
From being wrecked by AGW?
Please send correct answers to the political leaders of the world.
It’s not only the US and Great Britain – I have been following the discussion in Germany, and it is really looking bleak, too. Just today I was looking at Spiegel online, the internet platform of one of Germany’s most influential weekly magazins, and I found mostly distorted reporting on the Phil Jones’ interview. Especially disheartening were the comments – almost everyone heaping scorn on GW because “warming has not been significant since 1995” (sigh).
This is spinning out of control. What hope has a layman like myself got in gaining a reasonable understanding. Please don’t tell me that I have no business in trying to understand something that only scientists can understand. It is this singular failing that has lead to this current situation. Exaggerations made by both sides have damaged scientific credibility. It is no good being right on this issue, you must gain the confidence of the voters of the countries of the world that your case is reasonable if you expect appropriate action.
I think real Science has missed a great opportunity to re-establish credibility and trust here by trying to defend some poor scientific behaviour. In their understandable defence of friends they are themselves stained by association.
If you think that the general public are not important here then you have already lost the debate. You are not selling your message properly or effectively and it is only going to get worse.
Jesús Rosino says
Gavin, I know you are incredibly busy and I cannot imagine how you manage to cope with so many issues at the same time, but I hope you find the chance to answer Keenan’s answers on The Guardian, more specifically, this one:
The author of the paper (Jones) says the same as Gavin:
The co-author of the 1990 paper (Wang) says it as well:
The University also says the same:
But Keenan’s point is still that expert climatologists don’t understand their own works, and he himself, an amateur, understands it better.
It makes me very sad that climate scientists has to waste their time in fruitless discussions with amateurs just because a journalist decides that nonsense has the right to the same coverage than science.
Philip Machanick says
Oops, garbled the syntax on my punch line. Should be:
Kopernicus comes to my mind. Specifically, the ancient greek already knew about his discovery. But this knowledge was successfully destroyed, and dark ages on a disk world followed. Dark ages, usually defined as time of massive loss of knowledge.
What is sinful about the fall of man? Eating, gaining knowledge? What about the idea in itself, eating and gaining knowledge being related to each other? A religous ritual comes to mind, from an archaic past…
(Where is my overton window?)
jack kelly says
Excellent post, thanks.
My fear is that public opinion is naturally weighted towards denialism. Persuading folks that AGW is worth worrying about is like pushing a proverbial rock uphill whilst persuading people that AGW is a hoax is like pushing the rock downhill.
I hope the recent dip in public acceptance of AGW is just a bump.
Tim Joslin says
Unfortunately, it is not the case that people pay more attention to the report than the debate. For example, the Hutton report didn’t seem to change anyone’s mind at all. It’s taken a long time to build up political momentum to reduce emissions and it’ll take a long time to recover from the current setback. I don’t see the point in pretending otherwise.
I’m particularly alarmed that the latest spate of stories in the UK press is traceable back to a BBC interview that asked some very unhelpful questions (which maybe Phil Jones shouldn’t have given straight answers to).
If it’s any consolation, I suspect that the upcoming General Election in the UK has something to do with the ongoing media storm. For reasons I don’t quite grasp, the chattering classes (and Murdoch’s Times newspapers as well as the traditionally right-wing Express and Mail) seem to think it would be a good idea to elect Cameron’s Conservatives. Cameron has claimed to be “green” – he’s been known to cycle to work, albeit with his chauffeur-driven car following behind with his briefcase – but his is the only mainstream party with a strong sceptic caucus.