The Unknown Skeptic – Journalism, awaiting to be freed

Guest post by Maurizio Morabito

1-Introduction

What is the topic where a team of experienced journalists can write a report containing great insights and surprisingly clear expositions alongside stunning simplifications, abysmal naïvetés and incredibly one-sided analyses based on a fundamental neglect of a large chunk of reality?

Why, of course, the topic is climate change! And the report in question is “Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism“ written in 2011 by a team of researchers headed by James Painter for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) and the British Council. It is a truly remarkable effort, with an analysis of almost 5,000 newspaper articles, taken from “ an example of a left-leaning and a right-leaning newspaper” in the UK, the USA, Brazil, China, India and France. It has now been distilled into an academic-style article (J Painter and T Ashe, “Cross-national comparison of the presence of climate scepticism in the print media in six countries, 2007–10”, Environ. Res. Lett. 7 044005) that doesn’t add much to the original report.

As described in its Executive Summary, the aims of the study were:

“to track any increase in the amount of space given to skeptical voices over the two periods and to map significant differences both between countries and within the print media of the same country” 

The two periods were Feb-Ap 2007 and mid-Nov 2009 to mid-Feb 2010. The former was chosen to cover the after-effects of the publication of the latest assessment of climate change science by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The latter included the aftermath of both ‘Climategate‘ (the unauthorised 17 Nov 2009 release of 1,000 emails and other documents taken by as-yet-unspecified individuals from the archives of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA)) and the giant 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen (7-18 Dec).

The conclusion? According to the press release accompanying “Poles Apart”:

“There are politicians in the UK and the US who espouse some variation of climate skepticism. Both countries also have organisations for ‘climate change skeptics’ that provide a skeptical voice for the media, particularly in those media outlets that are more receptive to this message. This is why we see more skeptical coverage in the Anglo-Saxon countries than we do in the other countries in the study where one or more of those factors appear to be absent”

As we shall see, there might be something much more insightful lurking between the lines of “Poles Apart”. But to find that, first we need to take the report apart.

2-The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism

How reliable is “Poles Apart”? The report is refreshingly outspoken about its limitations (Appendix II, pages 125-127):

· the studies were quantitative, therefore losing potentially important details;

· there wasn’t analysis about how much skeptical voices were challenged in the media, and about the positioning of articles in the papers;

· only printed media were included, excluding therefore a vibrant online climate change scene;

· in the UK, differences between the daily and Sunday editions were glossed over;

· and finally articles were excluded if they mostly focused on Rajendra Pachauri, the Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rather than on climate change itself.

Even Richard Black of the BBC noticed in his blog commentary that

“[The report] is a toe-dip into media coverage rather than a comprehensive survey.”

Toe-dip”? Indeed, “Poles Apart” leaves many questions unanswered:

· What exactly is represented in the media included in the research? Is climate change an issue not of science, or of the political economy of energy generation, distribution and consumption?

· How many of the articles in the analysis were based on ‘churnalism’, the almost wholesale dressing up of news agency and press release copy as original articles?

· What was the effect of the fact that 100% of the Climategate material was in English and most of it included British and American scientists?

· Is there any other running difference between the media in the UK and USA compared to the other nations involved in the analysis, for example linked to ownership structure?

· What was the effect of past climate change scares, of which the UK has had plenty?

· How does the situation about climate change compare to other scientific and/or political topics?

· Are skeptical voices more prevalent in parts of the world that are expected to have to pay for climate change mitigation?

Behind it all, there could be the simplest explanation, the unwillingness to consider skeptics as rational human beings, an attitude so common among climate change alarmists. So the question becomes: are the “Poles Apart” authors alarmists? Actually, they do promise early on in the report that:

(p14) “This study has been prompted by these important [climate change] debates but it is largely agnostic about them. It is not its purpose to criticise climate skeptics.”

However, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Main author James Painter is not new to climate-related work and his past activity reveals a clear stance. For example in the second half of 2010 Mr Painter published for the RISJ another report, aptly and self-consciously titled “Summoned by Science: Reporting Climate Change at Copenhagen and Beyond” , and containing some revealing phraseology:

(p9) “A more science-based series of reports […] released in the months running up to Copenhagen suggested [...] the need for an ambitious and binding deal was made all the more urgent by the latest science”

(p10) “it was not just the heads of state, but journalists too who had been summoned to Copenhagen by the urgency of the climate science”

(p88) “The phenomenon of extreme climatic events around the world in 2010 suggests that reporting people’s experience of the weather will become more pressing an issue. […] As Peter Stott of the UK Met Office explained, ‘the evidence is so clear the chance there’s something we haven’t thought of [that could be warming the climate the other than GHGs] seems to be getting smaller and smaller’.”

Mr Painter (who’s linked himself in the past to the BBC, UNDP, Oxfam, Oxford Analytica, and now the British Council, hardly hotbeds of skepticism – check the British Council’s “Climate Change” web page) has also provided the 2008 Annual Lecture at the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS), on the topic “Climate Change, Latin America and the Media“, where he explained:

(p1) “in the last 18 months I have been lucky enough to travel to parts of the world on the front line of the impact of global warming”

(p3) “One respected research group is now predicting ice-free summers by 2013”

(p4) “We know that after 10,000 years of relatively stable temperatures, global warming has caused the Amazon region to increase in temperature by about a quarter of a degree C per decade since 1975”

Such a totally non-skeptical attitude is clear throughout the “Poles Apart” report. For example the Climategate “affair” is referred at page 14 to Fred Pearce’s “The Climate Files” and an “unpublished manuscript” by some Myanna Lahsen, with no mention of published books, Andrew Montford’s “The Hockey Stick Illusion – Climategate and the Corruption of Science” and Steven Mosher and Thomas W. Fuller’s “Climategate: The CRUtape Letters”. The Bibliography refers to Greenpeace but includes only a single “skeptic” piece, in French by Claude Allègre. The whole report seemingly assumes the curious opinion that everything ‘skeptic’ is necessarily lacking legitimacy. Columbia Journalism Review’s Curtis Brainard is quoted as saying:

(p39) “Overall I would say that coverage of climate skepticism is a relatively minor problem. […] Almost all the US newspapers now report the science straight; they just don’t cover it prominently or enough”

Near the end of the report, Mr Painter goes further, linking climate change skepticism to “anti-science sentiments”, i.e. marking them as twice irrational:

(p113) “The way in which climate skepticism feeds into, and is a manifestation of, wider anti-science sentiments both within a newspaper and wider society is just one area with needs further research”

Suggestions about some evil monstrosity lurking behind skepticism are never far from the surface. Readers are pointed to Tom Yulsman’s Copenhagen-era conspiratorial “7 Tips for Covering Climate Change”, that includes the conspiratorial invitation to:

(p114, note 256) “Understand and distinguish between legitimate analyses and what Eric Pooley calls ‘weapons of mass persuasion’”

Another example of skepticism as abomination is in these words of Emily Shuckburgh of the British Antarctic Survey:

(p17) “skepticism is a major part of science. and it’s a shame it has been appropriated. […] If we could reclaim the word, that would be progress”

Skeptics are so bad in fact, Mr Painter and colleagues can’t bear quoting them. And here the report starts its slide into ridicule.

Chapter 2 is titled “The Nature of Climate skepticism” and 18 pages long. Still, the first mention of a skeptic (Pat Michaels) is after four-and-a-half pages. Among the first things we learn, his “about 40 per cent” funding from “oil industry sources”. No other quotes are provided, and there is no description of what he is skeptical about.

Zilch more is given about Steve McIntyre, whose voluminous blog Climate Audit is mentioned but not quoted (a description of McIntyre’s “skepticism” is taken from “one US magazine”). Statements like the following (from Climate Audit’s Jan 5, 2006 entry) are literally invisible to the “Poles Apart” authors and readers:

“As I often repeat, I [Steve McIntyre] am not a “contrarian”. If I were a politician and forced to make a decision on climate policy in the next 10 minutes, I would be guided by the IPCC and the various learned societies that I so often criticize.”

Of Lord Monckton, “Poles Apart” speak of “anti-communist ideology” before everything else. No quote by him either. Finally, Bjorn Lomborg. Guess what? No quote by the Danish scientist. The chapter about skepticism chugs along with a single direct quote by a non-warmist, “Joe Bast, the head of climate skeptic Heartland Institute” but his printed words (to Nature magazine) are not about skepticism:

(p25) “The left has no reason to look under the hood of global warming […] The right does, and that’s what happened”

No much luck in the rest of the chapter with Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Ian Plimer, etc etc. (note that there is a quote from Benny Peiser of the GWPF at page 14 – but blink and you’ll miss it; it’s the only quote that is buried in the text!). We have already seen that the Bibliography points to a single skeptical work, in French.

3-Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources

The “Poles Apart” analysis has been done without any skeptic either among the authors or interviewees. This is as glaring as paradoxical as telling.

It is glaring, because the ultimate subject of the study doesn’t make almost any first-hand appearance, making the report a puddle of unreliable hearsays, like a LGBT study written without any LGBT author or interviewee.

It is paradoxical, because it further removes academic value from the report. Instead, skeptics are treated as monsters.

And what it is telling? It shows the conditions under which the report has been written: none of the promised “agnosticism”, rather an excessive (almost, tragic) trust put in dubious, warmist sources, and a determined effort to lock oneself in a warmist cage in order to keep skeptics away.

Few reports are better than the material they link to. Likewise, the effort to present “Poles Apart” as scientifically based is severely weakened by the uncritical acceptance of dubious sources, such as  Professor Steve Jones’ “Independent assessment” for the July 2011 BBC Trust review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science, cited throughout the report (eg page 23, footnote 58). Prof Jones was present at the launch event and intervened to repeat his mantra about the BBC striving too much for “balance”.

Of course it has been known for a while that Prof Jones’ contribution to the BBC impartiality and accuracy was anything but. The very review document’s PDF had to be modified a few days after publication to sport the following text at page 2:

“On 8 August 2011 the Trust published an updated version of Professor Steve Jones’ independent review of the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s science coverage due to an ambiguity in the section on climate change. This reference was in the section on pages 71-72, immediately before Professor Jones discussed statements about climate change contained in two BBC programmes. The Trust and Professor Jones now recognise that the passage as originally published could be interpreted as attributing statements made in those two programmes to Lord Lawson or to Lord Monckton. Neither programme specifically featured Lord Lawson or Lord Monckton and it was not Professor Jones’ intention to suggest that this was the case. Professor Jones has apologised for the lack of clarity in this section of his assessment, which has now been amended.”

To this day, it is not know to whom to attribute those “statements”. Perhaps less known is the fact that Professor Jones’ inaccuracies don’t stop with the good Lords. From page 72 of the “Independent Assessment”:

“A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery (both active in the anti‐global‐warming movement, and the former the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science) devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006, and to a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University. The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.”

The misrepresentation of Montford and Newbery’s submission moves Professor Jones’ assessment into cheap fiction territory. Newbery is as succint as explicit in his blog “Harmless Sky”:

“can anyone explain to me why Andrew and I might choose to write about the global temperature record to a geneticist who is conducting a review of journalism for a broadcaster? Apparently Professor Jones thinks that is what we should have done. And he also seems to think that because we didn’t do this, we must think that the debate about the science of climate change is over. That is just plain silly.

In fact we wrote to Professor Jones providing evidence, and I do mean evidence, that the BBC’s news gathering operation had become far too close to environmental activism and environmental activists to be able to report climate change impartially or accurately (here). That criticism is clearly material to his report, and his failure to address the issues we raised says far more about the rigour with which he has conducted his review than it does about our views on the science of climate change, which are in any case irrelevant to his review.”

Montford and Newbery were not granted a correction. The fact that they are not Lords of the Land has obviously nothing to do with that.

Jones is not alone: “Poles Apart” puts its trust exclusively on activist sources: Greenpeace aside, “Media Matters”, even Joe Romm, the climate change full-time paid blogger for the Center for American Progress, whose implacable extremism over the years pushed Andy Revkin to half-jokingly say during the launch event (eliciting general hilarity):

“Part of the news process means being wrong some of the time. Joe Romm is never wrong.”

Worse: “Poles Apart” refers an inordinate amount of times to a book where an environmental scientist (Dr Haydn Washington) and a cartoonist/blogger (John Cook) insanely describe skepticism as a sociopathological trait (“Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand”). More: a quote is taken from Naomi Oreskes and her book with Erik Conway “The Merchant of Doubt – How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”:

(p13) “[in the USA, the] divergence between the state of the science and how it was presented in the major media helped make it easy for our government to do nothing about global warming”

However “Poles Apart” has no space for Brian Wynne’s Nature review of that same book subtly reversing Oreskes’ conspiratorial stance:

“[Oreskes and Conway] miss a crucial point: the ingrained assumption that scientific evidence is the only authority that can justify policy action — scientism — is what renders both policy and its supporting science vulnerable to the dogmatic amplification of doubt.”

4-In The Cage

Self-blinding by ideology is seldom the result of a conscious process. Mr Painter may have done just as much in “Poles Apart”. In Appendix 3 we are told that:

(p123) “the search engines came up with significant numbers of articles where the key word ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ were mentioned briefly at the start but where not the main focus [or] the article was not about either of these topics. […] We decided to keep these in the sample ”

and

(p123) “an opinion piece could be skeptical in tone about global warming/climate change, or the need to take measures to combat it, but include no mention or quoting of skeptical voices. These were generally excluded”

Funny isn’ it…non-skeptics get included no matter who gets mentioned, skeptics get excluded unless somebody else is mentioned. As if there truly were too many skeptical voices to choose from. One has to wonder why no author noticed the end result, a zero count for “skeptical editorials” in all countries and newspapers (see table 4.1, lines 20/21 at page 56).

This is equivalent to building a cage for oneself, safe inside away from the words of those nasty, evil, monstrous skeptics. And it pushes the report into ridicule territory. Look at how Bjorn Lomborg gets included as an example of “climate skeptic” (p23), despite having written in his own FAQ:

“Q: Does Lomborg deny man-made global warming exists?
A: No. In Cool It he writes: “global warming is real and man-made. It will have a serious impact on humans and the environment toward the end of this century” (p8).”

“Q: Does he believe we should do anything about global warming?
A: Yes. […] Lomborg also supports a CO 2 tax comparable with the central or high estimates of CO2 damages. That means an estimate in the range of $2-14 per ton of CO2 [...] ”

What skeptic would include Lomborg among skeptics? It’s a concept that stretches the edges of reason. In the “Poles Apart” world where Bjorn-“global warming is real and man-made”-Lomborg gets branded as one of the bad guys and an exemplary one at that, one really has to wonder (a) who else would become a skeptic and (b) who’d ever be left out.

Step forward newly candidate “skeptic”, the IPCC no less. In its “Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)”, whose “Summary for Policymakers” is dated November 18, 2011, the IPCC becomes a “Poles Apart skeptic” in the “it is not known with enough certainty what the impacts will be, due to inadequacies of climate modelling or other doubts” category:

(p9) “Projected changes in climate extremes under different emissions scenarios generally do not strongly diverge in the coming two to three decades, but these signals are relatively small compared to natural climate variability over this time frame. Even the sign of projected changes in some climate extremes over this time frame is uncertain”.

Another potential “Poles Apart” skeptic? Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts (!) at the Met Office, seen on the web providing arguments for those unconvinced that “urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW is not necessary”:

“Most climate scientists do not subscribe to the 2 degrees “Dangerous Climate Change” meme (I [Richard Betts] know I don’t).”

Even Geoffrey Lean’s words at the end of the report fall under “anthropogenic global warming is happening but a) it is not known with enough certainty what the impacts will be”:

(p115) All but the extremists on either side agree that the planet is warming that humanity is at least partly responsible – and that we don’t know how big its contribution is, or what the effects will be

Think that’s absurd enough? Think again. If we try to reconstruct who is not a skeptic, by reversing the “Poles Apart” definition (see Appendix 2, item 8, page 121), we find only True Believers. A “climate change non-skeptic” would be anybody convinced that:

· Global temperatures are warming, and

· The anthropogenic contribution (burning fossil fuels) to global warming or climate change is not over-stated, compared to other factors like natural variations or sun spots, and

· It is known with enough certainty what the main causes are, and

· It is known with enough certainty what the impacts will be, as climate models are adequate and no other doubt is relevant enough, and

· Urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW is necessary

Scientifically, it’s an untenable position: when there is no doubt, there is no science. It could make sense as a political stance, for an “extremist” party that is. In any case, it is quite dangerous to mix the concept of ‘skepticism’ in policy and political matters. Shouldn’t people be free to disagree on one or more points without being labelled as ‘monsters’?

There is more unintended hilarity in the explanation given about the absence of climate change skeptics in the Brazilian media:

(p66) Brazilian journalists interviewed for this study also emphasised the strong journalistic culture of science and environment reporting which carried considerable weight within newspapers and other media outlets and strongly influenced their editorial line on climate skepticism

Of course they would, wouldn’t they? Classical scholars know the argument, it’s Cicero writing “De domo sua”, about his own house. Nobody will speak badly about themselves. Quite the opposite: who will ever reply in an interview, “I’m sorry but we’re clueless about the science and just keep printing stuff from press releases”? Given also the fact that a few lines of text above, the Brazilian press is described as uninterested in global warming until five years ago:

(p65) There is some evidence for thinking that coverage of global warming and climate change in the Brazilian print media began to take off in the latter half of 2006

So much for “strong journalistic culture of science and environment reporting”.

The pinnacle of ridicule must surely be the Appendix I the report, dedicated to Climategate. All doubts on the six affair-related inquiries get assigned to skeptics, as if the author had given up on any possibility of serious investigation, an ironic situation for any journalist. Little wonder then if “Poles Apart” is wholly inaccurate about “Mike’s Nature trick” to “hide the decline”:

(p117) the UEA scientists explained that the ‘decline’ referred to a drop in temperatures inferred from the proxy analysis of tree rings, and that the ‘trick’ meant a graphic device to merge different sets of data from tree rings and thermometer readings

Compare that to Andrew Montford’s explanation in “The Climategate Inquiries”, a report for the GWPF published in 2010 evidently unknow to Mr Painter and colleagues:

(p16-17) “The issue revolved around a tree ring series that had been used to reconstruct temperatures of the past [...]. This series diverged dramatically from instrumental temperatures in the last half of the twentieth century, experiencing a sharp decline during a period when instrumental temperatures were rising. Showing this divergence would have raised a major question mark over the reliability of tree ring temperature reconstructions since, if there is a divergence between tree rings and instrumental records in modern times, it cannot be said with any certainty that such divergences did not also occur in the past, rendering the temperature reconstruction of questionable utility”

Mr Painter describes Lord Oxburgh’s “Science Assessment Panel”, convened in the wake of Climategate, as:

(p117) “[the] independent [committee] commissioned by the UEA that focused on the science being done at CRU”

Of course, that is not so. Lord Oxburgh’s panel did not focus on science, rather on “integrity of research”, as per its own published concluding statement:

“The Panel was not concerned with the question of whether the conclusions of the published research were correct. Rather it was asked to come to a view on the integrity of the Unit’s research and whether as far as could be determined the conclusions represented an honest and scientifically justified interpretation of the data”

In an email exchange with Steve McIntyre, Lord Oxburgh was even more explicit:

“[...] as I [Lord Oxburgh] have pointed out to you previously the science was not the subject of our study”

And a lot could be said about the alleged “independence” of Lord Oxburgh’s “independent” panel (see “The Climategate Inquiries”, pp29-38).

These unfortunate cases of mistaken, partial and/or incomplete to the edge of shameful and unprofessional reporting will continue in Mr Painter’s and the RISJ output on climate change as long as texts written by skeptics will be considered anathema even as reading material, let alone source for quotes or information.

After all: if few have so far defined what they mean by “climate change skepticism” (as noted by Andy Revkin at the launch event); and few have recognised that there are several kinds of it (as noted by “Poles Apart” author James Painter); hence, much of the existing literature on climate change skepticism and the media (or anything else) should be taken as incomplete at best.

Rather differently than Isaac Newton, Dr Painter might have found himself not on the shoulder of giants, but under the boots of minions.

5- The Unconnected Dots – An Alternative Ending

If you’ve read so far you’re unlikely to be Mr Painter. Or a ‘warmist’. Or a ‘believer’ in (catastrophic) climate change. By the way, according to “Poles Apart” I am a ‘skeptic’ (together with 99% of humanity, as we have seen). I qualify under two categories:

“global temperatures are warming but a) the anthropogenic contribution (burning fossil fuels) to global warming or climate change is over-stated […] compared to other factors like natural variations or sun spots”

and

“it is not known with enough certainty what the impacts will be” and “urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW is not necessary”.

Rather, I think that urgent action on adaptation to current climate conditions is sorely needed. And no, I don’t think there is any conspiracy at work on the part of evil warmists. Never mind: as a skeptic, according to many people I shouldn’t be allowed to express my opinions. The mere existence of my blog posts on climate change puts me on par with mass murderers. Is that too strong a concept? “No Pressure” videos of exploding children aside, I am the victim of an ongoing hate/cyber-bullying campaign by an Italian journalist writing for a national newspaper. Go figure.

Skeptics hardened by years of internet abuse will surely be excused if they find “Poles Apart” as suspicious sounding. Is there a “message” to send therein, as in much climate-change spirit-uplifting literature? Let’s check what Richard Black got out of “Poles Apart”:

“Poles Apart doesn’t nail the issue completely, but its broad conclusion may be familiar to many: The weight of this study would suggest that, out of this wide range of factors, the presence of politicians espousing some variation of climate skepticism, the existence of organised interests that feed skeptical coverage, and partisan media receptive to this message, all play a particularly significant role in explaining the greater prevalence of skeptical voices in the print media of the USA and the UK.”

Espousing politicians, organised interests ‘feeding’ the skeptics, partisan media, USA and UK mostly. What would that mean, actually? As we have seen much is made by Mr Painter of Pat Michaels’ connections to the oil industry. Words aren’t spared to describe what might be funding some forms of climate skepticism. Then there is the mention of Lord Lawson and Lord Monckton. Is it too much of a stretch then to interpret “Poles Apart” as trying to prove that the vast majority of climate change skepticism is a collection of “crazy British toffs and American Republicans on the pay of Big Oil”?

That wouldn’t be journalism. Or would it? It depends. Is journalism a form of activism? This is what “Poles Apart”’s journalism-from-the-warmist-cage mostly risks looking like. And yet it wouldn’t have been too far to break the cage down. Mr Painter could have made up his mind about who is a skeptic and who isn’t, therefore avoiding any conflation. Take the point about the necessity of “urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW”.

That is a point of policy, not just of science. What is the meaning of “substantial”? How many years have to pass before something is not “urgent”? And who would ever believe that all non-skeptics agree on exactly what action is needed?

As Mr Revkin said during the event, policy debates are legitimate. To remotely suggest otherwise, marking for example the GWPF as some kind of unquotable organisation on its way to ruin the planet because branded by the sin of libertarianism, is conspiratorial, therefore not serious. In fact, it is not difficult to find an alternative, non-conspiratorial, history-grounded explanation of the report’s results than “espousing politicians, organised interests ‘feeding’ the skeptics, and partisan media”. Consider the following:

· At the launch event, debate chairman John Lloyd suggested that in the UK (and USA) there is a societal penchant for debate. Unfortunately, there is also the recently-established press tradition so nicely described by Nick Davies in “Flat Earth News”, i.e. the massive regurgitation of “wire copy and/or PR material”.

· In Brazil: it might all be down to reporters too enamoured of scientific papers to question anything in them, and to explicit or implicit lobbying by those who would benefit from climate change mitigation policies:

(p66) “US media academic Myanna Lahsen who lives in Brazil says that ‘climate skepticism is hardly existent in the Brazilian media […]‘. Another factor is that much of the coverage of science in the Brazilian media is driven by scientific papers appearing in Brazilian and international journals, where there is little space afforded to skeptical arguments”

(p69) “…sectors [of Brazil's business elite] stand to gain from the continued pursuit of ambitious plans to further biofuel production, where Brazil is second only to the USA in volume of output”

· Regarding China: Ms Nadin told the event’s audience something along the lines of the Chinese government having a strong position about AGW, a topic that is (therefore?) not politically contentious. But this may results in self-censorship and reporting following the party line, as per two examples from the report:

(p71) “skeptical discourses in China make a clear distinction between certain scientific findings, which they may question, and domestic policy statements, which they would not”

(p72) “Academic and other studies suggest that the volume of coverage of climate change increased substantially after the 2007 IPCC reports, often with official encouragement”

· Regarding France: following Mr Sciama, one might be able to explain fully and in purely non-scientific terms the local embracing of mainstream climate change science, and the almost complete absence of skeptical voices from the media. From the report:

(p79) “France has a rationalist, engineer culture and people who have gone to engineer schools often end up in politics or influential positions. This entire social class of powerful engineer has links with the nuclear lobby. I would also say there is a tradition of respecting the science and not challenging the experts which is quite strong in France. This is probably why climate change was accepted very early”

· In India: according to “Poles Apart”, the media spectrum is actively occupied by organised believers in catastrophic AGW, literally pushing skeptics out of the way:

(p81) There have been two dominant narratives in the Indian media coverage of climate change…the dominance […] leaves scant room for climate skepticism

(p81) Part of the reason why [skeptical Indian] voices have not been heard much is the high profile of prominent individuals like Dr Pachauri and non-governmental organisations (such as the Center for Science and Environment, Greenpeace India, WWF India, or the Energy Research Institute). They have been vocal about the risks and impacts of man-made climate change and seem to have wielded a significant influence on climate reporting. They often enjoy close relationships with Indian environment reporters.

(p83) the voice of the climate change ‘believers’ is so strong that [Nitin Sethi, Special Correspondent for the Times of India] is wary of civil society and the 500 local and internationally affiliated NGOs he says there are in India which are pushing the government to do more on climate change.

In summary: in the UK/USA, prevalence of believers over skeptics might as well mean warmists are monopolising the press releases manipulating the media into shutting off all skeptics, whose voices are still heard (however faintly) mainly because of a long-standing freedom to report ‘both sides’.

In Brazil, nobody questions mainstream science. In China, skeptics will appear in newspapers as soon as the Communist Party will say they ought to appear. In France, the field is wholly occupied by technocrats, ie mindless (and anti-historical) followers of the latest mainstream science (it’s not by chance that Jules Romain, a French, wrote in 1923 the play “Dr Knock or The Triumph of Medicine”, where a whole village falls under the spell of a new local doctor, convincing them that to feel well is only the ignorant sensation of a sick person). In India, the noise from climate change activists make skeptical idea inaudible.

Is it possible to connect those dots now? Could it be that Mr Painter and his fellow researchers have been measuring not the power of lobbies or partisan media, but (in the tiny amounts of skeptical voices allowed in print) flickering residual freedom of thought and speech, recalcitrance against being led by the nose by the latest bunch of experts, and willingness on the part of journalists to investigate rather than supinely doing as told?

That would be truly ironic for the RISJ: they might have reported with “Poles Apart” a great story about journalism without even noticing.

6- Conclusions

Poles Apart” and its academic-sounding twin “Cross-national comparison of the presence of climate scepticism in the print media in six countries, 2007–10” surely risks being remembered as just another couple of poisoned, illiberal examples of what they were meant to report. This is what happens when only one channel is listened to: mental closure, oversimplification, time wasted in caricaturing the ‘enemy’, ultimately ‘reductio ad certamen’, i.e. the transformation of science and journalism into team sports.

Still, the cage’s locks can be broken. Dear Mr Painter! Expand the report! Include skeptics, their propositions, their first-hand quotes, especially what argument they make for their particular brand of skepticism! Include the online activity, and analyse the full spectrum of ideas in much detail!

Don’t be afraid to admit there is scientific and policy variety among the non-skeptic, and by all means never ever conflate people away.

Mr Painter, and anybody else who says they care about AGW: it’s time you realise the future is in opening up the debate. At the risk of sounding like an unreformed Libertarian: let the fact, and the truth free. They’re struggling within.

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27 thoughts on “The Unknown Skeptic – Journalism, awaiting to be freed

  1. Middle of the article, you state: “No much luck in the rest of the chapter with Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Ian Plimer, etc etc. ”

    Should that be “Not much…..”?

  2. A review in today’s UK Telegraph provides an important bit of background. BBC has been unrelentingly hostile to Uncool People from the start.

    In the ’30s when all the Cool People saw Hitler as a reliable business partner with endearingly strange habits, Churchill was trying to wake England to the truth…. but he couldn’t get one minute of air time on BBC until after Munich.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/9606384/Nick-Robinson-Winston-Churchills-bitter-battle-with-the-BBC.html

  3. Where are the current Woodward and Bernstein?
    There seem to be few investigative journalists around who are truly independent of TPTB.
    We just need someone to lift the edge of the lid to let the truth out in such a way that reality finally dawns and can no longer be ignored. I guess we on the internet just have to keep bashing away trying to get the message across until then.

  4. “It is a truly remarkable effort, with an analysis of almost 5,000 newspaper articles, taken from “ an example of a left-leaning and a right-leaning newspaper” in the UK, the USA, Brazil, China, India and France. ”

    I guess a simple counting of key phrases would do. Easy to do with a Python script.

  5. Cherry-picking (voluminous at 5,000 newspaper articles, but cherry-picking nonetheless) and proxies (filtered articles rather than direct interviews with skeptics) are standard operating procedure in “journalism.” Why present reality when you can manufacture a story? All this report does is show how targeted “journalism” is.

  6. The Union of Concerned Scientists, meanwhile, recently published a screed against News Corporation for supposedly failing to uphold its chairman’s avowed views that climate change is a real, present danger. Among the tiny number of “proofs” of the anti-science slant at Fox and the rest of News Corp that the UCS lists: merely having me on as a guest to discuss my book. As usual, not a single fact called into question, just pure ad-hom, which I’ve gotten used to during the last few years. The UCS article is here:

    http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/Is-News-Corp-Failing-Science.pdf

  7. “Both countries also have organisations for ‘climate change skeptics’ that provide a skeptical voice for the media, particularly in those media outlets that are more receptive to this message.”

    Anyone here a member of a ‘climate change skeptics’ organization? I thought not.

    If anyone can find one, I might be interested in joining although I think it would be an organization much like Will Roger’s famous line describes; “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” About the only skepticism I see shared by readers here would be about a claim that Al Gore is solely motivated by his deep-rooted concern for the planet and money is last on his list of concerns. If you think there are a thousand shades of skepticism, then wait for the next post here on WUWT and you’ll find there are a thousand and one. If you think there are a thousand and one…

    Journalists are clueless about climate skepticism.

    Thanks, Maurizio. I’ve always enjoyed your comments and contributions here.

  8. Maurizio Morabito writes,

    “Still, the cage’s locks can be broken. Dear Mr Painter! Expand the report! Include skeptics, their propositions, their first-hand quotes, especially what argument they make for their particular brand of skepticism! Include the online activity, and analyse the full spectrum of ideas in much
    detail!”

    Do you really expect that Mr. Painter will rise up to the challenge when he is a proven one note writer?

    After all the evidence you show that he is a determined propagandist that he will suddenly wake up one day and get out of bed to repent of his years long sins as a Greenie propagandist please do not expect it because it WILL NOT HAPPEN! He is so wedded to the idea that skeptics are subhuman thinkers deserving ridicule for having the gall of being skeptical on science claims that is somehow perceived as an attack on their new world order programme.

    It is all political that they are operating on not to defend the science but to enforce a particular viewpoint of the science claims and that is why they attack the skeptics because they are a THREAT to the political end game they have been working towards using the coattails of “climate change” to build their new world vision and the effort to transmute it to reality.

    Do you really understand just how much they HATE Watts Up With That?,Climate Audit,Jo Nova,and other large skeptical internet websites? Heck they KNOW who I am yet I am too a small boil for them to bother with because they are terrified of the libertarian approach to my forum.Terrified that I am one of the few people in the world who allow a FULL variety of “climate change” viewpoints have a chance on being posted.

    I have left a number of websites to get away from the ugly and often the comically ignorant hostility comments coming from the CAWG believers because I do not want to be a victim of their projection they push.They push the argument from authority and other fallacies so hard because deep down they know they can’t push credible scientific points credibly so they nasty and attack the person and not what they write about on science matters.

    Here is but one example of what an AGW believer will go at length to push their garbage:

    I responded to post 13 written by Matrix here:

    http://ai-jane.org/bb/thread-6620-post-99825.html#pid99825

    The nonsense goes on from there and he left the forum not long afterwards never to post again.

  9. Is anyone here a “Climate skeptic” or a “Climate Change skeptic”? I think most of us are “Climate SCIENCE skeptics”, or more accurately CAGW skeptics. They should get the label right, the rest is drivel.

  10. Many thanks to Anthony for hosting my analysis of Painter’s work. All: please pardon typo’s and the likes, it’s a lot of words in there 8-)

  11. sunsettommy – Painter is a journalist. He may hold his breath against the stench of climate conformism for now, but one day his own inner nature will prevail.

    Actually, that is why IMHO he doesn’t even quote skepticism. Like a priest talking sex, he is too afraid he might enjoy it.

  12. meltemian writes:

    “We just need someone to lift the edge of the lid to let the truth out in such a way that reality finally dawns and can no longer be ignored.”

    If it were only that simple. We are not dealing with just logic and rationality here. If we were, the debate would be over…in favor of the skeptics. What we are dealing with is a noble cause, with the warmists playing the role of the ‘good guys’, and skeptics as the ‘bad guys’. Simply put…the warmists are perceived as trying to save the planet, our way of life, cute little animals, cute big animals and the CHILDREN! Skeptics are perceived as not caring about any of those things.

    If you are a journalist and you give skeptics a voice, you too will be perceived as being against the noble cause. The real problem in the debate is not in the scientific facts, but in the perception of good guys and bad guys; in the perception of the noble cause.

    For the global population to accept the skeptical viewpoint, it will have to see the warmists as a bigger threat to the noble cause than any climate change. History tells me that the warmists are a far greater threat. Over the last 100 years, climate change has probably been a net benefit to humanity, while noble cause abuse has been behind some of the greatest tragedies in human history. There is no doubt which is worse, but humanity has shown a great capacity to ignore the lessons of history.

    Perhaps meltemian is right when he says; “I guess we on the internet just have to keep bashing away trying to get the message across until then.” You see… skeptics are the Woodward’s and Bernstein’s; waiting for our ‘Deep Throats’ to come forward and help convince the world who the real ‘bad guys’ are. As the global temperatures fail to rise and probably start to cool, the informants will come; all nervous and terrified of being perceived as against the noble cause. But they will come nonetheless. Their own cognitive dissonance will force them to. Then the warmists will become more shrill and that shrillness will be the biggest catalyst in changing global opinion.

    It is a slow process, but inevitable. It is already starting to happen. Skeptics cannot force it, but they can facilitate it, by sticking to the facts and remaining ethical in their actions. In this way, skeptics may be able to prevent some of the damage the warmists are already putting in place.

  13. As a young adult I wanted to be a writer. I put several hundred relentlessly revised and rewritten pages together, built on observtions, philosophy and thievery from my favorite authors. Like most aspiring authors who are not ultimately “for real”, I let it drop.
    The work was saved on my old IBM clone in an early version of WordPerfect. A decade later when the machine was to be tossed from my parent’s basement, I picked it up and brought it home. I’d taken a job a good ways out from the suburbs, where maybe I could use the quiet and my old sandbox for a relaunch. I fired it up to check out what I had written. Maybe there was something there.
    The feeling that overwhelmed me as I began to pick through the drivel I’d assembed was revulsion. It was an important lesson for me, and I’m glad of it. The lesson I’m talking about is echoed above in Morabitos’s review. The introversion and sensetivity to theme that is so important to writing as a child of the creative fields is very dangerous. It exerts a continuous pull toward thought and sentiment, away from principle and research. Morabito called it a cage.
    Apt description of the situation.

  14. The most puzzling of anti-skeptic remarks is that the climate change/CAGW/global warming skeptics, of which I am one, are anti-science. The skeptical side is technically oriented; it is common for counter-skeptic skepticism based on the science of the objection. It is the humanist, liberal-arts, politically sensitive, sociologically-oreinted, warmist side that doesn’t “do” the science, but does (“digs”?) the scientist.

    Of course, Hansen and others are scientists. But they behave more like anti-capitalist, humans-as-viruses ideologues whose scientific knowledge is a weapon rather than a platform for viewing the world. Perhaps it is better to say that the warmists are “non-science”: the scientific work provides the foundation for their rhetoric without being the substance of their rhetoric. Skeptics are more data-focused, not end-results focused as the warmists are.

    Right now there is renewed interest in the Cuban missile crisis of ’62. The warmist-skeptic position reminds me of that crisis, in that the warmists are the hawks who said, “Nuke the Cubans! We don’t like them anyway, and they might have plans to nuke us: the cost of a delayed response would be catastrophic!”, and the skeptics are the liberals who said, “Hold on! Maybe the Cubans aren’t able to nuke us, and the costs of war are catastrophic compared to the costs of delay and discussion!”. What is ironic is that the hawk-liberal positions are now reversed, and why? Because the liberals don’t value money or the effort it takes to make it. If all you lose is money (and time) by talking, they are for it, be it negotiating with Russia or reconstructing our lives to get rid of fossil fuels.

  15. To call it “scepticism” means that you have already taken a position.
    It must be wonderful to always be righteous .. to know the truth … that the Earth is flat.
    To be a god must mean that you are in a permanent state of righteousness.

  16. So a group of lefties decide based on their twisted world-view what “right leaning” papers are? To a leftie, anything that is not in the direction of Marx is right wing.

  17. Maurizio Morabito (aka omnologos ),

    Your piece is a feast of ideas that I think will fertilize others to write an avalanche of additional posts on the virtues of hard core scientific skepticism toward the IPCC ‘consensus’ / ‘settled’ alarming climate science.

    I really liked your, “Rather differently than Isaac Newton, Dr Painter might have found himself not on the shoulder of giants, but under the boots of minions.”

    I really like your sense of style.

    Thank you.

    John

  18. Entertaining how the Painter & Ashe “Cross-national comparison of the presence of climate scepticism in the print media…” academic-style article ( http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/7/4/044005/article#fnref-erl436315bib1 ) can’t even go beyond two paragraphs without mentioning the person I call the epicenter of the smear of skeptic scientists, Ross Gelbspan. And then authors of that article proceed to cite the same cast of characters I mentioned in my 9/11 WUWT guest post that Stephan Lewandowsky relied on for his cornerstone premise about skeptic scientists being corrupted and untrustworthy.

    How utterly predictable these skeptic ‘psycho-analysists’ are.

    For yet another recent variation on this same theme, look no farther than Elaine McKewon’ Jan 2012 “TALKING POINTS AMMO The use of neoliberal think tank fantasy themes to delegitimise scientific knowledge of climate change in Australian newspapers”, where the author says this on page 3: “Since the 1990s, neoliberal think tanks funded by the fossil fuel, mining and energy industries in the United States have formed alliances with contrarian ‘‘experts’’ […] who are prepared to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change (Beder, 2002; Dunlap and McCright, 2010; Gelbspan, 2004; Jacques et al., 2008; Leggett, 2001; Oreskes and Conway, 2010)… ( http://watchingthedeniers.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/mckewon-2012-talking-points-ammo.pdf )

    The unending insinuation is that skeptics are paid to lie about a ‘settled science’ in a manner parallel to the way experts were paid to lie about the hazards of cigarette smoking. Manufacturing doubt out of thin air, in other words. But when this premise is never proven on the part of skeptic climate scientists, what we have is the appearance of 20 year old efforts continuing to this very day to manufacture doubt about the credibility of those scientists, a highly suspect tactic which suggests the promoters of man-caused global warming were never all that confident in their underlying science assessments.

  19. A splendid (and extensive!) piece of shredding, Maurizio, and thanks. Unfortunately, of course, the appreciation – indeed, even the reading – of it will be forever limited to the modest number of regular readers of this and other sceptical blogs. In the media read, seen and listened to by Joe Public, it will receive nary a mention, unlike Painter’s drool, as the churnalists and repeaters continue to rework and amplify every bit of alarmist drivel into one scare story after another. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

    The only effective way we could ever hope to change anything is to be able to carry out as widespread, intense and unstoppable a public relations campaign for truth as the one which has now been drip-feeding climate cr@p to the ordinary reader, viewer and listener for twenty years or more. It’s a damn shame we never did have all those illusory millions from Big Oil, because that, at a minimum, is what would be needed to fund it.

    I would love to say that we need a big name or two from Hollywood, or even just TV, but if you can’t see the logical conundrum in getting someone who makes a fat living out of fantasy to promote reality, then you’re probably not a WUWT reader.

  20. There’s been some comparison recently between genetically modified scare literature and global warming denialism, for example see: http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/gmo-opponents-global-warming-denialists-left/

    The recent report on tumors in rats was carefully crafted to eliminate skeptical reaction by arranging for an embargo to the early journalists. Even some of the anti GMO people thought this was a bit much. Some links are here: http://embargowatch.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/stenographers-anyone-gmo-rat-study-co-sponsor-engineered-embargo-to-prevent-scrutiny/

    I don’t recall seeing GM corn and all that discussed here, though I do recall ethanol coming up. Ethanol is subject to similar bad journalism.

  21. What journalists? These conmen are artists of the intellect in their world. By pretending to be journalists they have been able to prolong the team meme and now get to reap their reward.Science and journalism both are suffering loss of face with the public mostly because of the rats working from within, followed by the silence of the majority of scientists and journalists.
    And a silenced journalist may as well not exist. What happened to ethics? Standards? Truth? Balance? Reason?

    • john robertson – there is a fundamental misunderstanding here. Journalists pretend and believe to be reporters of the truth. They aren’t. If they were, historians would be out of their jobs and all we would need would be newspapers.

      Simply put, journalists report Impressions along a pre-established Narrative. The Narrative takes precedence, the Impressions come second, and all the rest is a distant third, including Truth, Balance, Reason. And Ethics.

      The Narrative is established by the newspaper’s climate, a mixture of what the readers want to read and what the publisher wants to see written. You’ll notice when the Narrative will switch from pro- to anti-AGW, and suddenly all journalists will fall into the new flow.

      Actually you can see that at play already, compare the Daily Mail’s climate output of 2009 with 2012.

  22. I just don’t understand why anyone would put stock in “consensus” when it comes to science. Did Copernicus or Galileo report that the earth revolved around the sun after there was a consensus on the matter? Did Newton or Einstein wait until they had a consensus of opinion before publishing new theories? What new scientific discovery or theory ever made its debut to a consensus? To insist that all science must now conform to a consensus requirement or be summarily rejected is to put an end to all scientific progress.

  23. Neo says:
    October 15, 2012 at 8:23 am

    To call it “scepticism” means that you have already taken a position.
    It must be wonderful to always be righteous .. to know the truth … that the Earth is flat.
    To be a god must mean that you are in a permanent state of righteousness.

    You have it exactly backwards.

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