Journalists' 'Lessons Learned'

A Yale Forum Two-Part Special Feature: Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pt. 2)

Climate science and climate scientists aren’t the only ones who have come under some withering scrutiny over the past 12 months. The controversies — or were they “pseudo-controversies”? — stemming from the hacked e-mails at a British university put the media also under the microscope for their handling of the breaking news and its aftermath. Why, some scientists wondered, were the media focusing on the “what” message of carefully cherry-picked “private” e-mail messages, and seemingly under-playing the “who” and “why” … as in who released the e-mails in the first place and why, if not to purposefully disrupt and derail last December’s Copenhagen climate negotiations?

For reporters, the slow and incremental ooze of the climate science news story overnight had become, with the first headlines of the e-mails release, a breaking news story. Widely criticized for injecting a “faux balance” standard in much of its earlier coverage of climate science, many news reports on climate science in recent years had moved away from that traditional news approach — too far away in the opinion of some. Climate science “skeptics,” by whatever name, had been garnering less and less of the science reporting news hole, as a critical mass of journalists increasingly came to accept basic aspects of climate science — Earth is indeed warming, and human activities play a significant part in that warming — as something approaching “settled” science. Pretty much along the lines that the sun rises in the east, tobacco smoking causes cancer, those sort of things.

For this second part of a Yale Forum special report on “lessons learned,” freelance writer John Wihbey asked respected science writers and journalism experts questions along the lines of those posed in Part I to leading climate science researchers: For the journalism community, what are the key “lessons learned” from the experiences and controversies of the past 12 months? What lessons should the media learn from those experiences? And are there any signs that those lessons learned are actually being put into practice in the newsroom?

What lessons has the climate journalism community learned from the experiences of the past year or so?

Richard Harris, NPR
We’re not really a community, but individually we strive to get to the bottom of the story — to get at the facts and present them to the public. We’ve learned that we have less and less influence on public discourse relating to climate change. The “climategate” story was not a product of journalism, but activism. The storyline was crafted by people with a desired objective; it was not an effort to weigh facts and reach a dispassionate conclusion. Many journalists made a serious effort to examine the facts and report what we found, but our voices were joined by many others who were not attempting to be dispassionate.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review
That’s a very difficult question to answer. I’d say that most journalists didn’t learn anything from the “climategate” and IPCC-errors pseudo-scandals. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Rather than providing a teaching moment for the climate journalism community, those events only served to confuse editors and reporters.

In the U.S., journalists didn’t seem to know what to make of the revelations, so they basically took a pass on trying to explain what was going on. When outlets such as The New York Times finally weighed in, their stories tended to confuse climate politics (the debate over what to do about GW) and climate science (that debate over what we know about the Earth and our influence upon it). That trend continued into the winter. When skeptics seized upon heavy snows in the eastern U.S. as a refutation of global warming, the Times attempted to rebut their arguments in a front-page article. Rather than quoting scientists to set the record straight, however, the story devolved into an unresolved argument between non-scientist political partisans. To its credit, the Times covered a string of reviews released in mid-summer that reaffirmed the integrity of the work of the IPCC and the scientists involved in the “climategate” affair, but most reporters ignored them, as they did the InterAcademy Council’s review of the IPCC, which was released a month or so later. The only real high point in climate journalism in the last year was the coverage of the summer’s extreme weather, including heat waves in the U.S., wildfires in Russia, and floods in Pakistan. The press actually produced quite a bit of nuanced coverage, which explained that while it’s impossible to peg any single weather event to climate change, many scientists felt that summer’s extremes would not have been possible without humanity’s influence on the climate system.

The trend seems to have been somewhat different in the U.K. press. It was British reporters that really led the charge vis-à-vis “climategate” and the IPCC-errors controversies. Clearly, reporters on the other side of the Atlantic learned not to put so much trust in scientists, which might be a somewhat valid lesson, if not for the fact that they got carried away with it. While they brought a few legitimate errors in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report to light — such as the overestimate of the melt rate of Himalayan glaciers — they often overplayed the significance of these errors and trumpeted other errors that weren’t errors at all. In July, for example, The Sunday Times was forced to retract an article that accused the IPCC of flubbing a statement about the Amazon rainforest’s sensitivity to climate change.

So, what has the climate journalism community learned from the events of the past year? Not much, unfortunately. I haven’t seen a marked improvement in the coverage. In fact, the amount of climate coverage has been in precipitous decline for the last year or so. One might be tempted to say that the events of the last year spooked editors and reporters, who are not unsure where to go with the climate story or what to make of the latest research. I’m sure that’s true to some extent, but other factors may have played a more important role. The global recession has, more than anything else, called attention away from global warming. In addition, political shortcomings such as the failure to produce an emissions-reduction treaty at COP15 in Copenhagen and the death of climate legislation in the U.S. Congress have both served to take the wind out of climate story’s sails.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
For science journalists — and that’s different from political and other journalists — the answer goes back to the old Russian proverb that Ronald Reagan made famous: Trust but verify. Starting with the hacked e-mails. Much of the initial coverage of the purloined e-mails was based on pre-digested e-mails leaked to the media and they looked sensational in and of themselves.

But context is key here. At the AP, we spent a week and five reporters pouring over one-million words to read them in context and found no grand conspiracy, but lots of cranky scientists (and ones who really could use a good editor themselves). On the flip side, we in the media have a tendency to read summaries and skim in a speedy manner through the main text. Some of the handful of errors in the IPCC reports, especially the Himalayan ones, on the face of them should have been noticed by reviewers and eagle-eyed science writers. In addition, reporters should have delved into the millions of details more and asked more questions. I fear the non-science journalists don’t look as much in the science details, don’t have the time or leadership that we have at AP, and thus didn’t learn the lessons that science journalists have.

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek
Climate journalists have spent too much time preaching to the choir while there’s a riot going on outside the church. It’s important to report on, and debate, policies for mitigation, adaptation, and clean-energy acceleration, but these conversations occupy a parallel universe to the one in which the 2010 elections [were] unfolding, the elections where 19 of the top 20 Republican candidates for U.S. Senate are either climate skeptics or proud, aggressive deniers. Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina blames his loss in the Republican primary on his public assertions that climate change is real. Joe Manchin, a Senate candidate in West Virginia, has a TV spot in which he shoots a rifle bullet through a cap-and-trade bill — and he’s a Democrat. Can climate journalists do anything to counter this profoundly skeptical atmosphere?

We can try — and of course many of us have been trying. I saw some of my colleagues get a wake-up call last December in the big COP 15 media center in Copenhagen. I was talking with some climate journalists after Senator James Inhofe, the famously skeptical Oklahoman, came through the room. Some journalists began joking about Inhofe, so-called “climategate,” and the absurdity of those who claimed that the hacked e-mails were proof that climate scientists had cooked their data. The journalists were right — those claims were absurd — but they were also missing the point. Inhofe had just predicted that a U.S. climate bill was “not going to happen,” and he was right. While climate journalists in Copenhagen were studying the fine points of the latest REDD proposal, “climategate” was going viral on the internet and in the mainstream media. Soon CNN was hosting a debate on the validity of climate science, and I was pulling out my calendar to remind myself what year it was. Surely we couldn’t still be arguing the basic science in 2009 and 2010.

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth
I guess my first response is, what climate journalism community? There’s a variegated array of journalists and commentators who approached the developments of the past year or two with completely different responses and output. A batch of (mainly British) reporters and outlets did epic reportage on “climategate” that appeared to be stimulated in part out of a sense of betrayal, perhaps. Some of the overheated coverage got rolled back with corrections and apologies. American media covered the incident with far less intensity, perhaps better reflecting its marginal significance. Science blogs of all stripes dove deepest, but the incident, in the end, was notable mainly for reminding the public that science is — shocking news to some — an ugly process at times, particularly when its findings relate to very consequential issues facing society.

Media coverage of problems revealed in the workings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was similarly variegated, with some overheated accusations not holding up but a decent learning experience for everyone on the fallibility of such vast group exercises. My guess is there’ve been few lessons learned out of coverage of the international climate treaty negotiations and the domestic battle over climate legislation.

David Biello, Scientific American
I’m not sure the climate journalism community has learned any lessons. In my view, we all continually repeat the mistakes of the past, either because of turnover that is bringing many “new” to the beat into the coverage scheme who are trained in the classic he said/she said style. Or because us old-timers are set in our ways and continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. One example, from my own magazine, is a recent profile of Judith Curry.

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
I’m not sure there is a climate journalism community, so it’s hard for me to answer this question. There are a bunch of people who write fairly regularly about climate science and climate policy in the mainstream media, but as you point out there are many more writing about it in the blogosphere. I expect that ratio is only going to grow more lopsided as time goes on.

What lessons should it learn?

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth”
If science media tried to sustain coverage of science (including climate science) as a process, including the ugly parts, the public might be less apt to be surprised by occasional revelations of conflict like those illuminated through the batch of hacked/liberated (pick your adjective depending on your worldview) e-mails and files.

Beware the lure of the front-page thought in gauging developments in complicated science pointing to a rising human influence on climate, lest you end up giving readers whiplash. Try rigorously to include context on the overall state of knowledge when framing stories on science around conflict, given that conflict is a constant in science.

Develop patience. The story of humanity’s entwined climate and energy challenges will outlive you. No single treaty, meeting, e-mail hack, IPCC report, or climate bill is a keystone.

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
The obvious lesson of faux scandals like “climategate” is that they tend to be created by groups or individuals with their own agendas, and journalists ought to be very wary about covering them. The notion that there is some huge scientific conspiracy going on, involving dozens of researchers at different institutions, is pretty implausible on its face. This goes for climate science as for all other scientific disciplines. I’m not saying it can’t happen; it’s just hard to imagine how it would work. Conversely, it’s very easy to imagine why an individual or a group with an economic or political interest would want to claim that such a conspiracy existed. The burden of proof ought to be very high. Instead, it seems the bar was placed ridiculously low.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review
First and foremost, reporters should have learned that they need to do a better job of delineating the various questions that climate science seeks to answer. There is a tendency to treat climate science as one monolithic question — are humans heating up the world or not — rather than as a series of questions, each with its own level certainty/uncertainty. When that happens, uncertainty related to the timing, scale, and geographic distribution of impacts (advanced science) tends to be reflected as uncertainty about whether or not the world is warming and whether or not human industry is driving that warming (basic science). Or, as we saw with “climategate” and the IPCC errors, minor flaws in the research and/or minor behavioral flaws in individual scientists cast aspersions on every other area of climate science. So, following these events, reporters should have learned that they must be very careful, in each and every story, to specify what which parts of the science they are addressing and which parts they aren’t addressing.

Along these lines, the other lesson is that reporters do, in fact, need to be more aggressive and skeptical. As the various reviews and investigations of “climategate” and the IPCC have shown, the fundamental conclusions of climate science remain untarnished. However, the IPCC did make a couple legitimate errors, and these reports also found that the IPCC and some individual climate scientists need to be more transparent and open to alternative viewpoints. Reporters need to actively ferret out these problems on a weekly basis rather than waiting until climate skeptics and blogs discover them and blow their significance out of proportion. If journalists wrote more stories about where uncertainty exists in the science, and if they were more aggressive about challenging scientists on transparency issues, we wouldn’t have these pseudo-scandals erupt every time a climate scientist missteps.

The corollary to this is that, at the same time, reporters must defend those scientists that need defending because many, such as Ben Santer, have had to endure unreasonable challenges to their credibility in addition to overt threats of violence.

Delineating the various questions of climate science and being more aggressive and skeptical will help with the third lesson: the need to separate climate science from climate politics. The narrative of climate change tends to get boiled down into one of two false generalizations: it is totally certain (we have five years to save the planet!) or totally uncertain (it’s all a hoax!). When that happens, it becomes very easy for political partisans to invoke scientific disagreements in support of their own policy objectives, just as they did in media coverage following the “climategate” and the IPCC-errors controversies. In reality, however, those events had no bearing whatsoever on political debate, and therein lies the lesson for journalists. Science cannot settle all arguments about how the world should respond to global warming, because the answer to that question involves values, varying perceptions of risk, and political ideology, in addition to what we know (and don’t know) about the climate system. So, if a reporter is simply trying to cover what scientists know, or don’t know, about the climate system, politicians should be excluded. Conversely, if a reporter is trying to cover climate politics, he or she must not let sources stake their claims on oversimplified reductions of climate science.

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek
Now climate journalists are getting back to basics — connecting climate change to people’s lives and showing how it is already affecting our weather and our economy. Instead of getting hung up on whether a particular extreme weather event was ’caused’ by climate change — an unanswerable question — we’re explaining that extreme weather events are already happening more frequently, and that the scientists say we’ll be suffering through more of these events in a warmer world. We’re connecting the dots in a careful, responsible way. Some local coverage of the Nashville flood did this, for example. The magazine and website where I work, Bloomberg Businessweek, is doing this as well, through regular reporting on how business copes with climate risk (here’s one example). A website sponsored by Environment Canada connects the dots in a different but also effective way. There are many other angles on this story, and I hope news organizations will explore all of them.

Richard Harris, NPR
I think we still need to do our best to dig into the science — as well as into allegations of misconduct. It’s still important for us to present what we find to our audiences, even knowing that there are many competing voices. The “climategate” e-mails, for example, did not undercut the science of climate change, but it did lay bare some less than noble behavior on the part of certain scientists. It’s important to air that out. Likewise it’s important to set the record straight on broadly repeated misconceptions, such as the rate of demise of the Himalayan glaciers.

David Biello, Scientific American
The lesson that should be learned is two-fold: one, we must always retain our skepticism. Don’t trust anyone. Verify everything. In cases where you can’t verify, triangulate (i.e., use multiple sources to get closer to the truth). Two, sometimes smoke doesn’t mean fire. There is a lot of politicking going on in this area, both in the academic sense and in the broader social sense. That makes for a lot of smoke, which would seem to suggest a major conflagration. Such a fire does not exist, unless it’s the one embedded in the hundreds of coal plants around the world.

And is it moving effectively to put those lessons-learned into practice?

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek
When the next climate scandalette comes along, some news organizations will surely play to hype and get carried away with their coverage — in effect, becoming a handy transmission belt for the professional deniers. That’s why serious climate journalists need to investigate charges rapidly and communicate their findings widely — explaining what’s real and what’s not, clarifying what the scandal does and doesn’t say about climate science, and fact-checking any false claims that may be in the air. Inevitably, the multiple investigations exonerating the climategate scientists got far less attention than the wild initial allegations against them. If more experienced climate journalists jump into the fray early, they could help tip the balance toward honest reporting and away from hype.

Richard Harris, NPR
Journalism still takes its role very seriously, but of course there are fewer of us out there every day. Those of us with big platforms and credibility with our audience are putting the lessons leaned into practice — that is, we are still reporting the stories carefully and thoroughly as they emerge. But it is naïve to think that crisis management, through even the best journalism, will overwhelm deliberate efforts to color the facts in order to achieve philosophical or economic objectives.

David Biello, Scientific American
… Old-timers seem to make the same mistakes over and over (including me, darnit). Newcomers fall into the same trap of “he said, she said” that they then must laboriously climb out of over years of on-the-job training.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review
No, I don’t see journalists putting the lessons learned into practice because I’m not sure if they really learned them in the first place. There are a few reassuring signs, however.

The Sunday Times retracted its fallacious “Amazongate” article. Another positive development was the American Geophysical Union’s decision to award its Excellence in Science Journalism award to Pallava Bagla, an Indian journalist who broke and unraveled the story about how the IPCC overestimated the melt-rate of Himalayan glaciers. So, to some extent, the bad journalism is being condemned and the good journalism is being recognized.

There have also been a couple other good articles recently. Shortly before the midterm election, The New York Times had a great front-page story about climate denial being an “article of faith” for the Tea Party, which made it clear that the group’s climate politics are not synonymous with climate science.

There was also a long feature in Scientific American about Judith Curry, who studies hurricanes at Georgia Tech and has ruffled the feathers of her fellow climate scientists by engaging with skeptics. A lot of climate scientists were really unhappy with the piece, arguing that Curry is wrong and that the media attention should have gone to somebody who is making real progress with their research. Personally, though, I thought it was an excellent attempt to be more aggressive and skeptical with scientists and show that climate science is (as Andrew Revkin once put it) a very “herky-jerky” process. I get the feeling that if more people were exposed to that type of journalism they would begin to understand the scientists and science are not infallible.

For the most part, though, I don’t think climate coverage, on the whole, has gotten any better or any worse in the last year. In fact, I think the “climategate” and IPCC-errors controversies has had far less of an impact on public opinion and on journalism than a lot of people have assumed. What’s really plaguing coverage are the same things that have been plaguing it for years: a declining number of specialized reporters in newsrooms, less time and fewer resources for reporting, and all the “noise” created by blogs and the 24/7 cable news.

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth”
Too soon to tell.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
Any signs that they are moving to put those lessons-learned into practice? This is much like natural disasters. People who have lived through a major hurricane tend to prepare better for the next one and take it more seriously. Those who haven’t, don’t. Science journalists and others who well reported the issue this past year will do a better job, those who didn’t or just skimmed the surface or parroted ideologues won’t. The trouble is — much like in disasters — the people who really need to learn are usually the ones who don’t. And those who work hard to be even better prepared next time were not the problem cases to begin with.
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16 Responses to A Yale Forum Two-Part Special Feature: Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pt. 2)

  1. Kenneth Orski says:

    I am not a “climate journalist” but I know something about how the journalist mind works. In the diplomatic service (yes, I was once in the Foreign Service) we called it “going native.” It meant that, consciously or not, you would tend to adopt— and favorably represent, report and support — the position and point of view of your host country, where typically you were wined and dined, made friends and often began to think “like a native.”

    As with foreign service officers so with science journalists. By associating with and making friends in the scientific community, science journalists “go native.” They unconsciously become supporters or sympathizers of the milieu they report on and they lose their objectivity.

    BTW, when the State Dept bosses think an FSO (foreign service officer) has “gone native” they recall him back to Washington or transfer him to another post. In their view the FSO in question lost his/her credibility and value as an objective observer. Any moral in this for the science journalistic fraternity?

    Ken Orski
    Innovation NewsBriefs (now in its 21st year of publication)

  2. Bud Ward says:

    Kenneth: Moral to your note? Sure. Journalists long have been getting moved on and off their beats all the time, in substantial part, in many cases, because editors viewed them as having become captive to their regular sources. Happens(ed) all the time. It’s the curse, of course, of the G.A. (general assignment) reporter taking a complex beat and not knowing, for instance, TCA from TCE, a GHG from an ozone depleter, etc. The best journalists don’t in fact allow themselves to become “friends’ with their contacts, just as, presumably, the bet FSOs don’t allow themselves to go native. Is it perfect? No, but it can be a pretty effective black ball when one journalist is known to his/her peers for having become too close to their sources, and it’s a real death knell for upward mobility in serious journalism circles.

  3. The impact of the email hack news will not be recovered for a long time.I dont think its the time to think of negativism as one could easily say without the science that the earth is degrading at large.The issue of email could be a part but shadowing everything keeping eye on a point would even harm whole negotiation process.As an environmental reporter in one of the most vulnerable country Nepal,its getting hard to defend the news about climate change in newsrooms and the editors now could easily ask about the emails and try to make it a surface issue with lots of confusion citing the case of email hacking.Actually it has twisted the path on which the reporting was moving on .The most important thing is that the scientific community started reacting harshly rather than trying to prove it worthless which had increased the debate to the larger extent.But still ,the science we are talking about has not come up with the signal of ‘Go ahead’ and dont doubt on the results we have produced from the scientific basis. The another thing that lowered the ground of climate change is the claim of IPCC fourth assessment report on disappearance of glacier lakes in himalayas by 2035.While pointing a finger to the journalists about the news they produced .the scientific community also should make it clear and should keep consistency on what it is revealing and even should strongly say that the science of climate change has not been influenced by the wild politics that has been done till the date .
    Ramesh Prasad Bhushal
    Environmental Reporter,
    The Himalayan Times,Nepal

  4. John Garrett says:

    Some of you desperately need to read Andrew Montford’s “The Hockey Stick Illusion.” This means you Harris and Borenstein. NPR’s coverage of the issue of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming long ago crossed the line from reporting to outright advocacy. Borenstein and the AP are beyond redemption.

  5. It is disappointing that none of the journalists above appear to have read beyond the press releases regarding the various investigations.

    Had anyone done so, it would have been readily apparent that the only reason the investigations could conclude that “the science” was unaffected was that not one of the inquiries even looked at “the science”.

    As one who has read the reports from the various inquiries, it became quite obvious to me that – with the notable exception of the IAC review of the IPCC – the operating principle was to ensure that the wrong questions were asked of the wrong people, in order to secure the right answers.

    It’s too bad that no one was paying any attention to Joseph Alcamo, in October 2009, when he addressed a plenary session of the IPCC in Bali. Alcamo presciently noted:

    “[A]s policymakers and the public begin to grasp the multi-billion dollar price tag for mitigating and adapting to climate change, we should expect a sharper questioning of the science behind climate policy.”

    Alcamo, a 15-year veteran of the IPCC process, was at that point the chief scientist of the UNEP (an IPCC “parent”).

    Perhaps rather than displaying their advocacy colours by dutifully reporting yet another “it’s worse than we thought, and it’s happening faster than we thought … must act now” stories during the lead-up to Cancun, journalists could show some independence by investigating and reporting some of that ‘sharper questioning’.

  6. The truth is, there is no “greenhouse effect” at all.

    Venus: No Greenhouse Effect

    The consensus, built over the last 20 years and put forward by the UN IPCC, that says otherwise, is scientifically incompetent. That is the hard reality, that the real “deniers” — those who think consensus means truth — can’t believe, and refuse to investigate. It is not the climate system that is broken, it is the politicized, incompetent science. It is entirely beyond anyone’s power to address it at the root by political argument. The entire science needs to be corrected (as is true of so many powerful institutions today).

  7. John F. Pittman says:

    I must agree with the critics of the journalists and institutions concerning the shallow nature of the reporting and stances. As someone who spent the better part of a week examining just a minor but important aspect of the science of climate change in the emails, the only conclusion was that was supported was that of confirmation bias. Does this mean that the scientists are wrong; no. But just as the context of the emails made it clear that it was worse than thought, the indication of bias means that conclusions based on this bias are now suspect. As a practicing engineer, I find the lack of appreciation of the science and methodology of the IPCC assessment reports by science reporters to be continually underwhelming. The journalists above speak well of some of the generalizations that caused public loss of confidence. However, they speak less well in understanding that just as there are many lines of evidence for climate change, there are many lines of evidence for skepticism. In fact, the lack of realization that these go hand in hand is viewed as an appalling condition by many of the journalists’ critics, that I have read in the blogosphere; and I am one. An example is the meme that the investigations somehow left something untarnished such as Curtis Brainard stated. The problem is that the investigations do not warrant the name investigations. They did not take testimony from the critics; they let the accused decide whether or not an action was done, they make claims that are revealed as factually incorrect, etc. I would maintain that if the journalists want a better audience, there should be better investigation of both sides with understanding the nature of science. Yes, it is and was, and always will be easier for the critics than the scientists, or it is not science. A critic has but to show one small, real problem, and it will need to be addressed. Not fair, just science. Yet one small problem in a representation such as AR4, does mean that it needs to be re-examined, or it is not science. One of the main aspects that the emails revealed was that some of the suppositions of the skeptics concerning data manipulation were correct. Does this necessarily invalidate the science. No, but it does call for a re-evaluation. The lack of critical review of this, and the lack of critical review of the so called investigations by the journalists here indicate “No, journalists did not learn from Climategate; they suffer from the same disease as indicated in the emails…confirmation bias.” Translation: your results are not to be trusted. Perhaps if you trusted the public to understand when you took a climate scientist to task for a nuanced discussion, your public would also trust you. The real story of Climategate is that of a broken trust. Until, this is addressed, Climategate will not fade, unless we ditch efforts of mitigating climate change. The reason is simple, for us to mitigate will require trust in the system, the science, and the policy. Climategate indicated that that trust was misplaced.

  8. Kip Hansen says:

    Interestingly, it appears that you excluded skeptical climate scientists and journalists from your pool of experts to answer your questions. Maybe, of course, they all refused to participate? Less likely, I’d guess.

    Skeptical scientists, like those recently testifying before a congressional committee and Judith Curry, whom Biello regrets featuring in SciAm, might have pointed out different lessons that should have or have been learned.

  9. Steve Koch says:

    The big picture is that most of the major media outlets have lost tremendous amounts of credibility (and money) in recent years. The internet has killed you guys. Your biggest problems are that you don’t know what you are talking about, you are grossly politicized, you no longer have a captive audience, and, most importantly, you just don’t get your new reality.

    What leftists do not understand is that every time you capture an institution (such as the media), you destroy the credibility of that institution and make that institution a political target.

    A more specific problem for reporters is that they are not domain experts. Why read what a reporter writes when you can read what a scientist writes?

    BTW, your reaction to Climategate is priceless.

  10. A.M. Gaides says:

    I have a science background (Clinical Biochemistry) and, up to a year ago, believed the world was warming because we were still coming out of an ice-age. Now, I actually believe we are more than likely entering a period of coolness. Why the big change? I actually read lots and lots of blogs and papers, from all sides, and looked at what was happening with the IPCC with their WWF references, the ‘homogenized’ temperature datasets, the solar influence, the cooling satellite figures, the cooling ocean figures (ARGO network) etc. etc. It looks like none of the above-mentioned journalists have done anything like this. Why has the number of thermometers drastically dropped? And only in cold and high places? Why has no-one seriously looked at how GISS gets their temperatures for the Artic? Extrapolation of around 1500 kms is how. Why are so many weather stations in seriously comprised situations? Why did GISS try and hide the terribly wrong (high) satellite temperatures in the Great Lakes earlier this year. 600F is surely laughable, and it took a blog to force them to admit that they were actually posting these temperatures. What about all the long-term documented temperatures that have suddenly been lowered to make the current values seem higher? What about the blatent lies regarding the monsoon in Pakistan this year? An actual reviewer for IPCC (200&) has now stated that the rains were only 5% above average and were definitely not unprecedented.
    If the above journalists ever get around their own ideology they will find there is not much holding up the theory of AGW

  11. sentient says:

    Ignorance, of course, can be cured. Is it warming here at the end Holocene? Depends upon your perspective, and that depends upon what you know versus what you believe. One powerful, but lately ailing belief structure involves attribution to CO2 for the strong warming of the late 20th century. Read the carefully worded research that confirms this, the scientific consensus provided by the IPCC and this will ring true in a modern educated mind. But a more sentient mind will remember the Oil for Food scandal recently brought to us by the same parent organization of the IPCC, the UN. So a more sentient mind would likely do a little more reading, maybe even investigate the other side, something scientists are actually trained to do. And that is where the things start to get dicey. Adjustment after adjustment applied to the raw data that seems to have disappeared, and along with it such things as the warmest decade in the 20th century (the 1930′s), reliance upon a few pinon or Yamal conifers that support your view of things past, but become uncooperative after 1960. Just whack off the disobedient data and add on something else. That’s not science, that’s scientology. Then you find that something like 75% of the reporting weather stations have ceased to be used since 1990, and they were predominantly in high latitude, high altitude and rural settings. And suddenly you realize that anthropogenic forcing of climate is real, very real indeed. The less sentient simply failed to keep their eye on the pea.

    So what should we expect now at a half-precessional cycle old extreme interglacial? Well, 5 of the last 6 interglacials have each lasted about half a precessional cycle. Multiple proxies point to the ends of the last 4 such interglacials as being quite the wild climate ride, with decadal to centennial fluctuations of several degrees C and sea level spikes such as at the end of the last one, the Eemian (or MIS-5), shooting from +6 to +20 meters (depending upon whose research you believe), and as high as +21.3 meters at the end of the Holsteinian (MIS-11). Writing in Quaternary International (207 [2009] 137–144) Boettger et al state in the abstract “The pronounced climate and environment instability during the interglacial/glacial transition could be consistent with the assumption that it is about a natural phenomenon, characteristic for transitional stages.” This is not a cherry-picked quotation as many paleoclimatologists, geologists and other scientists are beginning to decipher that the ends of the most recent interglacials themselves are also a proxy for what could very well be happening, even as we go into the negative cycles for both the AMDO and PDO with a quiet sun.

    Dig just a smidgen deeper and you will soon come to learn of a long running debate in the science of paleoclimate which considers just how long the Holocene, the interglacial in which all of civilization has occurred, will last. A little deeper still, and you will soon learn that not a single ice age termination was preceded by rise in CO2, but that CO2 followed the temperature excursion. It gets much dicier when you look at the high resolution records from the Greenland ice cores and come to see that the Dansgaard-Oeschger oscillations not only follow this same temp/CO2 order, but that CO2 seems to act to slow the relaxation of the D-O temperature spikes back to the cold glacial state. Something worth pondering at the likely end Holocene. Sort of the antithesis to the AGW prognostications. Could it possibly be, that in the latest stages of this interglacial, we started emitting a CO2 security blanket at more or less precisely the right time to ameliorate the eventual (imminent?) drop back to the next cold glacial state?

    All of which leaves us to reflect on the propriety of being a “science” reporter when not a single one that I remember seeing even deigned to dig into the hacked file and find the HARRY_READ_ME.txt file, much less daylight what I just did for you without even the need to go there.

  12. Seth Borenstein says:

    As a reporter who is data driven, not rhetoric steered, I often find it is helpful to point out statistics and trends. And I encourage people to check them out for themselves, like I do. A recent study (in Bulletin of American Meteorological Society) showed 11 different environmental/climate-oriented indicators _ such as land surface air temperatures or sea level or glacier mass balance _ and each shows changes consistent with climate change. And each of those indicators has multiple independent data sets (With the exception of northern hemisphere snow cover, which has but two). Overall, 55 independent data sets, including a few from oft-quoted skeptics John Christy and Roy Spencer at Univ. Alabama Huntsville. All 55 show climate change trends. 55 for 55. Check it out for yourself:
    Another recommended data site to check out for yourself shows NOAA’s monthly global land-and-ocean surface temperature anomolies. These are comparisons to global average (mean). If they are positive, the month involves was warmer than normal; if negative the month was cooler than normal. Go there:
    If you look you will see the last month that had cooler than normal temperatures was February 1985 (Nov. and Dec. for this year have -999 but that’s because they haven’t been calculated yet). We have now gone 24 years and 8 months since we’ve had a cooler than normal month (not year). That’s 296 months in a row of warmer than normal temperatures. The chance of that being randomness or statistical noise is microscopic. Picture it that way flip a coin 296 times. If it landed heads 296 times in a row, would you think the coin was loaded?

  13. Seth Borenstein says:

    Dear Sentient: If you had read what I wrote in the body of this forum you would have found that my colleagues and I at AP have read the entire more than 1 million words in the hacked emails:
    “But context is key here. At the AP, we spent a week and five reporters pouring over one-million words to read them in context and found no grand conspiracy, but lots of cranky scientists (and ones who really could use a good editor themselves).”
    the story:
    And the Guardian did a 12-part series on the emails in depth:
    So therefore your comment about no science reporter reading or digging into the e-mails is just not based on reality.

  14. John Garrett says:

    Dear Mr. Borenstein:
    One of the legs upon which the hypothesis of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming stands is the assertion that current temperatures are unprecedented. That assertion is disputed and contested.

    Has there been measurable warming since the Little Ice Age? Would you expect warming? What does the Medieval Warming Period tell us? What do atmospheric levels of CO2 exceeding 2,000 ppm in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods tell us about earth’s climate sensitivity?

    Very truly yours,
    John Garrett

  15. John Mashey says:

    This is an interesting discussion among people I respect. I understand how the media gets carried away with something like Climate gate, especially with a well-oiled disinformation machine pushing it.

    But, why does the media mostly ignore something that is much more likely to be a real scandal? (Andy did tweet it as “Skepticgate”, for which I thank him): latest half-page print story October 8, first story

    The 2006 Wegman Report was arranged by Reps. Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield, seeming to mislead the public (OK, done all the time), and Congress (not OK, could be multiple felonies 18USC1001, 18USC371).

    Barton promoted it as “independent, impartial, expert” work by a team of “eminent statisticians.” It was none of those.
    A Barton staffer provided much of the source material to the Wegman team. It wasn’t impartial, it was incompetent (massive plagiarism, already confirmed by experts; bad statistics; incredible cherry-picking; errors in basic science; even incompetent plagairism.)

    Much of it was written by a new PhD, with help from several grad students. Plagiarism extended to 3 PhD dissertations and a paper acknowledging funding from 3 Federal agencies, none of which have anything to do with the topic (funds misuse?). One of these is covered by DHHS Office of Research Integrity, which takes dim views of such things.

    Barton turned down an NRC panel offer, then recruited Wegman via Jerry Coffey, who has expressed utter disdain for the whole idea of anthropogenic global warming, but recommended authors like Fred Singer and Pat Michaels. All this was often represented as being “like” an NRC panel.

    The whole leadup coming into the Barton/Whitfield letters in 2005 was arranged by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the George C. Marshall Institute, with plenty of earlier interaction with Sen. Inhofe, as just one of numerous actions.

    After getting well-documented complaints of near-verbatim plagiarism from a distinguished professor (Ray Bradley of UMass), George Mason University had yet (as of 11/15/10) to give Prof. Bradley an *inquiry* report, i.e., the simple “yes, this looks enough like plagiarism to start and actual investigation.” Why that takes more than one inquiry committee meeting to decide is beyond me. Of course, onje gets many hits for:
    Google: penn state whitewash
    (OK, I’m a PSU alum, but that was irritating.)

    Sigh, no story anywhere in all that.

    There are some fine journalists involved here. Can you explain why there has been so little interest, so people ( like Canadian “Deep Climate”, who unearthed the original plagiarism and some of the rest, and has recently found some truly ethics-breaking statistics, and I, who did extensive further analysis) can do better next time?

  16. John Garrett says:

    Between the Congressional testimony of Judith Curry, the “Climategate” emails, the work of Montford, McIntyre, McKitrick and many others, it’s become abundantly clear that Messrs. Gore, Wirth, Mann, Hansen and Schmidt tried to pull a fast one using the guise of “science.” They’ve been caught and the viciousness of the response is a testament to the fact. A lot of rotten science has been passed off along with bullying and suppression of dissent. The zealots hijacked the science and there’s going to be a lot of shuffling, mumbling, backpeddling and face-saving. There was a whole lot of “political science” and too little disclosure, data archiving and replication.

    What remains is a hypothesis. That hypothesis has absolutely nothing to do with greenhouses. Fundamental questions are outstanding.

    I know I don’t know. What’s most important is that I also know that— notwithstanding their bombast, whining and screaming— Messrs. Gore, Wirth, Mann, Schmidt, Hansen et al don’t know either.