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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 11/15/2010

WSJ editorial board spins climate science, again

By Andrew Freedman

* Rain late tonight and tomorrow: Full Forecast | SkinsCast *

Last week, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) announced it would assist journalists covering the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Mexico by linking reporters with climate science experts who can field science-related queries. This Q&A service was first tried last year during the Copenhagen climate talks, when several high profile publications utilized the service, including Newsweek and National Public Radio.

A nonprofit scientific society, the AGU is not an advocacy organization, and the goals of the effort, as explained on its website, include aiding journalists who are "seeking to communicate climate science" and to "contribute to raising the overall level of understanding of climate science among journalists and the general public."

Sounds innocent enough, right?

Not to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Editorial Board, which published an online video accusing the AGU of weeding out at least three scientists who have climate science expertise, but who may question the scientific consensus that human activities are likely responsible for much of the planet's recent warming.

In a segment of the WSJ "Opinion Journal" web video program, editorial writer Anne Jolis criticizes the AGU's innocuous effort for selectively excluding three climate skeptics: Fred Singer, Richard Lindzen, and John R. Christy.

Notably, Jolis describes the three skeptics as "very renowned in explicitly climate-related fields."

Interview of Wall Street Journal editorial writer Anne Jolis on the American Geophysical Union's initiative to connect journalists with climate scientists. Interview is in the second half of above video, start at 5:00.

That is certainly true in Christy's case. A professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Christy studies temperature readings taken by satellites and weather balloons, has served as a lead or contributing author for multiple U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, and has received awards from the American Meteorological Society, among others. But Christy is not without his detractors and is a controversial figure in the climate science community.

Similarly, while Lindzen is well-regarded in some scientific circles, he has increasingly ruffled feathers in the community and been subject to criticism.

As for the aging Singer, very few climate scientists would describe him as "renowned" for his climate research. He has long headed up his own think tank, the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), and has ties to the fossil fuel industry. According to the DeSmogBlog, a website that aims to counter climate skeptics, although Singer has published about 45 papers on climate science in the peer-reviewed literature during the course of his career, he is affiliated with numerous conservative interest groups and think tanks, many of which receive funding from the fossil fuel industry. He has also argued against the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, according to DeSmogBlog.

Nevertheless, in the video Jolis says other scientists told her the work of the three skeptics is "very valuable," and need to be part of "the debate."

"The question is, are journalists going to have access to their work?" she says, raising the disturbing - and illusory - specter of a world in which the AGU controls who the press can and can't talk to, via a voluntary Q&A service.

"Talking to someone like John Christy would be extremely valuable to get the full picture of the knowledge that's out there and the uncertainties that remain, and it seems unfortunate if this initiative didn't include someone like that...." Jolis says.

"Obviously journalists could call them on their own," she admits. (Seems to me like she had no trouble getting in touch with them).

Jolis doesn't discuss the possibility that Singer, Lindzen and Christy received the email solicitation to participate in the initiative, but ignored it or deleted it. She also fails to indicate whether she even reached out to the AGU to check if the three researchers were included in the voluntary effort, which netted about 700 participants.

According to Jolis, the AGU, which has 58,000 members in more than 135 countries, is deliberately excluding people like Christy and Lindzen from an initiative aimed at improving climate scientists' engagement with the media. This accusation was termed "ignorant and dishonest" in a tweet by climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, who is helping to oversee the AGU project. "How can the WSJ get away with this?" Hayhoe asked.

Unfortunately, spouting ridiculous climate science conspiracy theories is nothing new for the WSJ editorial board, which is legendary within the climate science community for distorting the vast body of evidence pointing to the role of human activities in helping to drive the recent increase in global temperatures. Despite the solid science reporting that is printed within the paper's news pages, the influential editorial board has held onto the view that climate science is unreliable, poorly established, and essentially little more than junk science.

The Columbia Journalism Review once termed the disconnect between its news and editorial pages as "almost unbelievable."

A Google search for "Wall Street Journal editorial board and climate change" turned up reams of takedowns of the paper's editorials for grossly mischaracterizing scientific evidence from sources as varied as the Real Climate blog to Jeffrey Sachs, the noted economist who heads up Columbia University's Earth Institute.

In 2006, Sachs castigated the editorial board for "hurling editorials of stunning misdirection at their readers, continuing their irresponsible drumbeat that global warming is junk science."

In a 2009 Reuters blog, Stuart Gaffin, a Columbia University climate scientist, accused the paper of inventing its own field of climate science, which he termed the "Wall Street Journal of Atmospheric Sciences."

"The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial page occupies a uniquely obnoxious place in commentary on global warming," Gaffin wrote. "...I have yet to see accurate presentation of the science issues. They have fed their readers so much misinformation and confusion one can only conclude they consider complete fabrication fair play in the discussion."

To the WSJ Editorial Board, climate science developments are typically used as an opportunity to spin a tale of bias and manipulation, in this case an allegation that the AGU is trying to manipulate the press.

However, it's the WSJ, not the AGU that revealed a bias regarding the Q&A initiative. In the same video, Jolis and the segment's host proceed to knock Al Gore, and cast doubts on businesses that work in the clean energy and carbon trading sectors.

"The good news is that voters in the U.S... have pretty much figured out that this [climate change] is not something they want to spend a lot of money regulating to avoid," the host states.

Clearly the editorial board covers climate science through the prism of a political worldview that is adamantly opposed to top-down solutions to problems, including those proposed to fight climate change. Therefore, spinning the science is perceived as being in their political best interest. The same holds true in other corners of the financial press, where conservative political values tend to seep into science coverage.

It's unfortunate the WSJ took a harmless initiative for scientists to be more responsive to journalists (something they should appreciate, actually), and made it look sinister. As usual when it comes to climate science, they're sorely mistaken.

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.

By Andrew Freedman  | November 15, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, Latest, Media, Science  
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Andrew says "Clearly the editorial board covers climate science through the prism of a political worldview that is adamantly opposed to top-down solutions to problems, including those proposed to fight climate change. Therefore, spinning the science is perceived as being in their political best interest."

Andrew, do you believe your political worldview is predisposed towards top-down solutions to fight climate change or for any other purpose? I think that's a fair question. My answer to that question is yes, because of my political worldview, I am against top-down solutions which inevitably are politically driven like ethanol.

Posted by: eric654 | November 15, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

My faith in the WSJ's credibility has just been raised a notch.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | November 15, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I will abstain from opinion, but, Andrew, I appreciate your thoroughness!

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | November 15, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

eric: No, I'm not predisposed to favoring top-down solutions, but rather I think that policy makers should work to solve problems in the most effective ways possible, rather than trying to deny the existence of problems in order to delay taking potentially costly action. After all, the costs of inaction may be quite steep.

Posted by: afreedma | November 15, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

As to the Wall Street Journal, they seem to be on the right [politically speaking]of the climate controversy.

BTW Andrew...just wondering...what's your take on Friday's Eastern Wx Forums shutdown?

As it appears to me there is a power struggle between "Vortmax" and the other site administrators...this resulted in an abrupt site shutdown! Don't know if DCRTV will take up this it involves an Internet portal...but CWG ought to check the issue out. This is not the first big blow-up in the meteorological community...there were previously a sexual harassment episode involving Bob Stokes at TWC and a sexual assault/pedophile situation involving local met Bill Kamal, but this might be the first situation involving a power struggle at a weather-related website on the Internet.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | November 15, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Andrew, thanks for the answer. My reading is that when you say "policy makers" you may think scientists and enlightened regulators, but I see "politician". When you say "most effective ways possible", I look for the broadest view of effectiveness: will our action result in cooling? For Waxman-Markey, 0.1 degrees by 2050 by computer models That optimistic estimate also requires that by raising electricity rates on our industry, we don't outsource more of our industry to China which is a lot less energy efficient.

Posted by: eric654 | November 15, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Looks like a period of some COLD weather is comming in long range

Posted by: StormChaserMan | November 15, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Richard Lindzen has had a very distinguished career in atmospheric science. There are other distinguished scientists who have a very different view of global warming than he does. As a quite undistinguished scientists, I disagree with him on global warming.

I believe Singer, Lindzen, Christie and the Wall Street Journal editorial and opinion pages to varying degrees are outside the consensus on global warming. That does not automatically make them wrong, but IMHO it does increase the probability that they are.

There are scientific arguments on global warming and there are policy arguments on what to do about it. I believe the Wall Street Journal and Richard Lindzen are wrong on the scientific arguments.

As for the policy arguments, I tend to regard Roger Peilke, Jr., and Bjorn Lomborg as voices giving a alternative viewpoint that I cannot easily dismiss.
I believe both of them take global warming seriously enough to advocate throwing large sums of money at research into alternative non-carbon energy sources.

Posted by: Dadmeister | November 15, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

In his comment above Andrew hits on exactly what the real issue is. Namely, the cost of taking action to mitigate anthropogenic climate change versus the potential cost of not taking action.

No one can justifiably claim there is a 100% certainty that humans are adversely affecting the climate, nor can anyone rationally argue there is a 00.0% chance that anthropogenic climate change is occurring.

The only truly valid statement is that there is a 100% certainty that there is uncertainty on the questions concerning human caused climate change.

What matters now is find a way to promote and "adult" (scientifically and politically unbiased) conversation on how to address the issues which account for the cost versus benefit of various policy options.

There are (at least) four options and possible outcomes: 1) do nothing and suffer the consequences should climate change prove societal and economically disastrous; 2) do nothing and luck out with nothing dire occurring; 3) take costly action (whatever that might be) knowing that anthropogenic climate change might prove inconsequential; or 4) take costly action and, thereby, avoid a "what could have been" disaster.

This is classical example of risk taking, but with far more significance than, for example, deciding whether to carry an umbrella when the odds of precipitation are neither 0.0 or 100%.

We buy home/car insurance to safeguard our property from relatively low probability events.

We spend billions on maintaining an arsenal of nuclear armed missiles for the just-in-case, but very unlikely scenario.

So, does it not make sense no to buy insurance to guard against the potentially dire consequences of man-made climate change which, according to a vast majority of the scientific community, are a much more likely possibility.

As for the "adult" conversation, prospects unfortunately do not seem very high (but not necessarily zero).

Posted by: ensemblemean | November 15, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Dadmeister, since you are open to reading skeptical papers, what do you think of this Idso 1998:

Posted by: eric654 | November 15, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

The abstract seems very speculative.

It is possible that there are negative feedbacks that we do not know about. It is also possible that there are positive feedbacks we do not know about. It would be real nice if significiant negative feedbacks we are unaware of do emerge, but they haven't so far.

The climate models do a fair job of reproducing the observed global warming over the past 30 years, but only if they include increases in greenhouse gases.

I recommend Cai et al., 2009: J Climate, 965-973. Seasonal forecast models improve seasonal forecasts by including long term increases in greenhouse gases.

Posted by: Dadmeister | November 15, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Dadmeister, I couldn't find Cai from J. Climate, but found a paper in AMS here It sounds like a similar conclusion, that adding volcanic and CO2 forcings improved seasonal predictions in retrospect. One problem, the NCEP CFS could not predict the 1998 El Nino, only note that the NCEP CFS prediction was low.

A seasonal forecasting model that does not accurately predict the strength of an El Nino that has already started is of questionable use for any purpose (predicting or verifying global warming from CO2 included). Along those same lines, it would much better evidence that global warming (i.e. high sensitivity) is probable if the model, in this case CFS, had some reasonable degree of accuracy for a seasonal forecast. A skill of 10 or so for a 2.5 month forecast is not much to brag about (only slightly better than a coin toss). IOW, it can't predict much of anything, so why should I believe its predictions for CO2 sensitivity?

Posted by: eric654 | November 15, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The AGU can spin ignorant journalists all they want. It won't matter. Congress is not going to pass any climate legislation any time soon. After 2012 it will be even worse for the True Believers. By then we should be able to get at the budgets of these parasites at NASA and the EPA, too.

Posted by: mfm69cubs | November 15, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

"...recent increase in global temperatures..."

Posted by: KPosty | November 15, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

"...recent increase in global temperatures..."

Posted by: KPosty | November 15, 2010 6:41 PM

yeah...! it's been getting colder 'round here ever since late july....

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | November 16, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

The WP's description of the AGU as "not an advocacy organisation" would seem to unsophisticated folk like me with the acknowledgement that they have certainly excluded people who are not willing to advocate the catastrophic warming scam.

By "not an advocay organisation" does the WP mean "an organisation that advocates the same evidence free alarmism that we do." This seems to be a misuse of the English language & even, if such a term has meaning, a violation of journalistic ethics.

Posted by: NeilCraig | November 16, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | November 16, 2010 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Satellite is quite accurate (no urban heat island issues) and shows recent warming.

Pretty soon it will cool again thanks to a potentially strong La Nina. The interesting question is how low will the running average go? Will it make it down to zero (without a big volcano)?

Posted by: eric654 | November 16, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Sorry Andrew...I'll believe the WSJ any day over some "union" of "geophysicists" seeking to "link" "reporters" with climate science "experts."

Really. Just look at the quotation marks above and tell me this just doesn't scream SCAM.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | November 16, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The CFS is used by the Climate Prediction Center for its monthly and seasonal outlooks in combination with other tools, based on its performance. Seasonal forecasting is difficult in any case.

There are problems with satellite data--satellites don't measure temperatures, they measure radiances. Converting radiances to temperatures is a non-trivial task. There are also problems with drifts in satellite instruments, different biases in different satellites, etc. One needs to consider a variety of measures to assess what the truth is.

The warming of the last 30 years shows up clearly in a number of measures.

As for the Wall Street Journal, I might listen to their advice on Wall Street before I would listen to the American Geophysical Union. But on science I would listen to the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, the National Academy of Sciences, etc., etc., before the Wall Street Journal.

I know some of the scientists speaking about global warming. The vast majority agree that global warming is real, that it is probably anthropogenic and will be a serious problem. Roger Pielke Jr. and Bjorn Lomborg also agree with that.

Posted by: Dadmeister | November 16, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

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