WSJ editorial board spins climate science, again
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."
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.
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.
| November 15, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories: Climate Change, Freedman, Latest, Media, Science
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