Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Controlling the debate on climate control?

With the Obama administration taking a tough new stance on greenhouse gases, and history's largest-ever convention on climate change getting under way in Copenhagen, I find myself rattledand more than a little bit angryover those emails that point to a conspiracy to control the debate, and even the mere flow of information, on global warming. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, here's a decent summary and timeline from my local paper, the Morning Call. And here's a column from the Wall Street Journal that I think is worth reading.

Like many concerned citizens, I've gradually come to accept th
e reality of global warming and the dangers it poses to mankind. As I am not a meteorologist, climatologist, geologist or the like, I came to this position based on three factors: my faith in the growing consensus among mainstream scientists; the mainstream media's relentless hard sell; and yes, the simple elegance of Al Gore's pleas. I've seen opponents of the global-warming model marginalized; I've heard the rhetorical venom that's spat at naysayers like Rush Limbaugh, who are characterized as cold-hearted sybarites and flat-earthers. So I figured the whole thing had to be true.

And now I find out
, or at least it begins to appear, that global-warming activists may themselves be guilty of putting agenda before science: that they may have orchestrated a massive, coordinated disinformation campaign that pointedly and systematically excluded not just opposing viewpoints but opposing data. You can read about the latter aspect of it all in the articles linked above, but to me, one of the most telling instances of this backstage maneuvering involves a leading industry journal, Climate Research. After the journal had the audacity to publish a paper skeptical of some of the numbers the global-warming community cites in making its case, these leading scientistsit is allegedstruck a schoolyard bully's pose, recommending a boycott of the journal by the wider scientific community. "I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal,'' wrote one scientist in one of the controversial emails. ''Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.''

See, to me, this goes back to that whole discussion we were having the other day about journalism. I find it tragic that so many people today
instead of consuming all the news there is to consume, and from the most reliable and impartial sources they can findnot only refuse to read dissenting opinions but will even dismiss opposing evidence out of hand. Why? Why do leftists listen only to MSNBC and right-wingers watch only FOX? News consumption should not be about getting your ego stroked or your prejudices confirmed. So explain to me why intelligent people insist on hearing only one side of a storyclearly spun to conform to an existing biasfrom a news organization that long ago abandoned the practice of journalism and now dedicates itself to the dissemination of propaganda. If nothing else, why not watch both MSNBC and FOX, and then "you decide."

Alas, you find very few people who do that, who studiously toggle back and forth between Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann, keeping an open mind throughout. Viewers don't even want to be exposed to the other side. God forbid they might hear something provable (or at least credible) that runs counter to their carefully honed world-view.

I honestly don't understand this. If you're a thinking human being, don't you want the facts? All of the facts? Is your ego so tied up in the positions you embrace that you can't bear the thought of being revealed as even a tiny bit wrong? We've seen this in recent years with, among other things, the controversies over whether breast implants cause systemic disease and whether childhood vaccinations cause autism. In the beginning it was understandable that people (especially those with a vested interest) might divide themselves evenly at both poles of the discussion: We'll call them poles A and Z. But after the facts began pouring in supporting pole A and making pole Z seem increasingly indefensible and out of touch, why would people at pole Z continue to cling to their position, throwing every kind of barb they could at the mounting piles of evidence? Why would Jenny McCarthy, a long-time foe of childhood vaccinations, blurt things like, "I don't even listen to what they say anymore"?

Huh? So you like sounding ignorant?


RevRon's Rants said...

The stage has been well-set for the filtering of information that challenges one's personal agenda or perspective. From a journalistic / scientific perspective, this is completely unacceptable.

However, both the journalistic and scientific professions have learned that the "average" observer will heed the loudest and most sensational voice in any debate. For 8 years, the Bush administration engaged in a concerted effort to dismiss the argument that human activity played any part in the process of climate change. The administration would publicize any commentary and data that was critical of the cause / effect, while simultaneously quashing any assertions that the relationship did indeed exist.

Faced with such a PR policy, perhaps those who truly believed that the relationship does exist came to realize that they had to engage in the same kind of intellectual warfare, lest their own findings be drowned out by the information provided by their detractors.

I'm certainly not saying that this kind of retribution was appropriate, but given the atmosphere in which the scientific community found itself, the reaction is at least understandable. If there is "blame" to be placed, it is not at the feet of either side in the debate. They were just doing their jobs as they saw them, within the framework in which they found themselves.

The actual responsibility for the downward spiral in journalistic (and scientific) integrity lies squarely with a public grown so satisfied with sound bytes that they no longer demand objective reportage. IMO, the only way we'll ever get "truth" is by refusing to accept the game that both sides of any given debate have decided, for reasons either pragmatic or cynical, to play.

NormDPlume said...

One quick way to avoid answering tough questions is to boldly proclaim that "the time for discussing is over! We won and everybody must follow our plan without questioning is any longer." That's the Al Gore method. Another way to avoid answering questions is to restrict access to the original data, or destroy the original data, and only present massaged, filtered data that supports your point of view. That's what happened to the climate records used by the UN to support their conclusions. The original data is gone and it really can't be questioned. Or supported. And a final way to end peer review criticism is to blackball those who don't agree with you - it's so much easier than proving them wrong.

The UN will grow in size, power and scope if they can get this man-made global warming nonsense believed by other politicians. But it's hysteria the UN is selling - just like the H1N1 "pandemic" which is really a mild strain of influenza during a mild flu season. After the Bird Flu Hysteria created by the UN two years ago - Bush fell for that one - it was "only one mutation away from killing millions!" - remember? - How can the UN have any credibility when they have been wrong so often? And they only advance issues which will cause the UN to grow in power, size and scope.

The truth is, the climate changes: glaciers melt and then expand. We have active hurricane seasons - like the year "An Inconvenient Truth" was released, and inactive hurricane seasons - the three years since that propaganda film was released.

Hysteria is peddled by those seeking power. The environmental crowd uses the same tactics as the Halliburton-neo-con crowd. Everybody wants power; and truth is the first casualty.

Stever Robbins said...

Actually, Ron, we'll get the truth (about climate change, at least) in one other way: nature. No matter what we believe, on either side of the issue, the climate will do what the climate will do. Nature doesn't care what's good for the economy, what "makes sense" or what's supported by data we've been able to collect.

If global warming is real and a threat to mankind, it will wipe us out if we don't stop it.

If global warming is all a farce, then we'll survive.

Our discussion of it is another matter entirely. We can go back and forth about it forever (or, if it's real, until our food chain collapses and we go extinct).

The most interesting data tidbits I've heard are that spring is coming several days to a couple of weeks early relative to the early part of the 20th century. I'm not sure how much more data I need to debate.

Cosmic Connie said...

Norm wrote:

"We have active hurricane seasons - like the year 'An Inconvenient Truth' was released, and inactive hurricane seasons - the three years since that propaganda film was released."

But wait... "An Inconvenient Truth" was released in 2006 (the year after Katrina, Rita, and Wilma). As for the years since the film's release, well, I wouldn't exactly call 2008 an 'inactive' hurricane season. In fact it was one of the most active (and costly) seasons since comprehensive records have been kept. Which neither proves nor disproves Norm's point, but I thought I'd point it out anyway.

But I do agree with Norm's statement, "Everybody wants power, and truth is the first casualty." I imagine that's pretty much the case with both sides of this debate and most others.

Steve Salerno said...

But what I still don't quite understand is, why can't people court power through the vehicle of the actual truth? Why do they need a fake truth? Sure, I realize that many of these campaigns depend on whipping up public sentiment against some perceived villain. It's just that, aren't there enough real villains around without having to manufacture them?

Anonymous said...

So Steve, you're just now waking up to what the rest of us knew all along? Global warming has been over dramatized from the first. If you look at actual temperature figures, instead of all these false metrics the scientists devise in order to conceal their aims from public scrutiny, there were several decades between 1950 and 2000 when temps dropped. That's right, they went down. The earth got cooler. Do you hear that anywhere? No, you don't. Except maybe on Fox, which you and many others here constantly denounce for its so-called agenda. If you're telling people things they won't hear anywhere else, then that's where "fair and balanced" comes in.

Steve Salerno said...

Roger: If I read you correctly, you're making my point. So FOX overcorrects in the other direction in order to "balance" out the reporting elsewhere. I don't want "two wrongs make a right" journalism. It would be nice if every news outlet simply tried to be as accurate and unbiased as possible.

RevRon's Rants said...

Hey Roger - Keep in mind that an agenda doesn't stop being an agenda just because it's one you share.

As I noted in my previous comment, the "over-dramatization" by some in the scientific community is in direct response to years of outright denial of proven science. Sometimes, when folks are too agenda-driven or just too deluded to listen to facts, the natural response is to up the drama quotient, if only to get their attention. I'm not saying it's the right approach; only that it's understandable.

And speaking of over-dramatization, I get a kick out of all the hubbub about glaciers melting and the Arctic Ocean losing its ice cover. I say let those leftie ice formations throw their little tantrums. They were gonna melt anyway, right? And who really needs polar bears?:-)

Next, some tree-hugger's going to start claiming that the rainforests are being depleted.

Anonymous said...

Seeing is believing. If you have not seen James Balog's Extreme Ice, you should.

Balog is not Gore. He started his project with the intent of disproving global warming. What he's found out, and documented in such a stark way, should make everyone extremely concerned. You don't have to argue about cooking data, etc. Just watch it.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, then how do you explain the fact that polar caps were also visibly melting from 1980 to 2000, when earth temps were not rising but actually *dropping* according to the very same tree rings scientists used to calculate data prior to then? If the polar ice caps are melting at the same time the earth itself is cooling, then maybe this is something out of our hands. And if that is so, all these new regulations won't do a damned thing but destroy business profitability and keep people out of work.

RevRon's Rants said...

If we're going to play "what if," it would seem only prudent to weigh the consequences of acting versus not acting. If the majority of studies are all wrong and human activity has absolutely no effect upon global temperatures, a great deal of money will be spent - and a cottage industry formed - with little or no effect upon what was ultimately an inevitable process.

If, however, the vast majority of studies have reached an accurate conclusion, and human activity is rapidly accelerating the rise in global temperatures, a failure to act to stem the "tide" (pun intended) would likely result in changes of catastrophic proportions. And I doubt that those portfolios that had been so aggressively protected would be worth a whole lot to whomever was left.

Even if human activity has only a moderate effect upon global weather patterns, to suggest that humanity abandon its responsibilities as stewards of the earth would be not only illogical, but immoral, IMO.

Stever Robbins said...

Just because some scientists slanted the data doesn't mean their conclusions are wrong. Nor does it mean their conclusions are right.

What I am sure of is that layman interpretations of climate data (by "layman," I mean everyone on this board) are virtually useless. Broad, sweeping pronouncements of when the earth got warmer and cooler are near-meaningless unless the data sets are specified and the data interpreted by someone trained in climatology. My understanding is that climate science is one of the most complex of physical sciences, and a casual understanding isn't adequate to get a grip on likely consequences or causes. (There's a reason people have to go to grad school for this stuff.)

I'm quite conservative by nature, however, and tend to side with RevRon. I'd rather err on the side of taking action that turns out to be unneeded than risk catastrophe that could have been avoided.

mpress said...

. . . to get back to the discussion about journalism, here is what I have noticed. Balanced, thoughtful reporting is very dull. Data can be hard to understand, getting a full point of view - understanding the complexity of the issue - takes time and thoughtful comments from ALL sides (there are more than two, really).

I live in Canada and both the CBC and the provincial public education stations broadcast this kind of journalism. It would die in the U.S. It's not 'infotainment' and it's definitely not exciting.

But it is informative.

But these stations are publicly owned and operated and don't have the same restrictions as network and cable do. The laws that govern how much time can be devoted to news vs. how much can be given to entertainment need to be examined - and changed. Any corporation that is using the airwaves has, IMO, a duty to inform the public.

And that can't be squished into 30 minutes every evening, or into a screaming match between opposing sides.

But would anyone watch it?

BTW, trying to get and stay informed on any subject is a full-time job. That's why most of us rely on television, newspapers and magazines. But in a fragmenting, niche market, it's almost impossible to run around to enough sources to get all the viewpoints and data needed to make an informed opinion.

Whew! /end rant.

Steve Salerno said...

"m": Thanks for stopping by. There are any number of books about journalism and the broadcast-news biz--two of them Breaking the News by James Fallows and Bias by Bernie Goldberg--that do a nice job of describing exactly what befell American news media. The short version is that pre-60 Minutes, the news divisions were a thing apart from the rest of the beast at major networks; they were the "pristine" part of broadcasting, the one thing broadcast execs put up with so that they could look at themselves in the mirror in the morning and pat each other on the back about their collective sense of social responsibility at all those industry galas. News shows were always money losers, but no one really cared; they were expected to be money losers.

60 Minutes changed all that. Once executives realized how much money news shows could make, the networks' news activities as well were pulled under the P&L tent, and news execs were given budget targets to hit. They were told how much they should. Suddenly news shows had to justify their existence and compete for viewers.

That doesn't necessarily explain why the political bias crept in, but it surely explains why news became all about infotainment.

Martha said...

I've been on an unexpected journey lately. For years I was an avid watcher of CNN and dismissed Fox as being a bunch of hard-line shouters and interrupters. (I was also appalled by the way Bill O'Reilly treated Terri Gross during her interview with him on Fresh Air about 6 years back.)

But somewhere around this summer I migrated toward Fox, and that is where I've stayed. Except for the shouting and interrupting (which is still really annoying), and Fox & Friends being too juvenile for words, I'm finding that I get the most balanced news there.

Believe me, I'm surprised too. But I believe that Fox is more transparent than the opposing news outlets would have you believe. You know who the political commentators are. You know who the reporters are. Bill O'Reilly isn't nearly as bad as I thought he was. And Glenn Beck's program is the most indepth, thoroughly researched and focused program on the tube (although watching him makes me stress eat).

Now and then I flip over to CNN (especially when I want a break from politics and want to find out what's going on with Death Ray -- darn! I missed last night's 360). And the difference is truly amazing.

At the same time, I keep up my subscription to NY Times. And was sorry to read the Ethics column in the Sunday magazine last Sunday where the columnist correctly advised one of the writers that she can't discriminate against job candidates based on their political inclinations. Can't argue with that. But right before that, he took his own gratuitous swipe at Tea Partiers, unnecessarily using his position of influence among his readers to call them "crackpots threatening violence" against their opponents.

No mention, of course, that a Tea Partier was beaten up and sent to the hospital by two identified SEIU thugs who also called him the "n" word. And that this attack is being treated as a misdemeanor as opposed to the hate crime that it is.

Anyway, my point here is that there is so much pernicious shutting down of freedom of speech these days -- not necessarily by the government (although the jury's out on that, considering the way the White House shut out Fox) but by society. And it's really disappointing and frightening.

(Living in Santa Fe, I learned the hard way long ago to keep my trap shut.)

I think for the average American to hold two opposing views in his/her head might cause his/her head to explode.

And so truth is on the chopping block.

Steve Salerno said...

(I think I sense some mouths falling open right about now)

Martha said...

Are you referring to my revelation? If so, I'll take it on the chin. :-)

I decided to go public with my secret a few weeks ago when on another discussion thread a person was viciously and personally attacked by having the temerity to express her opposition to health care reform. That kind of attack strategy shuts down civil discourse -- and threatens democracy, if you ask me.

Based on my experience in Santa Fe ("you're either with us or against us") and the way this person was attacked (and even your "mouths falling open" reaction -- if I'm interpreting you right), I resolved to be more open kimono about my viewpoints.

My thinking being that maybe if enough of us socially liberal, creative, bohemian, non-crackpots go public with our political viewpoints (left and right), we'll find there's more commonality than not.

And those who would polarize will be defanged.

I'm kinda hoping that the fact that I follow Fox might cause a few people to reconsider their opinions about Fox rather than their opinions about me.

renee said...

I'm certainly not saying that this kind of retribution was appropriate, but given the atmosphere in which the scientific community found itself, the reaction is at least understandable.

Sorry, Ron, I don’t agree it’s understandable. Science is built around a hypothesis that’s tested and retested and retested, with data collected and recorded, then interpreted, sometimes blindly by people with nothing at stake re the outcome, and then reinterpreted, and then questioned and reviewed and finally resolved into a conclusion. Hypothesis proven or not? That’s science.

When ‘science’ gets massaged or tilted or suppressed or otherwise reconfigured to make a point, it’s no longer science. It’s spin. And it’s not understandable or forgivable.

But to your point, if the researchers believed they needed spin to fight the good fight against their opponents, they should have hired a PR team to work their magic in the media. Withholding data or misrepresenting it would only backfire, which it has.

Agree that we should do the prudent thing for our planet – I’m not opposed to making responsible choices. If it turns out it’s unnecessary, then no harm no foul. And if it is necessary, well, then it’s all good. Many people are making changes that could have a positive impact on our future, or the future of our great grandchildren.

Finally – one true story about political leanings from my own life: yes, I lean conservative. Sometimes too much in my husband’s judgment but we manage. A good friend once said to me: “I can’t believe you’re so smart and so funny and that I like you as much as I do. I mean, you voted for Bush.” (I did not respond in kind.) In other words: Conservative = dumb. Liberal = smart. That's not new thinking but apparently, I am some kind of anomaly. God knows what he would say if he knew I’m a regular viewer of MSNBC!! The top of his head might blow off.

PS to Martha – now that you’ve outed yourself as a Fox viewer and someone who is dismayed by the subtle and not so subtle “conservatives are idiots” thread that finds its way into some areas of the media, I have no doubt you’ll hear some version of my story from a friend or two before long.

Martha said...

Thanks Renee! You make me feel a little less lonely. :-)

Getting back to the global warming thing -- there are some highly respected experts on the subject who would say that even if global warming was indeed real, indeed something we've done to contribute to, indeed something we should try to put the brakes on (and this is only a theoretical, there is plenty of data to argue these premises): Whatever we could conceivably do would result in just a smidge of a degree of difference in the matter of a century -- and in the process wreaking havoc on the global economy, etc.

So the "better safe than sorry" proponents might be overlooking the very real possibility that "sorry" is going to represent a huge, expensive and definite disaster to the economy on the mere possibility that our fudging scientists might have been just a little bit right.

And, of course, even though all the well-meaning, community-minded nations might throw ourselves on our collective economic swords, there will be some nations who won't And they're the ones who will be doing the most damage to the environment because a) they can and b) they will because the cost of doing business will be cheaper with them and all the other nations will be throwing their manufacturing biz to them. Thereby rendering the environments of those countries absolute toxic wastelands (I'm thinking in specific China at the moment, especially, as an example, the villages that have been designated cast-off computer receptacles.

And we'll find a way to feel guilty and responsible for that as well.

Nothing is simple, is it? So my advice: recycle when you can. Sneeze into your elbow when you sneeze. Combine your errands. Try not to idle too much. (The whole tire inflating thing turns out to be a myth) Bike and walk wherever you can. And try not to spit in the eye of your neighbors.

RevRon's Rants said...

First of all, my best friend - of over 40 years - is a "conservative," and it would never occur to me to call him dumb. He's done some dumb things (as have we all), and willingly acknowledges that voting for W in 2004 ranks high among their number. Actually, we both follow some of the talk radio discussions, but neither of us take them seriously as being valid political discourse.

Renee, I'm sorry you can't understand the relationship between the scientists' perceived need for professional self-preservation and their clumsy efforts. You might consider the fact that most academics are somewhat (if not completely) removed from a world where public relations staff are considered a necessity. They are accustomed to presenting concepts in a given format, and having those concepts either accepted or challenged according to the methodology common to their professional milieu. Faced with the kind of sound-byte attacks launched by a media-savvy, non-academic enterprise, some of them made some stupid choices in formulating their tactical response. Sadly, those choices cast a pall upon findings that could have withstood the attacks on their own merits. The attackers, however, were given an opportunity to discredit the studies without having to even address the science. Shoddy journalism, to be sure... but effective methodology for those who aren't journalists, anyway.

Speaking of attacking studies, I think it worthy of note that the "studies" that warn of economic collapse as an inevitable result of reducing carbon emissions are, to a great extent, funded or even performed by those whose profitability depends upon continued and unabated use of fossil fuels.

Martha said...


I'm confused. Did I miss something? You mention "stupid choices" that the scientists make -- presumably out of not knowing how to navigate PR. You aren't lumping our friends at Anglia into the "stupid choices" group, are you? Manipulating data and destroying records is more than a stupid choice. Bullying dissenters and trying to destroy the credibility of a professional journal is more than a stupid choice. So you must be talking about something else.

On a personal note: Now that I've outted myself, I hope I'll still be welcome by you and Connie in Houston! :-)

Anonymous said...

"But what I still don't quite understand is, why can't people court power through the vehicle of the actual truth? Why do they need a fake truth? "

Well Steve, first there was a big bang, then the universe started to expand and fill up with hydrogen, then stars formed, planets, earth, water, DNA, microbes, worms, fish, dinosaurs. The microbes, worms, fish and dinosaurs developed cunning and deceitful strategies to survive and procreate including camouflague, poison, bait etc. Then came mammals, monkeys, hominids- who didn't have much in the way of camouflage, poison, bait etc. but were sometimes tricky enough to make up for it. Then came humans and here is where your misunderstanding should end.

Anonymous said...

But apart from the cocky comment I just made, I think your man Roger demonstrates why the arguments go on and on. If there is an overall trend of warming, that doesn't mean there will be no temporary dips in temperature. That's a typical example of lazily using narrow examples to get the result you want, or an example of being badly educated.
Of course, the scientists still should temper their temptation to tamper with temperature data, trying to tendentiously translate temporary tumbles in temperature as terminal trends or temporal ticks.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Bullying dissenters and trying to destroy the credibility of a professional journal is more than a stupid choice. So you must be talking about something else."

Actually, no, I'm not. The scientists had seen (as had we all) how effective had been the previous administration's efforts to quash unfavorable data and destroy the credibility of dissenters in their efforts to push through their own agenda. For the scientists to attempt the same kind of program was flat out stupid, but it spoke more to their stature as PR neophytes than to anything else. What they did was clearly wrong, I agree. However, given the environment in which they found themselves, it isn't too difficult to see how they went wrong. Not an excuse, mind you, because their actions were inexcusable, IMO. Especially since left to stand on its own merits, sans the agenda-driven tirades and counter-tirades, the studies themselves needed no defense beyond the data itself.

And yeah, you're still welcome here. We have no trouble getting along with folks whose political ideologies we don't share... well, with the exception of my ex and my kids! :-)