Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Litany Of Misquotation

In the last couple of months, journalistic practice from those reporters covering the Global Warming debate has been plagued by some rather worrying and, frankly, systemic misrepresentation of scientists. For example, the National Post bungled Andrew Weaver's interview to make him sound more critical of IPCC procedures than he really was, and David Rose has been a regular fount of mis-information. Now we have another climatologist, Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, a member of the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change and director of the Grantham Institute at London’s Imperial College, telling the Financial Times that they didn't get him quite right either..

Sir, In “Call to tighten climate science” (February 5), Fiona Harvey rightly quotes my statement that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change process has to be made more robust.

I think it important also to put on record the part of my comments that was not reported, which made clear that I have been hugely impressed with the way the IPCC conducted its most recent assessment. To have distilled coherent and robust accounts of the status of the understanding of climate change, and at the same time to exhibit the major uncertainties in this understanding, was a hugely impressive achievement by the IPCC.

The very small number of flaws in the thousands of pages of those reports should not be allowed to shake confidence in the arguments that depend on a very large number of strands of evidence and scientific contributions. I have been stressing the uncertainties for 30 years but also the increasing surety we have that we are doing something unprecedented and dangerous to the climate system.

Brian Hoskins,
Grantham Institute,
Imperial College London, UK

PS. Brian Hoskins is.


double nickel said...

This happens primarily because most MSM reporters practice cut and paste journalism, being barely literate themselves.

Tof KW said...

Not to split hairs double-n, but I think you've only described the end result. This has more to do with decades of media conglomeration, cost cutting and filtering of news based around the corporate owner’s interests - and not to forget the merging news with entertainment. Back in the old days (before the early-80’s) it was a given that television news lost money, they were broadcast as a public service and for the prestige of the stations/networks. Not surprisingly, the 70’s were the final years of good investigative journalism.

As for climate change, the mountain of evidence shows conclusively that the industrial revolution has definitely and measurably added to the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The only question is not ‘if’, but rather how much of an impact will it have? Current CO2 levels could very well cause no ill effects, the problem is those levels keep increasing.

Are there some scientists that make exaggerated claims? Sure there are, and they exist in any faculty of research, not just climatology. But as a combined population of over 4 billion enters the league of fully industrialized nations over the next 25-50 years, and with it the sextupling of all industrial emissions, it is incredibly irresponsible for the media to focus on researchers squabbling amongst themselves and report that the issue is in question. No, the issue is defending the status quo will cause us to die on our own waste – much like a bacterial colony that grows exponentially in a Petri dish.

But unlike bacteria, we have brains. Greener technologies must be encouraged and developed now, because they take decades to develop and it is precisely then when they will be needed the most. That and they are the future growth industries, and ignoring them is not unlike continuing production of steam locomotives while all your competitors are tinkering with the internal combustion engine.

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

TofKW.. that kind of post is exactly what we're missing.

Acknowledging, honestly, errors when they occur, and confirming, honestly, not only what we know, but also what we don't.

I don't have any great difficulty with the theory of climate change and the reality of our potential impact on our planet.

My biggest complaint is the way in which we treat those who disagree with those positions. Rather than engage them, we attack and ridicule.. and much of the attitude of Phil Jones in his now famous emails confirms it.

What is so often missed by the "believers", is not that the commentary of Phil Jones has any actual impact on the validity of he science, but the commentary of Phil Jones has contributed greatly to the difficulty in having people who don't agree consider having an open mind.

And I think this is the sort of thing, for example, that Sir Brian Hoskins is trying to say.

In order to have people trust science, it has to act in a trustworthy fashion. It's not enough that the science is good. I has to be perceived as being objective.

Frankly, the massive ties between the IPCC "science" and the IPCC "response" to the science clouds the issue.

And then we get stuff like Rajendra Pachauri's gross conflict of interest.

And we wonder why the debate isn't nearly "settled".

Ti-Guy said...

Rob, can you ever write a comment that is shorter than 500 words?

Anyway, a big part of the problem are the scientists/experts themselves. They quite often supply too much information out of the well-meaning intention to be as complete as possible. They don't understand who their audience is quite often, especially these days, with the majority of people suffering from self-induced ADHD who are simply incapable of processing a narrative longer than a paragraph or two.

sharonapple88 said...

What is so often missed by the "believers", is not that the commentary of Phil Jones has any actual impact on the validity of he science, but the commentary of Phil Jones has contributed greatly to the difficulty in having people who don't agree consider having an open mind.

I think being open and compassionate might sway people who are unsure, but I doubt very much that Phil Jones' comments did anything to people who are global warming denialists. Even if Jones spoke of denialists in the most glowing terms, I doubt this would move their positions. Why? Because of their selective use of evidence. ;)

Seriously though, it's interesting that something that is suppose to be based on science and fact has moved to the personal sphere.

A study by coal companies to discredit global warming decided on the following tactics:

Target 1: Older, less educated males"; "Target 2: Younger, lower income women" – and the methods by which it would reach them. One of its findings was that "members of the public feel more confident expressing opinions on others' motivations and tactics than they do expressing opinions on scientific issues".

Sweet. We've moved the debate where it should be -- into the science, into the conspiracy theory realm.

The question here is are we doing this because global warming denialists can't really debate the science, or is it because the public embraces narratives (true, false, or whatever) more than they do dry fact.

And making nice with the other sides doesn't always lead to a better conclusion. Orac wrote a post on the anti-vaccine movement -- doesn't always end well.

Frankly, the massive ties between the IPCC "science" and the IPCC "response" to the science clouds the issue.

I find the connection between oil and coal companies with global warming denialists even more disturbing.

Ti-Guy said...

It's astonishing to remark that each one of the four case studies highlighted by Monbiot (from Sharon's link above) reveals real, documented intellectual/moral fraud that dwarves anything the deniers, in their wildest, most paranoid and suspicious dreams were able to manufacture from the entirety of the information contained in the CRU hack.

sharonapple88 said...

Ti, this would be funny if it weren't so sad.

There's a part in the article that did make me smile -- it's the bit about the scientist paid for by Global Climate Coalition (representing ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and car companies) came out with a report that said "the scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well-established and cannot be denied".

Don't they know they've been bought?

If we want integrity -- there's some.

Ti-Guy said...

There is no way any of this could ever be funny. The money, education, experience and skill that have been harnessed to perpetrate this multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary, longitudinal fraud really makes you question whether Western civilisation really is worth preserving anymore.

What is only slightly amusing is the fact that the immediate victims of this confidence game are the poor rubes who've been duped into supporting it so enthusiastically.

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

Blah, Blah, Blah.. scientists bought off, blah, blah.. evil oil interests.. blah, blah..

The starting point is the IPCC has to convince people to do something that, at first blush, appears to be against their own self-interests.

I don't think that any significant part of the difficulty in the buy-in to climate change hinges on these so-called "denier" scientists. I would bet dollars to donuts that if you asked those who don't see climate change as an issue, they wouldn't point to Stephen McIntyre or anyone of his ilk as the basis for their opinion at all.

They just have a hard time understanding how:

a) something they can't see, touch or smell can impact on the world; and

b) a temperature change of 2 degrees matters.

What they do know is times are hard enough as it is, and anything that looks like more tax or higher costs of living is something they would prefer to ignore or believe isn't valid.

START with that.

Then ask yourself, "Am I speaking to them, or insulting them?" I don't think anyone has to kiss anyone's ass, just be objective and respectful of those who might disagree.. and suggest, "what if we're right?"

Let them figure it out. Pushing harder just makes them push back harder.

Ti-Guy said...

"Blah, Blah, name is Rob Harvie, blah,, myself and I...blah, blah...Ph.D's need to spend most of their time explaining science to hostile/incurious illiterates...blah blah blah..."

Note proper format of ellipses.

Ti-Guy said...

Less dismissively...

They just have a hard time understanding how:

a) something they can't see, touch or smell can impact on the world; and

b) a temperature change of 2 degrees matters.

Why is that so hard to understand? It's a little presumptuous, condescending and frankly, insulting to suggest it is, don't you think?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Shorter Rob, "If you aren't nice to us we'll stand in the corner with our ears covered, crying."

Boo hoo hoo. Blaming the scientists and ridicule is rich. There are endless resources written in terms the layman can easily understand, including the IPCC's Summary for Policy Makers. But polling
shows that there's a large minority that are impervious to evidence and rationality. It hardly matters how gently they're treated - they'll continue to believe what they want, and the denialist noise machine tells them what they want to hear. The media, which provides a forum for the lunatics and liars, share as much of the blame as the deniers themselves.

Holly Stick said...

Stupid Rob, global warming is affecting Canada right now in many ways. Sorry but you deluded rightwingers are not immune to reality; you can die from thirst, hunger, fire or flood just like any other human being.

Unknown said...

Yup, Rob, Canada will be just fine. How could Canada and its economy possibly be affected by what happens in the rest of the world?
Enjoy the soothing reassurances of your fellow Albertards that only God can change the climate.