Milloy and other aggressive deniers practice a form of asymmetric warfare that is decentralized and largely immune to reasoned response. They launch what Aaron Huertas, a press secretary at the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls “information missiles,” anti-climate-change memes that get passed around on listservs, amplified in the blogosphere, and picked up by radio talk-show hosts or politicians. “Even if they don’t have much money, they are operating in a structure that allows them to punch above their weight,” Huertas says.
Tom Clynes’ takes an in-depth look at The Battle over Climate Science, a gravely overlooked issue. 98% of actively publishing climate scientists now say that it is undeniable, he explains, though disputes over the finer points remain unsettled. More shocking is Clynes’ exposition of the routine death threats, hate mail, harassment, lawsuits, and political attacks faced by these climate scientists.
FJP: There are two important journalism takeaways from this story. One is this asymmetric warfare that deniers use to attack climate scientists and their findings, which, because they are designed to be passed around the web, are quickly picked up by politicians and journalists. The second is that journalists continue to rely on non-scientists for their reporting on the issue, which severely skews public opinion.
"Multiple feet of sea level rising in the next few decades, that’s just fantasy,” says Myron Ebell, the director of energy and global-warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank. Ebell is in a taxi heading down K Street, Washington’s lobbyist row, talking to a reporter from theNaples Daily Newsin Florida. The journalist called to get his perspective on a new scientific study that warns of more frequent flooding along U.S. coastlines as higher temperatures accelerate rising sea levels. “The evidence is inconclusive,” Ebell says. “The [Antarctic] ice sheet is not shrinking but may in fact be expanding. The reality from the experts is … ”
Ebell does not claim to be a scientist. His background is in economics, and like Milloy, he was a member of the American Petroleum Institute task force in 1998. Yet his lack of scientific credentials has not deterred a stream of journalists from requesting his opinion of the newly released study. “Happens every time I get quoted in theNew York Times,” he says. Ebell provides two things most scientists can’t: a skeptical view of climate science and clear, compelling sound bites ready for the evening news or the morning paper. For a deadline-pressured journalist covering “both sides” of a complex issue, Ebell might seem an ideal source. Yet by including unscientific opinions alongside scientific ones, that same journalist creates an illusion of equivalence that can tilt public opinion.
“It’s that false balance thing,” Mann says. “You’re a reporter and you understand there’s an overwhelming consensus that evidence supports a particular hypothesis—let’s say, the Earth is an oblate spheroid. But you’ve got to get a comment from a holdout at the Flat Earth Society. People see the story and think there’s a serious scientific debate about the shape of the Earth.”
Click-through the read the whole piece.
The article makes a point of quoting Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for a contrary view on warming.
Why? If there was an earthquake, the Times would not seek out a denier of earthquakes. If this was an article on medicine, the Times would not automatically seek out the views of a homeopath or acupuncturist. If this was an article on astronomy, you (the Times) would not make an obligatory pilgrimage to the UFO community. Yet on climate change… you bow again and again to the immense vested interests that fund the climate denial industry. This does not give your readers balance – in fact, it distorts their views of the actual facts.
Mr Ebell’s organisation receives substantial funding from Exxon Mobil, a point not mentioned in this article.
From: Sammon, Bill
To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 036 -FOX.WHU; 054 -FNSunday; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers; 069 -Politics; 005 -Washington
Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay; Smith, Sean
Sent: Tue Dec 08 12:49:51 2009
Subject: Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data…
…we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.