L'Ombre de l'Olivier

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05 August 2008 Blog Home : August 2008 : Permalink

Environmental Censors

As was picked up by a bunch of people in the British Blogosphere a certain Alex Lockwood, "Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Sunderland, specialising in the practice and theory of environmental journalism" made a rather silly proposal wherein he demanded some sort of censorship on climate change.

He does seem to have realized that this was not perhaps the brightest thing to do and is now recanting but his 15 seconds of blogospheric fame (or infamy?) does mean that interested bloggers with nothing better to do are now looking to see what other idiocies he may have proclaimed (e.g. Bishop Hill here). It doesn't seem to be quite cricket, as it were, to keep kicking the poor man when he's down so I'm not going to, apart from anything else I'm probably at least as guilty of writing utter bollocks.

Instead I'm going to take a few links from his site and other right on locations such as the grauniad to show that the poor man is very far from alone in his initial idea that the climate change argument must be stiffled in favour of the AGW position. First is a CJR piece that talks about how journalists should shape the debate:

These reporters are in the advance guard of an army of journalists around the world who are covering what Time magazine has dubbed the “War on Global Warming.” Journalists will play a key role in shaping the information that opinion leaders and the public use to judge the urgency of climate change, what needs to be done about it, when and at what costs. It is a vast, multifaceted story whose complexity does not fit well with journalism’s tendency to shy away from issues with high levels of uncertainty and a time-frame of decades, rather than days or months. [...]

Climate change will require thoughtful leadership and coordination at news organizations. Editors will need to integrate the specialty environment, energy, and science reporters with other beats that have a piece of the story—everything from local and national politics to foreign affairs, business, technology, health, urban affairs, agriculture, transportation, law, architecture, religion, consumer news, gardening, travel, and sports. “News organizations are increasingly asking what other beats are going to be affected by climate,” says veteran environment reporter Bud Ward, who edits a respected online journalism site, The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media. He notes that even Sports Illustrated has tackled climate change and its potential impact on everything from cancelled games to baseball bats. But, Ward worries, “it will be extremely difficult to explain the policy side of the debate” in the months ahead. Unless editors push hard for it, “there’s generally not the time or space for that kind of explanatory coverage.”

Some of the suggestions are sensible (not hyping things, not simplistically blaming AGW for everything etc.) but there is also:

Choose your experts carefully. Experts are always a minefield, so the Times’s Revkin has a simple rule: when writing about climate science, seek comments from respected scientific experts who have published in major journals in the field, not the experts offered by various policy think tanks and interest groups with axes to grind.

The era of “equal time” for skeptics who argue that global warming is just a result of natural variation and not human intervention seems to be largely over—except on talk radio, cable, and local television. Last year, a meteorologist at CBS’s Chicago station did a special report entitled “The Truth about Global Warming.” It featured local scientists discussing the hazards of global warming in one segment, well-known national skeptics in another, and ended with a cop-out: “What is the truth about global warming?…It depends on who you talk to.” Not helpful, and not good reporting.

This is effectively a recommendation for censorship and precisely what Mr Lockwood picks up on. As various people have noted the idea that "scientific experts" do not have "axes to grind" or conflicts of interest is laughable. If it turns out that we can map Terrestrial climate to some combination of long term oceanic trends and solar output (for example) then a lot of scientists are going to be out of a job. The more outspoken scientists are particularly vulnerable to this claim since many of them have spent a decade or more studying topics that are based on the assumption that AGW is happening. If it isn't then their entire life's work is relegated to the sort of backwater reserved for non-relativistic models of gravity or non-quantum models of the atom. In any number of areas of science it is believed that revolutionary change only happens once the leaders of the previous generation of science have retired, the same could well be true for climatology.

The article also links to a page of called "Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Change" which totally omits the sceptics side of things. This is bad for the journalists and others who blindly follow it but it is in fact extremely bad for both the environmentalist cause and for media organizations that follow it. The problem is that when you only read one side of the argument you render yourself open to being blindsided by the other picking up on details that are wrong. Moreover you render yourself liable to loss of trust because your audience can use google etc. to find alternative viewpoints. It is worth considering the reaction of biology to the various alternatives to evolution where numerous biologists go and read the alternative viewpoint and then publish articles linking to and mocking its more absurd claims. AGW believers don't do that, they prefer to ignore the skeptics instead.

Another article responding to that CJR piece says:

[...I]n today's media landscape, each is obscured by a choking amount of misinformation and FUD. (If there's a flaw in Russell's analysis, it's that short shrift is given to the web's ability to knit all the kooks, er... skeptics, into a pretty powerful wrecking ball that can really damage public understanding. It's like rabid, Limbaugh–style talk radio, gone virulently word-of-mouth. It'll take a lot of good journalism and a very large, empowered, web-savvy army of climate activists to wrestle this beast to the ground -- but that's another post entirely.) It's my sincere hope that the journalistic profession enjoys its finest moment in the years just ahead -- that all that storytelling talent rises to the challenge, doggedly, relentlessly pursues the truth, and delivers it straight, no chaser, to a public that needs it far more than they currently realize.

Another person who seems keen on labeling all AGW critics as "kooks" and heaping scorn on them without actualyl responding to twhat they say is Mark Lynas. In this article he prefers to call all us skeptics the lackeys of sinister right-wing US think tanks. I don't have a problem with that as a part of the article but the article is a classic of its type in that it doesn't rebutt the arguments these think tanks make (or sponsor) but just calls their impartiality into question. Turn about is fair play. If AGW is exposed as a fraud what will happen to Mark Lynas and other environmental activists? It is perhaps a worthwhile question.

Mr Lynas is not he only Grauniad contributor to prefer to play the man rather than the ball in climate change issues. His colleague George Monbiot recently concluded that he wanted Channel 4 to be silenced in an article that mostly criticised the creators of the Great Global Warming Swindle:

By broadcasting programmes that appear to manipulate and even fabricate evidence, [Channel 4] has impeded efforts to forestall the 21st century's greatest threat. For how much longer will this be allowed to continue? And for how much longer will Ofcom forbid itself to state that a programme is misleading?

To be factually honest through Monbiot does make some attempt to pick holes in the science too so in this case at least he gets a kind of pass. But IMO he would have been better advised to omit the "allowed to continue?" rhetorical question. The answer to that should be obvious: for ever.

Update: This site goes for the charming comparison of climate change skeptics with holocaust deniers in the process of stating that no skeptical comment will be permitted at the site (H/T Devils Kitchen)