I liked Joe Romm’s item on Max Boykoff’s presentation at the AAAS meeting in San Diego last week (Exaggerating Denialism: Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change). In particular, I liked this graph of Boykoff’s, because I think it sums up a key problem with how the media has been covering this issue:
Despite the high-profile complaining about the Himalayan-glaciers misstatement, the IPCC’s estimates of the likely impacts of global warming apparently are viewed by most experts in the field as actually being fairly conservative. (In the scientific sense, not the political sense. I.e., the IPCC is tending to be cautious in predicting how severe the impacts of global warming are likely to be.) The main story I’ve been hearing from those who keep close tabs on the actual scientists is that they’ve been freaking out over the last few years because as they get more data, they’re finding that far from overstating the dangers we face, previous estimates look more and more like they have been understating the danger.
But you wouldn’t know that from reading mainstream media coverage. Business-as-usual reporting, as successfully gamed by the fossil-fuel industry and their minions among high-profile conservatives, has focused on the controversy between the deniers on the one hand, and the already-fudged-in-the-direction-of-less-dire-outcomes IPCC estimates. The implication of that reporting is, “There are two sides, two points of view. One side says A, the other says B; the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.”
But that’s not how science works. If you’re a reporter covering science, you need to focus on what the scientists are saying. And that’s a very different picture (as Boykoff’s graph shows) than the one you get from assuming that the truth must lie somewhere between James Inhofe and the IPCC.