From a talk Dan Kahan gave this past spring, summarizing his views about science communication:
Archive for the 'the_media' Category
I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about whether Hurricane Sandy was “caused by” climate change (answer: it depends on what you mean by “caused by”). Also the related question: Is it kosher to leave off some of the nuance when explaining that issue to the public, if by doing so you can help overcome the impediments created by a toxic, culturally charged information environment that has left broad swaths of the public misinformed about climate change?
- Probable Cause – Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist from MIT, writing in Foreign Policy magazine. Good, solid information on the question by an expert well-versed in the relevant science. Please note both parts of his argument: 1) It probably is at least somewhat inaccurate to say Sandy was the direct result of climate change. 2) A rational understanding of the risks posed by climate change would lead us to take a much greater collective response to mitigate that risk than we have so far done.
- The moral logic of climate communication – David Roberts, writing in Grist. Roberts presents an interesting, and to my mind fairly apt, analogy involving a patient who has a serious disease that requires expensive treatment, but who is not yet feeling the effects of it. Then the patient has a flu that was not directly caused by the disease, but may have been worsened by it, and is similar to the effects that the disease can be expected to produce if left untreated. What should the doctor tell the patient about the nature of the disease?
- Moral logic vs. scientific accuracy – David Appell, writing on his Quark Soup blog. Appell calls shenanigans on Roberts for the previously-listed article. He says, in effect, that Roberts is abandoning scientific truth in the name of winning the argument, but that scientific truth is the only thing our side has, meaning to abandon it is crazy. My personal take: Appell is guilty of arguing against a strawman version of Roberts’ argument. And I wish both authors would pay more attention to the distinction between scientists (who need to do their best to be scrupulously objective) and science communicators (who need to be aware of, and respond to, the ways in which their audience will interpret the stories they are told about what scientists believe).
I think Politico’s Jonathan Martin must have been told, “write a piece in which prominent Republicans find as many possible ways to say ‘epistemic closure’ without ever actually using that phrase.” The result is pretty impressive: The GOP’s media cocoon.
Bring on the thesaurus:
- “a political-media coccoon that has become intellectually suffocating and self-defeating”
- “Pauline Kaelism”
- “the hermetically sealed bubble — except it’s not confined to geography but rather a self-selected media universe in which only their own views are reinforced and an alternate reality is reflected”
- “‘an era of on-demand reality‘”
- “‘We have become what the left was in the ’70s — insular.'”
- “…this reassuring pocket universe”
- “Like a political version of ‘Thelma and Louise,’ some far-right conservatives are in such denial that they’d just as soon keep on driving off the cliff than face up to a reality they’d rather not confront”
- “the choose-your-own-adventure news world”
- “‘Social media has made it easier to self-select…a universe… that is wedded to its own self-fulfilling prophecies‘”
- “‘Unfortunately, for us Republicans who want to rebuild this party, the echo chamber [now] is louder and more difficult to overcome'”
The article goes on to talk about the market forces that create and sustain this hermetically sealed information space, and how Republicans concerned with winning future elections might work to transcend it.
A couple of interesting articles I read over the past few days:
- Fox News’ dark night of the soul – Andrew O’Hehir apparently got the assignment of watching Fox News’ coverage on election night and cataloging what took place. Sounds… awesome.
- How Conservative Media Lost to the MSM and Failed the Rank and File – Conor Friedersdorf on how Nate Silver and his ilk at actual news outfits reported the race honestly and accurately, while those in the echo chamber pushed happy-gas and ended up shocked — shocked! — to find out that those egghead number-crunchers were better at predicting a complex phenomenon than they were.
So: The lesson of the day is that some experts actually know what they’re talking about, and a good way to tell them from those who don’t is to ask how they know what they know. Also, epistemic closure is a poor substitute for knowing statistics and consciously seeking to minimize bias.
I enjoyed this item that Craig Newmark (the Craigslist guy) posted to his craigconnects.org site recently: Fact-checkers are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. I particularly liked it because it called my attention to the full version of Chris Wallace’s interview of Jon Stewart that happened a while back. Making this version particularly interesting is that it’s the full interview, with a dimming/brightening effect used to show which parts were edited out or included when the interview aired on Fox. (Not trying to suggest that there was anything particularly nefarious or dishonest in the editing process. I just think it’s an interesting layer on top of the already-interesting discussion.)
Anyway, here’s part one:
And here’s part two:
David Roberts has been thinking about this question, “how do you solve a problem like Maria?” (where “Maria” is “the Romney’s campaign’s willingness to lie brazenly without regard to media fact checking”) longer and harder than I have, and he has some interesting thoughts on the matter: As Romney and Ryan lie with abandon, how should journalists navigate post-truth politics?
The whole piece is really quite fabulous. Here’s a small taste:
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post that, as far as I’ve been able to tell, coined the term post-truth politics. I also wrote a couple of follow-ups, here and here. After that, economist Paul Krugman adopted the term and it started bouncing around more and more. In just the past few weeks, it’s really taken off.
(My authorship of the term seems to have been lost to history; such are the wages of being an obscure niche blogger. Thanks to Alec MacGillis, at least, for giving me a shout-out!)
Regardless, I don’t care about ownership, I’m just happy that journalists and pundits are starting to seriously grapple with the issue itself.
Unfortunately, Roberts doesn’t have a solution. But in the “with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” tradition, he does have some obvious-to-him observations:
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I have no training in journalism. I was never taught to be even-handed or “neutral.” What training I have for what I do came from two places. The first was a whole lot of time spent with a large extended family in the South (Georgia, mostly) filled with raucous, hyper-verbal drunks with highly sensitive bullsh*t detectors and razor-sharp senses of humor. The second was grad school in philosophy.
In both places, I learned to love arguing, the mechanics of stringing facts and evidence together to reach conclusions. But I also learned that in real-life situations, the technically superior argument does not always carry the day. In real-life situations, the one that wins is the one with wit and timing, the one with the ability to employ mockery, flattery, flirting, storytelling, peer pressure, guile, and the whole array of other non-factual, non-logical communicative tools available to the human animal.
Traditional journalism, particularly in its post-war American variety, has purposefully denuded itself of most of those tools. The idea is “just the facts.” That can inform an argument, but it can’t win one. Journalists do not like to think of themselves as in an argument, as competing with, say, a campaign to convince the public of something. They still think of themselves as neutral arbiters of truth. But neither the campaigns nor the public view them that way any more.
What would it look like if journalists tried to win an argument with a campaign – an argument over, say, what Obama has done with state welfare waivers? For one thing, they wouldn’t just string together correct facts once and call it good. They would do it repeatedly. They would call out the campaign explicitly as acting in bad faith. They would mock and shame the campaign for its behavior.
This would be a serious departure for U.S. journalists. It would put them in an explicitly adversarial role with political operators – not the same operators all the time, not the same party every time, maybe, but not “neutral.” More like prosecutors working on behalf of the truth.
There are some interesting parallels between what Roberts is talking about and some other things I’ve been viewing and reading lately. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom on HBO (which just concluded its first season), imagined a fantasy version (Sorkin’s fantasy, I assume) of a news anchor who operates more as a prosecutor than a dispassionate observer. And Joe Romm’s book Language Intelligence (which I’ve been reading, and very much enjoying) goes into detail about the importance of rhetoric, of using language artfully to debate and persuade.
I come back to my comment from the other day: There’s something important going on here. How we as a society address this issue is going to have a big impact. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But I think it matters.
I thought this was cute: Cable news coverage, as summarized by TPM, in which newsfolk try terribly, terribly hard not to say, of Paul Ryan’s convention speech last night, “He lied.”
There was a brief flurry of media/blogger chatter this week about the fact that the Romney campaign’s advertising seems to be setting a new standard for, if not outright reprehensibility, at least a casually blatant dishonesty that manages to be noteworthy.
- Should the Press Shame Presidential Candidates for Lying – Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic.
- Our Hobbesian Future, Harry Reid Quintuples Down, and Mitt Romney Sure Does Lie a Lot, Doesn’t He? – In the first two items, Kevin Drum says it is self-evident that Harry Reid is probably lying when he says he has a source who knows that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years, and it really bothers him (Kevin Drum) to think that people on his side of the contest are willing to excuse that sort of thing. In the third item, he talks about the Romney campaign’s aforementioned willingness to blatantly lie in its campaign ads.
- Will Mitt Romney’s Bet on Lying Pay Off? – Ryan Cooper wonders if maybe, just maybe, the media’s willingness to describe lies as what they are (which is what Friedersdorf called for in that first item above) will actually lessen the effectiveness of dishonest advertising in this election cycle.
Skeptical jbc is skeptical.
The response to Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series The Newsroom has been, as they say, “mixed.” I knew that going in, and yet, I’ve kinda liked it. I see the things that the haters are complaining about, and yeah, I guess they bother me a bit. But I find myself really enjoying the show anyway.
Here are some people who have panned the show:
- Alyssa Rosenberg in the Atlantic
- Alessandra Stanley in the NYT
- Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker
- Sarah Nicole Prickett
- Maureen Ryan and Jace Lacob
- Alex Pareene
- the coquette
Here, on the other hand, are some people who enjoyed the show:
Among the people who hate it are several of whom I think pretty highly. In particular, Emily Nussbaum, whose anti-Sorkin views were published in the New Yorker, earned my undying affection when she wrote a love note to Lies.com back in the days of the Winona Ryder trial. So when I called this post, Why Don’t I Hate Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’? I really did mean it as a question. It wasn’t Why I Don’t Hate…
So, why don’t I hate it? I’ve come up with a few theories:
- I never watched The West Wing, or Sports Night, or any other Sorkin TV shows, so for me the rapid patter and walk-and-talk and smart-sounding people speaking wittily and earnestly to each other haven’t gotten old. Many of those criticizing The Newsroom accuse Sorkin of self-plagiarism; since I don’t know the original material he’s cribbing from, it doesn’t bother me.
- The sexism and assorted other insensitivities Sorkin is being accused of have tended to go over my head, since (like him) I’m a white, privileged, hetero male. If I were viewing the female characters on the show as stand-ins for myself, rather than as potential romantic interests who (according to detractors) exist mainly to be comically inept, then gaze admiringly at the show’s male characters with tears in their eyes, it probably would bother me more.
- I’m not a journalist, so I’m less sensitive to the ridiculousness of the over-the-top fantasy Sorkin has constructed. For viewers who are actual journalists, having his characters re-enact recent-past news stories, honing in with preternatural skill on the precise truth that took days to uncover in the real world, comes off as being either laughably unrealistic or insulting or both. But for me it’s not such a big deal. I get that it’s a fantasy, and a morality play, and Sorkin at times is revealing the limits of his own knowledge, in the same way The Social Network (which I did see) occasionally felt like a caricature, given my experience at Internet startups. But I enjoyed it anyway, because the human story was interesting, even if the setting sometimes felt less than completely real.
Reality is great. I love a nice, realistic portrayal on screen. But I also can enjoy a more stylized presentation. I’m a sucker for a big emotional arc, and can forgive a certain corniness in pursuit of it. In his interview with Terry Gross, Sorkin talked about that when Gross asked him about his time in rehab:
SORKIN: …as you mentioned, I got to this place, and there are these, as I call them, fortune cookie sayings on the wall like one day at a time, and, of course, the 12 steps, and that kind of thing. I’m not susceptible to that kind of thing. I have a much narrower mind than I ought to. But it was just going to be 28 days of penance.
What I wanted to be was a, you know, a good patient. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to have to stay extra days. I was going to do whatever they told me to do and do it well so I got out in time. But maybe 10 or 11 days into it, I just really started liking it, and it was really working, and I was just getting it.
And by my 27th of my 28 days, I was saying to my counselor: Are you sure it’s OK for me to go home? I can stay longer, if you want. And he told me to get out.
GROSS: But I’m kind of interested in, like, OK, so you don’t believe in fortune cookie sayings. You’re not susceptible to that stuff, but things like one day at a time took on a meaning for you. Did you learn anything as a writer about that, that things you might dismiss as being cliche, corny, a bromide can actually have meaning, have value?
SORKIN: Yeah. And I think that I – I think that that’s present in so many things that I write, that I will – I mean, I write corny, you know? But I feel like if you can execute corny well enough, you can still strike a chord in people. You’re taking a big swing at the ball. You’re swinging for the fences. So if you miss, you’re going to look bad missing, you know. And a lot of what I write about could be considered fortune-cookie wisdom.
The corny stuff in The Newsroom mostly works for me. For example, I really liked the “Fix You” montage at the end of episode 4. The emotion they went for in that sequence took a big risk. On some level, sure, it felt weird watching Will fist-pumping and exultantly shouting the F-word during coverage of a mass shooting (a queasiness that is even stronger in the aftermath of the Aurora killings). But it worked, at least for me.
The Newsroom often feels like a guilty pleasure, like a show that’s right on the edge of jumping the shark even though it’s only four episodes in. The love triangle between Maggie, Don, and Jim, for example, is so thoroughly evocative of Pam-Roy-Jim from The Office that I can’t help but think it’s intentional. (As does Rainn Wilson, apparently.) The Office didn’t invent that storyline, I realize, but there’s so much about The Newsroom’s version that is so close to it (the way Maggie and Jim are styled to look so much like Pam and Jim; the similarity of the name Jim Harper to Jim Halpert; the almost shot-for-shot fidelity to the earlier show in the sequence when Jim was walking over to comfort the sad Maggie, only to have Don swoop into the shot ahead of him, leaving us to watch Jim watching Don and Maggie in each other’s arms) that I could see myself almost writing it off as too cynical and manipulative to be valid.
Almost. But so far, that feeling hasn’t been able to overcome the crush I’ve had on Alison Pill since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If a show is going to give me Kim Pine finally having a chance to get the guy, I’m there. Just don’t make me wait too long for the proposal in the rain at the roadside rest stop.
For a more age-appropriate romance for this 50-year-old viewer, I’m also there for the Will/Mackenzie storyline. Like with Maggie/Kim/Pam, I think on some level I’m sucked into wanting to see the “perfect girl” from Notting Hill (another guilty pleasure) finally have her chance.
Anyway, my wife won’t let me talk about The Newsroom anymore, so I gushed here. You might hate it, you might like it, or there might be some of each. If you’ve seen it, I’m curious what you think.
My online existence seems to be increasingly YouTube-centric. There’s the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Guys Who Watch Girls, and the newest from Pomplamoose, Let’s Go for a Ride, including a brief (but awesome-sounding) tease of the new “electronicky” sound they’ve been working on.
But the most-compelling thing I’ve seen on YouTube lately is a one-off short film featuring Jennifer Garner and Alfred Molina called “Serena”:
It turns out that journalists have thought a lot about this whole question of whether it is or isn’t cool to lie to make your story more compelling. Weighing in on the Mike Daisey story are a bunch of journalists:
- Daisey Chain – Michael Schulman writing in the New Yorker.
- Fabulous Journalism – Felix Salmon writing for Reuters.
- Worse Than Kony2012: The Tragedy of Mike Daisey’s Lies About China – Max Fisher in the Atlantic.
- Theater, Disguised as Real Journalism – David Carr writing in the New York Times.
- Mr. Daisey and the Fact Factory – Scott Rosenberg writing at Grist.
And a few climate-obsessed non-journalists:
- Mike Daisey and Higher Truths – Roger Pielke Jr. on his blog.
- The Seduction of Narrative – Keith Kloor on his Collide-a-scape blog.
Having now listened to This American Life’s Retraction episode, I’m with Ira: Daisey has moved on from fooling his audience to fooling himself, if he thinks his contortions about “it’s theater not journalism, and I stand by it” are anything but self-serving special pleading.
The difference between journalism and theater are important, if for no other reason than this: Audiences have bullshit detectors, and once you’ve activated them you’ve lost the ability to persuade. In a hyper-connected era, going before an audience the size of This American Life’s means that for someone in that audience, your lies will be transparent, and that someone will have access to the same communication tools you used.
There’s a weird synchronicity in all these stories floating around lately about people, nominally good guys, trying to raise public awareness about nominal bad guys, but doing it by exaggerating or outright lying. When the nominal good guys succeed in raising that awareness, and a wider audience is suddenly up in arms about the nominal bad guys, what does it mean when it emerges that while those bad guys really are pretty bad, they’re actually not bad in the particular way or to the particular extent that the nominal good guys made them out to be?
The nominal good guys should have been more honest, right? Ideally, they would have raised awareness without resorting to deception. But what if being honest about the bad guys means that the narrative exposing their wrongdoing is not compelling enough to go viral and get the kind of traction that leads to real pressure for change? Is it okay in that case to stretch the truth a little, to embellish the storyline? Is it okay to stretch the truth a lot? Where do you draw that line? And if the nominal good guy does stretch the truth, only to have the deception come to light later on, is it all just “pearl clutching” for the nominal good guy’s nominal allies to call foul at that point?
I don’t actually know the answers to any of these questions. I’m curious what you think. In particular, I’m curious about the following three cases:
Jason Russell: This is the guy who made the “KONY 2012″ video via his nonprofit, Invisible Children, Inc.:
I still have not watched KONY 2012, though with 81 million YouTube views (and counting), I’m apparently one of the few who can say that. Among those who have viewed it, there exists a subset of people who have checked into the claims it makes, and pointed out that while this Kony guy really is a legitimately bad guy, the monstrous depiction in the video glosses over or outright misstates some important facts. Like, Kony is not currently operating in Uganda, and hasn’t been since 2005. He doesn’t have an army of 30,000 child soldiers; that number in the video apparently was based on an estimate of his actions over several decades. And so on.
From an article by Demian Bulwa in sfgate.com (Kony video quickly raises awareness, skepticism):
In a response to criticism on its website, Invisible Children highlighted its education and rehabilitation programs in the region and said it had “sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format.
“In a 30-minute film,” the group said, “many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked. The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper.”
Sean Darling-Hammond, a 27-year-old student at the law school, said he was becoming skeptical about all the skepticism.
“Criticizing the efforts of others has become the currency of relevance in social media,” he said. “If this video had been about the group’s cotton project in Africa, they would have gotten 200 views. The sad reality is that narrative sells, and catch-the-bad-guy is a classic narrative.”
I guess. But apparently the stress of his newfound success in selling a not-quite-factual bad-guy narrative — or maybe the pushback from people who want to hold the video to a higher standard of accuracy — has been having a negative impact on filmmaker Jason Russell. From the NYT (Police Detain Maker of Uganda Video):
SAN DIEGO – A co-founder of Invisible Children, the nonprofit organization whose video “Kony 2012” has become an Internet sensation, was detained by the San Diego police on Thursday, after they said he was found in the street in his underwear, screaming and interfering with traffic.
The police found Jason Russell, the filmmaker behind the video, after responding to calls about a man who was acting irrationally, including one call that alleged he was naked and masturbating, a San Diego police spokeswoman said. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation and treatment, and the police have no plans to charge him.
“It’s our belief that a medical condition would explain his irrational behavior as opposed to criminal intent,” said Lt. Andra Brown, the spokeswoman. “If we thought he was under the influence, we wouldn’t have taken him to a hospital; we would have taken him to jail.”
The 30-minute “Kony 2012” video has been viewed nearly 80 million times on YouTube since March 5. It has thrust a sudden celebrity upon Mr. Russell, 33, who narrates the video and appears in it with his young son, appealing to viewers to bring more attention to the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and advocating his arrest.
That success has brought criticism of Invisible Children for the way it spends its money, for a photograph of its founders, including Mr. Russell, holding rifles, and for other matters.
That criticism took its toll on Mr. Russell, according to his wife, Danica Russell, who released a statement Friday.
While the attention the film has drawn has brought increased awareness of Mr. Kony, Ms. Russell said, “it also brought a lot of attention to Jason — and because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard.”
Mike Daisey: Because I’ve switched to mostly telecommuting lately, I don’t listen to nearly as much This American Life. As a result, I missed an episode, aired back in January, in which
reporter thesbian Mike Daisey gave a first-person account of his investigation into the surreal and horrible working conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturing company where my iPhone was probably made.
The episode became the most-downloaded TAL episode ever, and apparently played a role in a massive petition campaign that pressured Apple into pressuring (some) of its Asian suppliers into improving working conditions for (some) employees, or (some)thing.
Except it turns out that many of the “facts” narrated by Daisey were not, in fact, factual. This weekend’s This American Life episode consists of an apology, including a detailed account of what went wrong: Retraction. See also this blog post (and attached press release) from TAL host Ira Glass: RETRACTING “MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY”.
Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey’s monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple’s audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.
“It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou,” Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. “I’ve interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during his trip.”
In Schmitz’s report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating these characters.
“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” Daisey tells Schmitz and Glass. “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”
Daisey’s interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey’s story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey’s iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:
“He’s never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, “he says it’s a kind of magic.””
Cathy Lee tells Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.
Here’s Daisey’s response, as posted on his personal blog (Statement on TAL):
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic - not a theatrical - enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.
Peter Gleick: You don’t really need me to summarize this, right? Just go back and read the last 50,000 words of drivel I’ve spewed in this blog. Note that for the purposes of the current comparison, I’m crediting Gleick with having forged the 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy memo. I’m also crediting him with having created at least some degree of heightened public awareness of what Heartland is up to, awareness that would have been less if he hadn’t “sexed up” his document leak with the forged memo.
So, here’s my actual question: Were these guys (Russell, Daisey, and Gleick) in any sense right to do what they did? All appear to have been willing to deceive the public as part of crafting a more-compelling narrative fiction. And in each case it appears to have worked (at least in a certain sense). Their acts of public deception gave their stories “legs,” making it so more people heard about them, were outraged by what they heard, and were motivated to pass the stories on. The fictions contributed to, and may actually have been essential to, the stories “going viral.”
With the benefit of hindsight, was that a good thing? Is the “it’s not journalism; it’s theater” defense valid?
From the Columbia Journalism Review, here’s a nice article that goes into detail on both journalistic ethics and legal issues as they relate to Gleick’s actions: Heartland, Gleick, and Media Law.
Thanks to nomatter_nevermind for the link.
I have a substantive post on the Heartland thing that I plan to write shortly, but in the meantime here’s another massive roundup of the latest stuff I’ve been reading, including some quoting of myself from various blogs’ comments.
Climate stuff unrelated to Heartland:
- Understanding the Global Warming Debate (Warren Meyer in his Forbes blog) shcb pointed this out in the comments to a previous item, and I have to admit: I liked it. It was lucid, informative, and even if I don’t necessarily buy into all the conclusions he comes to, I appreciated his approach. So thanks, shcb. I learned something.
- Concerned Scientists Reply on Global Warming (Wall Street Journal) This is the response of the original group of 16 scientists who had the contrarian op-ed in the WSJ, responding to some of the letters to the editor questioning their more-dubious statements. Definitely worth reading, and in the alternate universe in which I am not consumed with the Heartland strategy memo I would totally have things to say about their graph purporting to show IPCC projections versus actual temperature rise.
- Bickmore on the WSJ response (Barry Bickmore writing at RealClimate) Fortunately, Barry Bickmore had time to say some of the things I would have said about the graph in the WSJ, along with a bunch of other things.
Mainstream media (and media-related) stories:
- Berkeley-based scientist causes ethics storm over climate change documents (Mercury News)
- Media’s Weird Ethics: Pretending to Be Someone Else Is Worse Than Facilitating Global Catastrophe (Jim Naureckas in FAIR’s blog) Makes the case that the standard under which Gleick is being criticized, but Heartland gets a pass, is kind of a new thing for journalists, who used to be more comfortable with using deception in order to uncover wrongdoing.
Information from Heartland itself:
- Heartland president details curriculum questioning climate science (Politico) News item about a video interview Joseph Bast (Heartland’s president) did with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal about the education program revelations in the document leak. Besides making some statements that I have a hard time interpreting as anything but bald-faced lies, Bast says a bunch of more-reasonable stuff. He also accuses Peter Gleick directly of forging the strategy memo. Here’s the video itself: The Purloined Climate Papers.
- Heartland Institute Releases Peter Gleick Emails Detailing Fraud, Identity Theft (Heartland press release)
- fakegate.org (Heartland) A website that includes redacted versions of the emails in which Gleick impersonated the Heartland board member in order to obtain the legitimate documents. Interesting stuff, and helps put a specific timeline in place for at least some of the events. Interestingly, the phishing operation by Gleick came in the wake of an email exchange in which Heartland unsuccessfully solicited Gleick’s participation in a debate at their anniversary benefit dinner.
- Peter Gleick: Climate Hero? (Marc Gunther) Excellent summary of the situation, including what I think was a very insightful take on the problem represented by those Gleick supporters who are going overboard in his defense. (More on that in the aforementioned upcoming post.)
From a comment I put on Gunther’s blog post:
Can you elaborate on why you believe Gleick’s account of the events strains credulity? I’ve been intrigued by the “honeypot” theory from the beginning of this story; the first thing I thought when I heard Heartland’s response to the leak (in which they focused their outrage on the forged “2012 strategy memo”) was, “Oh, just like the Killian documents” (those being the forged documents allegedly showing George W. Bush malfeasance in his National Guard days, the publication of which ended the career of Dan Rather). I dismissed the thought just as quickly, though, because it didn’t seem to make sense: I could see the forged strategy memo being leaked by a Heartland-connected trickster in order to attack the recipient for using a forged document when it became public, but I couldn’t see them also including the legitimate documents, which really were embarrassing and probably made their donors quite unhappy.
When Gleick made his confession the following week, though, it suddenly became a viable theory again, because it matched up nicely with his version of events: The anonymous source who supplied him the forged memo did not anticipate that Gleick would have been enterprising enough to obtain the legitimate documents via his phishing attempt. Of course, given that Gleick was no doubt feeling the heat by this point, it could be that his version of events fitting nicely with the honeypot theory is just another layer of deception, in which he attempts to construct a plausible villain to deflect (some) culpability from himself.
Your other comments, I think, were spot on. Thanks for being a beacon of reason in the midst of what is becoming quite the stormy sea of its opposite.
Gunther replied via email with a thoughtful response, but since he didn’t choose to make it publicly I’ll keep it private.
- The Heartland Strategy Memo (Keith Kloor at Collide-a-scape)
Kloor gave a good summary and list of links relating to the strategy memo, and ended with this:
For those inclined to take Gleick at his word–that the memo was mailed to him by a Heartland insider–what do you make of Otto’s musing about about it being a Heartland set-up? Lastly, what would it take for Gleick himself to end all this speculation?
I responded in the lengthy comment thread with this:
I agree that the “Gleick’s fingerprints are all over the strategy memo” meme has been overstated by some. People taking Heartland’s side in this have been quick to dismiss the “honeypot” scenario out of hand as preposterous. But if Gleick had received the memo in the mail as he said, and if it had been forged by someone with access to the internal Heartland documents who was carrying out a scam targeting Gleick, then the facts that the memo contained errors (making it easily deniable as a forgery by Heartland) and Gleick-esque “fingerprints” (making Gleick easily “discoverable” as the source) would be unremarkable. Those would be exactly the things that such an attacker would want to include in the forged memo.
I’m not saying that exonerates Gleick. That would be as ludicrous as those currently arguing that the strategy memo is, in fact, legitimate. All I’m saying is that given that the memo is a forgery, either explanation (it was forged by Gleick to “sex up” the release of the phished documents, or it was forged by someone with access to internal Heartland documents who was targeting Gleick) can account for the characteristics of the memo more or less equally.
For Gleick to end this speculation would take one of two things: confess to being the forger, or produce compelling evidence to support his version of the timeline, in which he received the forged memo before he obtained the phished documents from Heartland.
See also BobN’s comment, which includes this:
Now, on the final theory of it being some sort of “honeypot” or “false flag” ploy to sucker Gleick, I first thought such an idea was out-of-hand crazy, but upon further reflection don’t think it can be fully ruled out. Now I don’t think such a ploy would have been done with the knowledge or approval of Heartland (including Joe Bast), but could have been done by an individual within Heartland.
If we accept Gleick’s statement that he received the document via mail before he went phishing for the board documents and that he made no alterations to the document, then it had to have been written by someone with access to drafts of the board documents. Now let say you’re a blogger that has been in a bit of back and forth with Gleick so you know his hot button issues, and are communication professional that can pick out writing styles and idiosyncrasies. You think “Let me gin up a fake document sure to get Gleick riled up and see if I can get him to release it to the press”, with the idea that Heartland will then be able claim it is a fake document, perhaps even proving it by releasing appropriately-redacted versions of the real documents and making Gleick look bad. But, unexpectedly, Gleick doesn’t just release the fake document, he goes one better and fraudulently obtains the real documents and releases the whole thing, not only making himself look bad, but basically putting his entire career and credibility at risk. Definitely seems somewhat far-fetched, but I believe that it is at least plausible. Let’s face it there are just so many things about this whole affair that are hard to explain logically.
- Evaluation shows “Faked” Heartland Climate Strategy Memo is Authentic (Brenden DeMelle and Richard Littlemore at DeSmogBlog) In fairness, I ought to put a BULLSHIT warning on this one. More on that in the next post.
- “Faked” Heartland Institute Doc is Authentic (Greg Laden) More in the next post.
- An online and open exercise in stylometry/textometry: Crowdsourcing the Gleick “Climate Strategy Memo” authorship (Anthony Watts on his Watt’s Up With That blog) A mostly tongue-in-cheek (I think) post suggesting Watts’ followers use a particular software package to do content analysis of the strategy memo. Hilarity ensues in the comments. But an interesting idea. I was thinking of doing some playing around with the software myself, except that judging from the results produced so far it’s not really a very useful approach. But fun.
- The most likely author of the Heartland Institute climate strategy memo? (Shawn Lawrence Otto at Neorenaissance) Otto runs the software suggested by Watt, and comes up with: Joe Bast, Heartland’s president. Kind of funny, but also extremely sketchy from a methodological standpoint.
- Is the Heartland “Strategy Memo” a Fake? Let’s try using science! (Greg Laden) Laden repeats Otto’s experiment with slightly different inputs and equally shoddy methodology, and finds that actually, the strategy memo was authored by two different people at Heartland (I think?) Show me less than impressed. More discussion of the larger significance of stuff like this in the future post.
- Recent Developments at the Heartland Institute (Kate at Climatesight) A really nice summary of the incident, including commentary on what we know so far, though with a few shortcomings (see below).
My first comment on Kate’s post (slightly edited to clean up some mistakes and poor word choices in the original):
Given the current climate (hah! pun!) surrounding this issue, it’s probably worthwhile for me to preface what I’m about to say with the following: 1) I accept the scientific consensus on climate change, 2) I’m a regular reader of your blog and a fan of most of what you have to say on the subject, and 3) I think the Heartland Institute is populated by ideologues with a demonstrated willingness to lie in the service of their agenda, which I think is a misguided and dangerous one.
With all that said, I think you should take a closer look at a few aspects of the position you’ve taken in this post.
First, you appear to be accepting as factual Peter Gleick’s account of his own actions. Under the circumstances, more skepticism might be warranted. He’s acknowledged behaving unethically (at least) in impersonating a Heartland board member in order to obtain their internal materials, then releasing those materials anonymously. He faces the possibility of criminal and/or civil legal jeopardy as a result, and is presumably receiving skilled advice on public relations and the crafting of his public statements in order to achieve the strongest possible legal position going forward. Given that, I think it’s worth treating his account of those aspects of the situation that cannot be independently verified as being at best provisionally true.
Second, I’m very dubious about the claim coming from DeMelle and Littlemore at DeSmogBlog that the “2012 Strategy Memo” is authentic. A lot of people have looked closely at that document, and while there is predictable divergence in the ways that supporters and detractors of Heartland tend to view it, I think the claim that the document is an actual internal Heartland document created for the purpose of planning their strategy for addressing climate change is very hard to support. I recommend the comments written about the document by Megan McArdle last week as a starting point, but in summary, the document has a number of factual errors, some odd phrasings, and an odd focus on Gleick himself and his role at Forbes, all of which are very hard to reconcile with the document being what it purports to be.
DeMelle and Littlemore’s analysis does show something that I think is obvious: Whoever created the document had access to the real Heartland documents that accompanied it in the leak, since there are many correspondences, and whole passages copied word for word, that are in both. But I think the claim by Heartland that the 2012 strategy memo is in some sense a fake is very likely to be true.
If the strategy memo is a forgery, and was created by someone who had access to the real internal Heartland documents, why was it created, and by whom? There are two possible explanations that I think can account for the known facts adequately:
1) The strategy document was forged by Gleick after he received the legitimate documents via his phishing attack on Heartland. He created it in order to have a more dramatic, quotable version of Heartland saying the kinds of things that would be damaging to their reputation, and that would enhance his own. In effect, he “sexed up” the document release.
2) The strategy document was forged by someone connected with Heartland with the specific intent of leaking it to Gleick. The hope was that Gleick would believe the document was genuine, and would either release it openly or leak it anonymously. Once that had happened, Heartland could expose it as a forgery (pointing to the subtle but significant factual errors it contains) and accuse Gleick himself of being its author (based on their knowledge that he had, in fact, been the recipient, and with the added support of the Gleick-specific information included in the document). Note that in this scenario it is not necessary for the Heartland-connected trickster to have intended that Gleick would obtain the legitimate documents via his phishing attempt. I think it very unlikely that the forger would have done that. I assume that the plan, if there was one, was limited to leaking the strategy memo to Gleick.
If Gleick has compelling evidence to support his stated version of the timeline, in which he received the strategy memo first, and only obtained the phished documents later, I would conclude that scenario #2 is probably the truth. If he can’t produce that evidence, I think either scenario is equally likely.
Aside from those two things (your assumption that Gleick’s account is true, and your endorsement of the idea that the strategy memo is authentic), I found your post interesting and informative. Thanks for posting it.
A user named Miken commented later:
I think it is more likely that Gleick is lying, and he is the author of the fake memo.
This prompted the following comment from me (again, slightly edited to clean up some mistakes):
Gleick-as-forger certainly has fewer moving parts than Gleick-as-victim, and might be preferable for that reason alone, all else being equal. But I’m bothered by a few things.
To believe Gleick-as-forger, we need to believe that Gleick, having obtained the real documents, would have thought it was a good idea to forge the strategy memo and release it along with them. He would have to have realized that Heartland would immediately know the strategy memo was fake, and would prominently denounce it as such, shifting the media narrative in the way that has actually happened. Would he have considered that a worthwhile risk? Also, with the forged memo’s prominent mention of Gleick, he would have been planting a neon-sign piece of evidence pointing directly at himself as possibly being connected with the leak. Wouldn’t that have seemed like a bad idea to him? I can’t know what would have been going through his head at that point, but to the extent I try to imagine how I would behave in those circumstances, planting evidence that mentioned me specifically would have been the last thing I would have wanted to do.
In the Gleick-as-victim scenario, these particular problems go away (though other problems take their place). He included the forged strategy memo in the release because he believed, based on the confirming facts in the phished documents, that it was legitimate. We still have to believe that Gleick overlooked those aspects of the strategy memo that quickly raised questions as to its authenticity when it was made public. But I have an easier time accepting that than accepting that he would have knowingly run the risk of forging the document and including it in the release.
There’s another, more subtle problem that I have with the Gleick-as-forger scenario. It doesn’t seem to fit the little I know of Gleick’s personality (though granted, even the behavior he’s admitted seems shockingly out of character, as others who know him have said). To believe Gleick-as-forger, we need to believe that he decided, on his own and without provocation (other than Heartland’s history of known activities), to impersonate a Heartland board member, obtain their internal documents, forge a sexier version of the information contained in them, and leak all that anonymously to the public. That doesn’t sound like what a scientist would do. I know that what he’s admitted to doesn’t sound like what a scientist would do, either, but it’s not nearly as over-the-top scheming and dishonest as this.
Now consider the Gleick-as-victim scenario: He is taken out of his normal day-to-day habits by the receipt of the forged memo. What does he think? He is dubious about its authenticity, but if legitimate it is truly shocking information that really needs to be made public. But how can he corroborate it? He frets, tries to weigh the options in his mind. Under the circumstances, would attempting to obtain confirming documents from Heartland be justified? He agonizes, and eventually concludes that yes, it is. So he does that, and succeeds in obtaining the real documents. He goes through them, looking for corroboration. And it’s there! Numerous specific pieces of information in the strategy memo are present in the legitimate documents. Oh my God! The strategy memo is real!
In his excitement he overlooks the discrepancies, and doesn’t stop to consider the possibility that he’s being conned. He is, after all, someone who really isn’t experienced with those sorts of political dirty tricks. He’s naive. He’s flustered. He’s out of his comfort zone. And he decides that since he has this smoking gun, he really should release it. So he does.
For me to believe Gleick-as-forger, I have to believe Gleick was stupid. For me to believe Gleick-as-victim, I only have to believe he was naive and showed bad judgement under pressure. The latter is more consistent with my (possibly stereotyped) notions of how a prominent scientist might behave in these circumstances.
Granted, Gleick-as-victim requires a Heartland-connected operative willing to initiate a fairly elaborate dirty trick. Maybe it’s because I’m cynical and have been kind of a collector of political dirty tricks like this for a number of years, but that sounds credible to me. And maybe it’s due to my stereotyped view of the kind of people associated with Heartland, but again, they seem to me like the kind of people who might include someone who would come up with a plan like that.
Again, Gleick-as-forger has fewer moving parts, and I need to consider that my own sympathies tend to be with Gleick, rather than Heartland, which distorts my own judgement in his favor. So that’s how I come up with my current sense that either scenario is equally likely. Your mileage (obviously) will vary.
Sorry to ramble on. I’ve been thinking about this too much, probably. But it’s the kind of thing I find interesting.
I have to confess, taking a deep dive into the comment sections of some conservative blogs over the last few days as part of following the Heartland story has been educational, if fairly off-putting. It brings home to me something I already knew, but had tended to wall off from my day-to-day existence: The more-rabid parts of the conservative blogosphere are a pretty horrific place. I’m sure the rabid lefties are bad, too, but man, it’s ugly out there.
I realize it’s not just the blogs; this is a phenomenon that cuts across all media. Case in point: Fox News, where the willingness to just outright lie without shame is fairly striking. Take this example: Fox News apparently ran a segment about how rising gas prices represent a political problem for Obama. They wanted to illustrate the segment with a chart of gas prices, so they consulted the dataset represented by the following graph:
Gas prices are certainly rising, but the visual impact of the image, with last year’s bump prominently above the current price, wasn’t quite punchy enough for them. No problem: They just cherry-picked their way around the troublesome datapoints, and displayed the information via this graph:
There you go; much better. Also, completely misleading. More at Media Matters: Fox Still Struggling With Basic Chart Concepts: Gas Price Edition.
Given the tendency of modern Republicans to trust and obtain their information only from Fox, is it any wonder that their view of things like climate science is completely FUBAR?
Oh, while we’re on the topic of gas prices, Stuart Staniford’s take on this is informative. See: Life on the Plateau.
I can confidently predict that any resulting political debate will have very little to do with the actual causes – the plateauing of global crude oil production since 2005. But none the less the story does vindicate those of us who’ve been saying for a number of years that this would be an effect of the plateau – whenever the economy starts to improve – as it has in the last quarter – oil prices would have a tendency to increase and start to choke off the improvement.
In particular, this means that future growth in the US economy is highly contingent on it becoming more oil efficient.
Reading Staniford is like a breath of fresh — depressing, but fresh — air after being down in the fever swamp for a few days. God, I’m glad I spend most of my time in the reality-based community.
I haven’t posted about this yet, though I’ve been following it from the get-go (obviously). But at this point it’s made the jump to mainstream news, so here goes. From the the NYT: Leak Offers Glimpse of Campaign Against Climate Science:
Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.
The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.
The documents first appeared on anti-denialist blogs after reportedly being emailed to the blogs’ operators by someone going by the name of “Heartland Insider”. The Heartland Institute itself, after taking a day to prepare a response, is now saying that the documents were obtained by a social-engineering hack in which someone phoned them, identified himself or herself as a donor with a recently-changed email address, and requested that the documents be emailed to the new address. For myself, I think it’s quite credible both that someone would have used that approach and that Heartland would have fallen for it. That’s social engineering 101.
One of the documents, a two-page memo headed “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy, has been described by Heartland as “a total fake”, though presumably the rest of the 100-page release is legitimate.
The question of whether the strategy memo is, in fact, a fake, is interesting to me. It certainly seems possible. The document has PDF metadata that differs from that of the other documents, indicating that it was created via a different process and at a different time. Of course, that information was visible to Heartland as well as everyone else once the documents were published, which means Heartland had time to notice and (perhaps) craft the “total fake” line as a way of trying to muddy the waters. Or it could be true that that document was indeed a fake, added to the mix by the leaker in an effort to distill some of the juicier tidbits from the rest of the documents (with which the strategy memo is more or less consistent) into a more readily-digestible format.
I think I’m inclined to go with Heartland on this part of the story, mostly because the claim that the memo is a fake raises the stakes. If the memo is legitimate, then presumably others among Heartland’s board and donors have copies of it as well, which means it would only take one of them to blow the whistle on the Institute’s lie. I wouldn’t put it past Heartland to take that risk, but the benefits of disowning that one document don’t really seem worth it to me. It’s easier for me to think that the malicious hacker who leaked the memos (who was already running a significant criminal risk as a result of the social engineering, assuming that part of Heartland’s story is true), was willing to try to juice the news value of the story via the additional fabrication.
That still leaves the rest of the damning information untouched, though. It’s not like it’s really news that prominent voices in the denialist community have been quietly getting money from Heartland (Craig Idso, $11,600 per month; Fred Singer, $5,000 per month, etc.), but it still puts the discussion on a different level to have the numbers from Heartland’s own budget. And there’s this (from the NYT article):
Heartland’s latest idea, the documents say, is a plan to create a curriculum for public schools intended to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and budgeted at $200,000 this year. The curriculum would claim, for instance, that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”
I loved the Times’ response:
It is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however.
This is from a straight news story, people. Damn those pesky facts, with their well-known liberal bias. Kudos to the Times and its reporters for resisting the journalistically lazy practice of granting false equivalence to both “sides” of a scientific “controversy” that is not, in fact, scientifically controversial.
Moving on, I suspect this is the part that is most worrisome for Heartland:
The documents raise questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. For instance, the documents outline “Operation Angry Badger,” a plan to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections and related fights this year in Wisconsin over the role of public-sector unions.
Tax lawyers said Wednesday that tax-exempt groups were allowed to undertake some types of lobbying and political education, but that because they are subsidized by taxpayers, they are prohibited from direct involvement in political campaigns.
For them to lose their tax-exempt status for engaging in political activity would definitely hurt them (while helping the rest of humanity). So I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that part.
- Steve Zwick in Forbes: Heartland Feels The Heat Over Anti-Science Climate Change Strategy
- David Atkins at Hullabaloo: Climate Hacking Hypocrisy
- Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones: Internal Heartland Institute Email Blasts “Lamestream Media” for Climate Leak
On to the comments. Unleash the hounds!
Update: Megan McCardle in The Atlantic makes a fairly convincing case for the strategy memo being, in fact, fake: Leaked Docs From Heartland Institute Cause a Stir—but Is One a Fake? She points out several things I hadn’t noticed in my quick read-through of the whole packet, but which seem in hindsight to be strongly suggestive of fakery by an ideological opponent of Heartland. Also, she updates the posting with an observation that comes close to being a smoking gun: The mischaracterization of Koch’s funding in the strategy memo (but only in the strategy memo), as being for anti-global-warming advocacy, rather than for healthcare advocacy, as seems to be the case based on the legitimate documents.
Speaking of alleged scientific conspiracies, I came across a cool item yesterday: A recent study published by the British Journal of Social Psychology: Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire. Here’s the abstract:
We advance a new account of why people endorse conspiracy theories, arguing that individuals use the social-cognitive tool of projection when making social judgements about others. In two studies, we found that individuals were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they thought they would be willing, personally, to participate in the alleged conspiracies. Study 1 established an association between conspiracy beliefs and personal willingness to conspire, which fully mediated a relationship between Machiavellianism and conspiracy beliefs. In Study 2, participants primed with their own morality were less inclined than controls to endorse conspiracy theories – a finding fully mediated by personal willingness to conspire. These results suggest that some people think ‘they conspired’ because they think ‘I would conspire’.
I wonder if this is a factor in things like the Republican propensity to argue that we need poll restrictions (that just happen to benefit Republicans) because of voter fraud (that turns out not to exist), whilst the cases of actual voter fraud that turn up frequently involve Republicans rigging the game for their own benefit. In other words, they may be inclined to believe there is a Democratic conspiracy to cheat them at the polls precisely because they know that they themselves are willing to cheat.
I suspect this is a factor in the Great Media Conspiracy as well. You probably heard about that recent poll from Public Policy Polling (PPP) that gauged respondents’ trust vs. distrust of different media outlets. Kevin Drum ran a nifty chart last week that highlighted a key part of the results: that Republicans tend to trust Fox News and distrust every other media outlet, while Democrats and Independents believe the opposite, that media outlets are generally trustworthy except for Fox. I liked Kevin’s chart, but I wanted to see the Democrat and Independent numbers in the same format, so I made my own version:
The numbers show, for each media outlet and party affiliation, the percentage of respondents who trust that source minus the percentage who distrust that source. I’ve arranged them in descending order of Independent-voter trust. There are a few interesting things that strike me about this:
- Independents really like PBS. Apparently Jim Lehrer’s reassuring drone really works for them.
- Most Republicans these days apparently buy into the grand conspiracy theory of Sarah Palin’s “Lamestream Media”: It’s not just that a particular media outlet is biased against them; it’s all of them (except Fox).
All of which brings me back to that study I was talking about at the beginning: I wonder if Republicans are willing to believe that all those different media outlets, with their hundreds of nominally independent reporters and editors and producers, are engaged in a colossal conspiracy against them, mainly because Republicans themselves (or at least, the people who run their preferred media outlet) are so clearly willing to twist the truth in the service of ideology.
Here’s a really good piece by Dahlia Lithwick on how the mainstream media (in particular, whining-head political pundits) have rendered themselves irrelevant by willfully misconstruing the message of Occupy Wall Street: How OWS confuses and ignores Fox News and the pundit class.
Dale McGowan explains (in an otherwise worthwhile piece that I’m not going to focus on here) how he helped his 9-year-old daughter deal with the fear that resulted from her having heard about Christian radio-show host Harold Camping’s (latest) prediction that the world would end soon:
I looked her in the eye. “When you’re trying to figure out what to believe, a good way to start is to just ask why other people believe it, then decide whether it’s a good reason.”
We can apply this approach to the question of whether human activity is altering the climate, and whether that alteration is dangerous. For example, today USA Today ran an editorial (Our view: America, pick your climate choices) that basically equates climate change deniers with birthers:
Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.
Coincidentally, USA TODAY’s Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia.
Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the “birthers,” who continue to challenge President Obama’s American citizenship – a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.
Nothing much new here (as the editorial points out). But they also did something interesting: They ran an “opposing view” piece by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) arguing the opposite position. See Inhofe’s view: All pain, no gain.
Not too long ago, President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress proudly announced that America would lead the fight against global warming by passing a cap-and-trade bill. But despite overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress in 2009, Democrats barely found the votes to get the proposal through the House, and Senate Democrats never even brought it up for a vote.
The reason is simple. Cap-and-trade is designed to make the energy we use more expensive. Consider President Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who said in 2008, “Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” That’s about $7 to $8 a gallon.
What the Democrats have since learned is that the American public is more skeptical of the science of global warming than at anytime over the past decade. Frank Newport of Gallup stated earlier this year, “Americans’ attitudes toward the environment show a public that over the last two years has become less worried about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are already happening, and more likely to believe that scientists themselves are uncertain about its occurrence.”
I encourage you to read Inhofe’s whole piece. There are some additional arguments in it, mainly that if the US pursues cap-and-trade pricing on carbon it will simply shift carbon emissions to other countries and actually increase those emissions.
So, I put it to you: Just on the basis of these two pieces, which side in the debate is making the stronger argument?
USA Today editorial board: the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group is straightforward and unequivocal in stating that “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.”
Jim Inhofe: Congress has failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation, despite Democratic majorities, because the electorate is worried about the effect it would have on gas prices. Meanwhile, the American people’s concerns about global warming have diminished over the past decade.
Hm. I wonder which argument should carry more weight as I try to assess whether climate change poses a significant risk? I could listen to the scientists who study climate. Or I could listen to politicians who receive massive campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, and consumers concerned about the price of gas. I wonder which of those groups has a better take on what’s going to happen with climate?
Tim Goodman, TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter, continues the discussion of how bad CNN’s Japan coverage has been: Japan disaster shows U.S. journalists unprepared.
Covering this trilogy of terror in Japan really underscores how much better prepared reporters and anchors need to be. The incessantly simplistic and embarrassing questions need to stop. Someone needs to tamp down runaway speculation. Also, the attention on the Middle East in past years has dulled producers’ sense of keeping experts from Asia on the source list.
It’s a shame that going online to watch videos from NHK, BBC and Al Jazeera English was far and away the best option for Americans.