|The Week That Was
Sept. 4, 2004
1. New on the Web: EXPLOSIVE GROWTH HAS MADE CHINA THE MOST
POWER-HUNGRY NATION ON EARTH. GET READY FOR THE MASS-PRODUCED, MELTDOWN-PROOF
FUTURE OF NUCLEAR ENERGY. MODULAR PEBBLE-BED
REACTORS THAT CAN ALSO PRODUCE HYDROGEN BY THERMAL DISSOCIATION
2. IS BALANCED SCIENCE REPORTING A SIGN OF BIAS?
3. CLIMATE WARMING INDICATED BY MODELS ONLY -- NOT BY ACTUAL DATA:
A Blow to the IPCC Conclusion
4. HYPOTHESIS VERSUS TRUTH: A LESSON FOR TODAY'S DEBATE
2. Is Balanced Science Reporting Sign Of Bias?
Space Daily, 30 Aug 2004 http://www.spacedaily.com/news/climate-04zzs.html
Boulder CO (UPI) Aug 30, 2004. When the media reports on global warming,
efforts to strike a balance by examining both sides can turn into bias.
Two researchers argue, in a paper published this month in the journal
Global Environmental Change, that following the norms of American journalism,
U.S. media have promulgated a bias in the coverage of climate change --
essentially by giving too much credence to climate skeptics at the expense
of the scientific consensus.
Maxwell T. Boykoff, a doctoral candidate in environmental studies at the
University of California-Santa Cruz, and his brother, Jules M. Boykoff,
of the Department of Government at American University, wrote, U.S. prestige-press
coverage of global warming from 1988 to 2002 has contributed to a significant
divergence of popular discourse from scientific discourse ... the prestige
press's adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both
anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.
Not everyone agrees with that conclusion. Frank Maisano, director of strategic
communications with the law firm of Bracewell & Patterson and former
spokesman for the industry-backed Global Climate Coalition, told United
Press International, The way I look at it, I think reporters have given
the global warming 'certainty' even more credibility than it deserves.
Max Boykoff told UPI the effort to achieve balance in reporting about
global warming leads to an over-emphasis on the viewpoint of a few skeptics,
while the scientific community presents a strong consensus that the globe
is warming and human activities are largely responsible. In light of general
agreement (sic) in the international scientific community that mandatory
and immediate action is needed, coverage has been seriously and systematically
deficient, Max Boykoff said. "In effect, the press has provided 'balanced'
coverage of a very unbalanced issue.
He said a content analysis of four main U.S. newspapers, the New York
Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, from
1988 to 2002 showed there was a significant dissonance between the media
and the discourse in science. The Boykoffs looked at 636 articles written
over the 14-year period, 41 percent of which were from the New York Times,
29 percent from the Washington Post, 25 percent from the Los Angeles Times
and 5 percent from the Wall Street Journal.
They found 52.7 percent of the articles gave roughly equal attention to
the view that humans contribute to global warming along with the view
that climate change is exclusively the result of natural fluctuations.
About a third emphasized the role of humans, while presenting both sides
of the debate. The remaining 12 percent or so were split between the skeptical
view that anthropogenic warming exists or its reverse, that humans exclusively
are contributing to the warming temperatures.
So what's wrong with that? The Boykoffs' view is that only the second
category -- the third emphasizing the role of humans while admitting some
uncertainty -- accurately reflects scientific thinking about warming.
I find it absolutely outrageous, Maisano said. He said despite the ballyhooed
consensus, there remains considerable debate in the scientific community
about important areas of climate science -- so there is nothing biased
about reporting it. My whole philosophy is that this thing is completely
off base in the first place, because there are so many complexities to
climate change, Maisano said.
He cited NASA scientist James Hansen, who basically is credited with discovering
global warming but since 1998 has actively questioned the scientific certainties
of climate change because of many new elements related to aerosols and
other issues. He has raised the bar on scientific uncertainty to say that
there are many things we just don't understand, Maisano said.
There does come a point in media coverage of a scientific debate in which
journalism should reflect more of the prevailing scientific consensus,
rather than sampling every minority opinion, according to Kelly McBride,
ethics faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a school for professional
journalists. We have done that on other issues, McBride told UPI. There
was a time in this country when the generally accepted school of thought
was that people of color and women were inferior, either intellectually,
physically, morally, to white men. As evidence to the contrary mounted,
she said, journalists stopped balancing their reports with this point
Part of the problem is that reporters are not necessarily capable of judging
which science is proven and which is still up for debate, McBride said.
"That doesn't mean they shouldn't be. I think that part of the change
that is happening in American media is that reporters have to be more
of an expert in the areas they cover. For reporters who cover the environment,
I don't know that you need a degree in the science, but you've got to
be competent to get to the point where you can judge the industry as a
whole and say, 'These are the theories in the industry that are generally
accepted.' As a responsible journalist, you have to provide a certain
amount of context.
SEPP Comment: We expect to see more pressure on the media to not
report the views of skeptics. - a bad omen for science. But in science,
the observations and the data are crucial, not hypotheses and theories
3. Climate Warming Indicated By Models Only -- Not By Actual Data
A NY Times editorial (Aug 27, 2004) scolds the Bush administration for
not adopting mandatory caps on carbon-dioxide emissions -- after claiming
that the White House now concedes that CO2 from fossil-fuel burning is
the cause of recent climate warming. But the annual progress report on
the federal climate research program says no such thing. It says only
that theoretical models seem to show this - hardly a new result. Here
we argue that this model result is unsupported by actual observations
as well as by internal logic.
The centerpiece of the federal USCCSP report is a (not yet published)
research paper by NCAR scientists. It suggests that the temperature history
of the 20th century can be fully explained by models that incorporate
both natural climate forcings (from solar effects and volcanoes) and from
anthropogenic effects (greenhouse gas increases, aerosols from sulfur
emissions, and human-caused ozone changes).
But is this claimed agreement between observations and models just an
illusion - a curve-fitting exercise? Three major objections can be raised:
1. The model calculation involves the use of several adjustable parameters,
at least one for each of the five forcing. To give one such example, it
is known that different models produce values of "climate sensitivity"
ranging from a temperature rise of 2.0 to about 5.4 degC for a doubling
of GH-gas concentration. By judicious choice of the parameters it is not
difficult to fit any observed curve - in this case the IPCC's global mean
temperature of the Earth surface from 1900 to 2000. The true test would
be to check if the same choice of parameters - i.e., the same models -
can reproduce the zonal mean temperatures -- or even just the Northern
and Southern hemispheres separately. But this cannot be demonstrated.
2. The claimed agreement between models and surface observations ignores
the well-known disparity between model results and tropospheric data from
microwave sensors in satellites and balloon-borne [Douglass et al 2004a,b].
Contrary to the models, these independent data sets show no significant
warming during the past quarter century. It is more than likely that the
surface data are contaminated and their supposed agreement with the models
3. Finally, the models include only the five forcings that can be quantified
- albeit with large uncertainties - but completely ignore other forcings,
known to exist and admitted to be very much larger than the five forcings
used. Examples are the indirect effects of aerosols or the cosmic-ray
effects of the solar wind -- both of which affect cloudiness. A point
of logic: It stands to reason that if the known forcings can reproduce
the observed temperatures, then including these additional and much larger
forcings will most likely produce a quite different temperature curve
and thus cancel the claimed agreement with observations.
For these reasons, and because of the many arbitrary assumptions, approximations,
and parameterizations that enter into the construction of current climate
models, we should not consider the claimed "agreement" with
observations to be a true validation.
S. Fred Singer 9/2/04
SEPP Comment: The claim that climate models have been validated is one
of the three main pillars holding up the major conclusion of the IPCC-TAR
that there is new and convincing evidence of a human cause for recent
warming. We believe that the analysis above does away with the claim --
and with the conclusion.
4. Hypothesis versus Truth: A lesson for today's debate
"A hypothesis is always preferable to the truth, for we tailor a
hypothesis to fit our opinion of the truth, whereas the truth is only
its own awkward self. Ergo, never discover the truth when a hypothesis
will do." -- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1513).
Go to the Week
That Was Index