N.Y. Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal Face Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage
UPDATE: Climate scientist Ken Caldeira has just sent me an email titled, “I can’t believe the New York Times has done it again …” that I’ll reprint in its entirety at the end.
You can contact the NY Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, at email@example.com.
The NYT has published arguably its worst climate story ever, “U.N. Climate Panel and Chief Face Credibility Siege,” by Elisabeth Rosenthal.
Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, whom the NYT itself quoted last year as “an expert on environmental communications,” emailed me that the piece is “the worst, one sided reporting I have ever seen.” When I called him up, he went further saying:
In this article, the New York Times has become an echo-chamber for the climate disinformation movement.
You might think it impossible for any newspaper — let alone the one-time “paper of record” — to run a story raising “accusations of scientific sloppiness” about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that never quotes a single climate scientist.
You might think it inconceivable that the NYT would base its attack on the accusations and half-truths provided by “climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists” where
- The one climate skeptic quoted is the The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (TVMOB) — who pushes outright lies such as “There hasn’t been any global warming for 15 years” and who labels young people who disagree with him “Hitler Youth.”
- The right-leaning politician is Sen. John Barrasso, who is so far out he tried to stop the gathering of intelligence on the national security threat posed by climate change.
- The “some mainstream scientists” is in fact only Roger Pielke, Jr. (!!), who has a Ph.D. in political science, who has said, “I am not a climate scientist,” who — far from being mainstream on this subject — is a long-time critic of the IPCC who has been attacking scientists’ reputations for many years.
Rosenthal doesn’t actually quote a single mainstream scientist attacking the IPCC.
I’m going to go through this piece in a little detail because the NYT put it on the front page and because some folks thought I shouldn’t have put the NYT third on my list of nominees for the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism.
Since I don’t want to bury the lede as Rosenthal does, let me start with start with her ninth paragraph:
The panel, in reviewing complaints about possible errors in its report, has so far found that one was justified and another was “baseless.” The general consensus among mainstream scientists is that the errors are in any case minor and do not undermine the report’s conclusions.
But why let the fact the story is essentially trivial from a scientific perspective stop it from being a front-page rehash of mostly innuendo and unproven charges?
Rosenthal immediately continues:
Still, the escalating controversy has led even many of them to conclude that the Nobel-winning panel needs improved scientific standards as well as a policy about what kinds of other work its officers may pursue.
“When I look at Dr. Pachauri’s case I see obvious and egregious problems,” said Dr. Roger A. Pielke Jr., a political scientist and professor of environmental science at the University of Colorado….
Now when you read “many of them” — many “mainstream scientists,” that is — in a serious piece of journalism on climate science, you would expect the reporter to then quote at least, say, two, three or maybe four scientists, and not, say, zero, zilch, nada.
Rosenthal leaves the distinct impression that the one person she is quoting, Pielke, somehow represents a mainstream view, when in fact he is a long-time critic of the IPCC who has spent a great deal of time drowning the reputation of top scientists — including the coauthors of the recent NOAA-led climate impacts report and all three thousand attendees of an Al Gore talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science — with no justification whatsoever (click here).
Computer scientist Tim Lambert (aka Deltoid) has a whole category just for Pielke, which I commend to any journalist who still takes the man as a serious representative of science or even climate analysis. And here’s a RealClimate piece.
UPDATE: A reader points me to this 2009 ScienceBlogs post, “Pielke Jr: How low can he go?” from “A Few Things Ill Considered”:
His [Pielke’s] latest effort at sabotaging productive discourse on climate science and policy is a really low blow, putting to rest any lingering hopes one might have had that he still had some integrity stashed away in there somewhere. Now I know these are strong words, but I have to confess this really gets my blood pressure up, it is just the slimiest of tactics.
Now what’s interesting about Rosenthal’s piece is that she feels obliged to tell her readers where every other source is coming from — other than Pielke, that is:
Critics, writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm — a claim he denies….
The accusations of errors in the panel’s report — most originating from two right-leaning Brit
ish papers, The Sunday Telegraph and The Times of London — have sullied the group’s reputation.
Okay, at least we’re told the Telegraph is a right-wing paper — though she should have mentioned just how unreliable they are (see DelingpoleGate: Monbiot slams anti-science columnist for leading “Telegraph into vicious climate over email”).
Of course, the NYT also basically eviscerates these charges:
Several of the recent accusations have proved to be half-truths: While Dr. Pachauri does act as a paid consultant and adviser to many companies, he makes no money from these activities, he said. The payments go to the Energy and Resources Institute, the prestigious nonprofit research center based in Delhi that he founded in 1982 and still leads, where the money finances charitable projects like Lighting a Billion Lives, which provides solar lanterns in rural India….
In response to the recent criticisms, Dr. Pachauri provided an accounting of some of his outside consulting fees paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. Those include about $140,000 from Deutsche Bank, $25,000 from Credit Suisse, $80,000 from Toyota and $48,750 from Yale. He has recently begun work as a strategic adviser for Pegasus, the investment firm, but has not yet attended a meeting, and no money has yet been paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. He has also provided advice free of charge to groups like the Chicago Climate Exchange.
And at least Rosenthal tells you some of what you need to know about TVMOB:
Christopher Monckton, a leading climate skeptic, called the panel corrupt, adding: “The chair is an Indian railroad engineer with very substantial direct and indirect financial vested interests in the matters covered in the climate panel’s report. What on earth is he doing there?”
A former adviser to Margaret Thatcher who also assailed Dr. Pachauri in a critique in Copenhagen that has since been widely circulated, Lord Monckton is now the chief policy adviser to the Science and Public Policy Institute, a Washington-based research and education institute that states on its Web site: “Proved: There is no climate crisis.”
Monckton pushes such extremist hate speech — see Lord Monckton repeats and expands on his charge that those cli who embrace climate science are “Hitler youth” and fascists — that he deserves widespread condemnation, not quotation in a serious newspaper. Indeed, I can’t see why any person in the world needs to answer a single charge from TVMOB, let alone on the pages of the New York Times. BUT at least the NYT let us know where he is coming from.
Rosenthal offers no such disclosure for Pielke. Quite the reverse. She pretends that somehow he is a representative of mainstream climate scientists. Worse, she actually seems to go out of her way to shield her readers from a very crucial disclosure:
The panel was also criticized for citing a study about financial losses after extreme weather events that found an increase in such losses of 2 percent a year from 1970 to 2005. That study had not been peer reviewed at the time, although it was later on.
The panel has called the complaint “baseless,” noting that the study was cited appropriately and that other scientific data pointed to a recent rise in severe storms.
Now why doesn’t Rosenthal point out that this criticism was primarily leveled by Pielke himself? Perhaps because, if she did, she’d have to point out that Pielke has been making this and similarly baseless criticisms of the IPCC for years now. She’d have to explain that Pielke has been baselessly trashing the reputation of any scientist who even suggests that there is the tiniest link whatsoever between climate change and extreme weather (see here) — even though he himself has stated such a link exists (see Pielke in Nature: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change … has shaped the disaster loss record”) and even though he has praised a study that made such a link. Indeed, she might have to report that he has baselesssly attacked the integrity of many hundreds of the country’s top scientists for merely sitting through a discussion of the issue that doesn’t meet his extreme form of political correctness (see here).
In short, if she correctly identified Pielke as a long-time IPCC critic, someone who has repeatedly attacked climate experts, she couldn’t use him as some sort of mainstream scientist who has suddenly seen the light about the IPCC and Pachauri.
She ends her piece:
But even some academics who accept that climate change is a problem are concerned about such activities.
“This is not about whether this is a good person or a good cause; it’s about the integrity of the scientific process,” Dr. Pielke said, adding: “This has become so polarized, it’s like you must be in cahoots with the bad guys if you are at all negative about Pachauri.”
First off, while Pielke says he accepts that climate change is a problem, and asserts that he supports a target of 450 to 500 ppm, he steadfastly refuses to identify a viable strategy for achieving that difficult target and attacks anyone who does propose a possible plan (see “Finally, Roger Pielke admits he supports policies that will take us to 5-7°C warming or more“).
Second, if you think Pielke is interested in preserving the integrity of the scientific process, I’d again suggest reading Deltoid’s multiple posts demonstrating otherwise.
Third, I can’t imagine why Rosenthal printed Pielke’s nons
ensical reverse McCarthyism — his suggestion that anyone who criticizes him for being negative about Pachauri is lumping him in with “the bad guys.” Ironically, it is Rosenthal who has put Pielke “in cahoots with” the big-time disinformers like Monckton and Barrasso, since from the perspective of this piece, it’s hard to distinguish their views.
I don’t think Pielke’s distinction between good guys and bad guys is useful — though it’d be interesting to hear from him the names of “the bad guys” he doesn’t want to be lumped in with. I think the distinction is between those who try to present information based on science and those who present disinformation.
The bottom line: The NYT has published a broad brush smear of climate scientists in this piece from a variety of biased and questionable sources — while demonstrating that the charges are half-truths and/or trivial from the overall perspective of climate science. And it is unconscionable that the piece doesn’t actually quote a single climate scientist, while offering up Roger Pielke, Jr. as representative of how mainstream scientists view the IPCC and Pachauri.
I’ll end by repeating the comments sent me by Robert Brulle, professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University:
The worst, one sided reporting I have ever seen. In this article, the New York Times has become an echo-chamber for the climate disinformation movement.
Brulle ended our conversations by pointing out that the piece is just above an ad by ExxonMobil, the top funder of the climate disinformation movement, noting “The visual irony is just too much to bear.”
You can contact the NY Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Climate scientist Ken Caldeira has just sent me an email titled, “I can’t believe the New York Times has done it again …” that reads in its entirety:
Does Roger Pielke Jr really believe that Pachauri is exaggerating the climate change problem in order to obtain more funds for his nonprofit research center?
If Pielke is going to make insinuations in the New York Times about the ethics of Dr Pachauri, he owes it to us to make his beliefs clear. He should state clearly which of the following two statements he believes:
(a) Dr Rajendra Pachauri is exaggerating the climate change problem in order to obtain more funds for his nonprofit research center.
(b) Dr Rajendra Pachauri is not exaggerating the climate change problem in order to obtain more funds for his nonprofit research center.
For a man with a $49,000 salary, donating all of his consulting fees to nonprofit organizations would ordinarily be seen as a sign of professional integrity and dedication. It is outrageous that Pielke attempts to turn this around and use it to insinuate an ethical lapse. It makes one wonder about Pielke’s motives.
PS. You can quote this if you would like….
Note: I will be updating this post continuously as scientist as others shocked by the NYT piece send me quotes and material.
- The New York Times sells its integrity to ExxonMobil with front-page ad that falsely asserts “Today’s car has 95% fewer emissions than a car from 1970″
- Shame on the New York Times for running ExxonMobil’s greenwashing ad once again — they can’t plead ignorance this time, only greed
- The NY Times starts 2010 pushing the same damn disinformation about climate science it did in 2009
- Is the New York Times coverage of global warming fatally flawed?
- Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can’t tell the story (twice!), how will the public hear it?
- MacCracken: The New York Times quote did not represent my views, and it did not even represent the reporter’s attempt to portray my comments
- Grist on the NYT’s “baseless hit job on Gore,” plus the story’s origin in a Fox News doctored video