I will examine here the February 24 New York Times article by Andy Revkin to show that Al Gore is not “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements,” as he was accused.
Part 1 detailed how Roger Pielke, Jr. started all this by repeatedly misstating what Gore had said in his AAAS talk (video here). These indefensible charges would have died on the gossip grapevine of the blogosphere, had they not been picked up by Revkin.
I have written multiple emails to Andy in an effort to get him to clear Gore’s name in print, and he refuses. If he won’t, I feel that someone must for the record and the search engines. If I could clear Gore’s name without criticizing Andy, I would. But I can’t.
My reason for writing this post is simple. Having your reputation stained in print in the New York Times is a very big deal for anyone because:
- That story is reprinted and excerpted around the planet. It lives on forever.
- The NYT is the “paper of record,” and thus considered highly credible (though it shouldn’t be).
Let’s look at exactly what Revkin wrote in “In Debate on Climate Change, Exaggeration Is a Common Pitfall” (see here, original links, emphasis added):
Mr. Gore, addressing a hall filled with scientists in Chicago, showed a slide that illustrated a sharp spike in fires, floods and other calamities around the world and warned the audience that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”
Both men, experts said afterward, were guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements.
Mr. Gore removed the slide from his presentation after the Belgian research group that assembled the disaster data said he had misrepresented what was driving the upward trend. The group said a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said he planned to switch to using data on disasters compiled by insurance companies.
Do you see what Revkin did here?
This is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.
But that sentence ain’t damning. So in the article, he writes:
Mr. Gore … showed a slide that illustrated a sharp spike in fires, floods and other calamities around the world and warned the audience that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”
Except, of course, Gore didn’t do that. Revkin is certainly entitled to his opinion as to what Gore meant by “this” but he surely doesn’t know. The only way to find out would be to have asked Gore, but he didn’t do that.
If Gore was somehow trying to overstate the case, why would he been so careful and accurate in his word choice just a little earlier on the video when he said:
It is the view of many scientists that the intensity of hurricanes is affected by the warming issues.
Kalee Kreider, Mr. Gore’s spokeswoman on environmental matters (and a personal friend), explained how the former Vice President works, in an email:
Vice President Gore consults with scientists regularly to try to ensure the accuracy of his slideshow on both the content of the slideshow itself and the language he uses to describe the research. As a layperson he does the best he can to describe complex scientific principals to the broader public about an issue he regards as the most important issue our civilization is facing.
Now let me be very clear here, since some of the comments to Part 1 are trying to rewrite what I said, just as Pielke and Revkin did with Gore.
The scientific literature and many scientists have made a link between global warming and some extreme weather events. It is possible to accurately state what that link is, which I argue Gore has done (see Part 1). It is possibly to inaccurately state what that link is — intentionally or unintentionally. Pielke and Revkin are arguing that Gore was intentionally and obviously inaccurate in how he stated the link at the AAAS. But they have no case. They have to hypothesize what Gore was saying or intended to say because they just don’t know.
If you are going to slam someone for “exaggeration,” let alone multiple “inaccuracies and overstatements,” in the New York Times, it really needs to be based on more than your supposition of what he was trying to say about a complicated subject. This goes double for Gore, who has endured the most brutal assault on his integrity with the charge of exaggeration based on invented quotes.
For instance, Gore has been brutally mocked for the false accusation that he claimed to have “invented the Internet,” when that was not what he said. To see how many false charges of exaggeration have been made against Gore on the basis of things that he just didn’t say, read this article.
Second, Revkin did not identify multiple “inaccuracies and overstatements” in Gore’s case. The only “expert” Revkin links to who did, Roger Pielke, misstated what Gore said (as I showed in Part 1) and — on the basis of his indefensible smear of the reputations of thousands of scientists — the media needs to reconsider whether he is a credible “expert.”
Third, this is not an accurate representation of what the Belgians said:
Mr. Gore removed the slide from his presentation after the Belgian research group that assembled the disaster data said he had misrepresented what was driving the upward trend. The group said a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them.
In his blog post, Revkin says that what he published was their “full response.” You can read it here.
But the Belgians don’t say “he had misrepresented what was driving the upward trend.” How could they? Gore never made such a representation. Yes, they imply Gore made a misrepresentation when they write:
Before interpreting the upward trend in the occurrence of weather-related disasters as “completely unprecedented” and “due
to global warming”, one has to take into account the complexities of disaster occurrence, human vulnerabilities and statistical reporting and registering …
But Gore didn’t say the upward trend was “due to global warming.” That would be the Belgians putting words in Gore’s mouth. Seems to be a contagious disease.
To be clear: What would have been out of bounds and worthy of criticism by Revkin, is if Gore had said or strongly implied that “there is a scientific consensus that this trend is due exclusively (or even primarily) to global warming.”
But there is no evidence to suggest that is what Gore believes or even that was the impression he was trying to leave. Again, minutes earlier he was careful to say “It is the view of many scientists that the intensity of hurricanes is affected by the warming issues.” No exaggeration, inaccuracy or misstatement there.
Significantly, the way Revkin has written the piece, some might come away with the impression that Gore was admitting he had done something wrong or had said something wrong when he agreed not to use the slide any more. He was not. Go back and read Kalee’s email to Revkin (here) — or ask Kalee, as I did. And why should he have made such an admission when he didn’t do or say anything wrong?
And this brings us me to my final point: It is almost entirely irrelevant what the Belgians said and did about the slide after Gore’s talk. To make the charge of “exaggeration” stick, what matters is what Gore knew the Belgians said and did before his talk. That should have been made clear to readers.
Revkin does not tell the reader that the Belgians had not objected to the use of that slide by Charles Blow in the New York Times in May 2008 to argue global warming was contributing to the trend in weather-related disasters nor that the Belgians had back-tracked on their own attribution of climate change. And as Kalee told me, the Gore team had been looking for any response by the Belgians to that article.
So Revkin left readers the misimpression that Gore could possibly have known he might have been misrepresenting the Belgian’s data in the first place.
To elaborate — after the Blow article ran, the Gore folks contacted the Belgian research group to get their 2008 report, Annual Disaster of Statistical Review (see here [PDF]). As far as Gore could possibly know when he used the slide, the Belgians believed what they wrote:
Climate change is probably an actor in this increase but not the major one — even if its impact on the figures will likely become more evident in the future.
In other words, climate change is probably helping to create the remarkable rise in weather-related disasters and would likely become more important in the future. That was what Blow had said and had not been criticized for.
Revkin writes in the article, “The group said a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them.” But to be fair to Gore, Revkin should have written something like “The group NOW SAYS climate change is possibly one of them.”
To repeat, when Gore gave his speech, all he could have known is that the group had said in its annual report — which is surely more authoritative than an e-mail — that “Climate change is probably an actor in this increase.”
The Belgians are entitled to change what they “believe” after the fact, but Gore can’t be accused of exaggeration on the basis of some after-the-fact email that somehow revokes their annual report. Revkin makes the Belgian reaction and the word “possibly” seem damning to Gore. But, as I’ve shown, it isn’t.
The bottom line is that Revkin has no case whatsoever.
Contrary to Revkin’s assertions in print, Former Vice President Al Gore is not guilty of “exaggeration,” let alone “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements.”
Not only did Gore do nothing worthy of the NYT‘s criticism, but in fact he acted honorably and in the highest traditions of science journalism.
He deserves a retraction and apology from Revkin and others.
In my first post on Revkin (here), I (inartfully) pointed out that Revkin was being unfair to Gore by using the word “possibly” to describe the climate link to extreme weather disasters and by not explaining to the readers that the Belgians had backtracked from the use of the word “probably” in the report Gore had seen.
Revkin then wrote an email to me (and other bloggers) that certainly ranks as the most unintentionally ironic I ever received (emphasis in original):
No more time to dwell on this, but tour contortion fails, Joe, because the print/online story says specifically that I was alluding to the group’s reaction to Gore’s slide, NOT to the underlying 2007 report etc.
Here’s the key passage:
“Mr. Gore removed the slide from his presentation after the Belgian research group that assembled the disaster data said he had misrepresented what was driving the upward trend. The group said [in this response!] a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them.”
That’s about as clear as can be.
I stand by the need for you to adjust your post.
Otherwise, you’re directly challenging my honesty and integrity (aside from competence, which is for everyone to judge). I didn’t ALTER anyone’s meaning or words.
And I expect that if you post pops up on Huffington or Grist or elsewhere, you’ll make sure the update is there as well.
Irony can be so ironic. If only Andy guarded his subject’s “honesty and integrity” as much as he guards his own.
I did change what I wrote a tad because I wanted to give Andy the benefit of the doubt he never gave Gore.
But you’ll note how Andy had to put a clarifying remark in brackets to make his sentence fully accurate. Hmm. You’re allowed to explain exactly what you meant after the fact for a print article, but Gore can’t do so for far more elliptical remarks?
Andy did in fact ALTER anyone’s meaning — I just had the wrong example. Maybe “alter” isn’t the right word. Andy hypothesized what Gore’s meaning must have been so he could make his case.
Andy directly challenged Gore’s honesty and integrity, but he simply doesn’t have a case that comes close to meriting publication in the NY Times, which I would note has more than 100 times the reach my little blog does.
Andy, the best you can charge Gore with here is not being entirely clear. And if that were a crime, I’m afraid we’d all be guilty, yourself included.
Andy, Gore is not “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements.”
I stand by the need for you to issue a correction and apology.