I'm on the Front Page, But Don't Bother to Look

The Arizona Republic had a stealth hit piece on skeptics in the paper today and, unfortunately, I inadvertently helped.  My kids woke me up at 7:00 this morning (Yuk!) to tell me I was on the front page of the Arizona Republic.  I was quoted a couple of times in an article on climate change skeptics.   I have a couple of thoughts about an article that really has me depressed today.  If you want to know what I really think about climate, see my book and in my movie (both free online).

  • After interviews, I am always surprised at what the writers chose to quote, and this article is no exception. 
  • I spent most of the article trying to explain this simple data exercise, but I guess newspapers today are science-phobic and would rather write he-said-she-said articles than actually get into the numbers.  Unfortunately, the article leaves the impressions that we skeptics have problems with catastrophic global warming theory  "just because."
  • The article is not about the skeptics' position, because it is not really stated.  In fact, more space is spent on refuting skeptics than is even given to skeptics themselves.  Here is the best test:  The skeptic's position would have been better served by not publishing this mess at all.
  • Almost my entire discussion with the reporter was about the forecasts.  I said man is causing some warming, but there are simple tests to show it likely won't be catastrophic.  I even said that it was the catastrophists tactic not to argue this point, but to shift the debate to whether warming exists at all, where they have a much stronger argument. Despite this whole discussion with the reporter, the reporter allowed the catastrophists to shift the debate again.  They want to argue whether things are warmer, where they are on strong ground, and not about how much it will warming the future and whether this will justify massive government intervention, where they are on weak ground.

This article really frustrates me, and may pretty much spell the end for my ever giving an interview on the subject again (I will do a podcast on Monday, which I will link soon, but that is different because they can't edit me).  Despite it being an article about skeptics, the catastrophists are the only one that get any empirical evidence whatsoever into the article (however lame it may be).  This really ticked me off in particular:  I spent an hour giving specific empirical reasons why there were problems with forecasts and the theory.  The reporter then just printed a few quotes from me that made me look like an uninformed idiot, saying "just because."  Then they print this:

"There is clearly a group of thought that says because we're not seeing
debate now, it never happened in the scientific community," Huxman
said. "That is simply wrong. It did happen, and it's over. The debate
now is over the idiosyncrasies, the internal workings."

Incredibly, they also credulously reprint the absurd Newsweek ad hominem attacks on skeptics

What also got my attention was the companion article on an ASU professor who is a climate skeptic.  Incredibly, in the whole article, not one sentence is dedicated to explaining why the professor is a skeptic.  What is the empirical evidence he relies on, or the analysis he finds most compelling?  We never find out.  All we get is an article on dueling motivations.  For example, the Republic writes:

Despite his notoriety as a hero of the skeptic crowd, Balling's research and lifestyle contain some surprising contradictions.

He is in charge of climate studies at the Decision Center for a Desert
City, an ambitious ASU program that looks at how drought will affect
the Valley.

He's a registered independent and lives a lifestyle that the hardiest environmental activist would recognize as green....

If there was a competition for living green, "put the cards on the
table, and I'll beat 99 percent of the faculty here," Balling said.

He avoids driving and  doesn't own a cellphone.

He would even have liked to see Al Gore win the presidency in 2000.

So?  Why is this surprising?  Should we all naturally expect that skeptics all eat children for dinner?  And, of course, an article on a leading skeptic would not be complete without this:

Critics have assailed Balling's ties to industries.

Balling received more than $679,000 in research funding from
fossil-fuel-industry organizations between 1989 and 2002, according to
figures provided by ASU. He served as a scientific adviser to the
Greening Earth Society, a public-relations organization founded by the
Western Fuels Association to promote the benefits of global warming.

Uh, OK.  Here is a Coyote Blog challenge:  Find me one article in a mainstream newspaper or news weekly that even once checks the sources of funding for climate catastrophists.  This focus on funding and motivation and political affiliation for skeptics only is scandalously asymmetric.  But take a quick look at the article - 85% of it is related to motivation, either how good his green credentials are or how much money he gets from oil companies - and not any discussion of what he actually thinks. 

This final bit is especially funny.  Think of all the wacko professors out there that are warmly accepted by their universities and the academic community.  We're talking about folks all the way up to and including men who have gone to prison for torturing and murdering women.  But apparently having a climate skeptic on the faculty is just too much:

But his climate work has garnered the most national attention, which bothers some colleagues at ASU.

"For ASU, having Balling as such a prominent figure in the climate
debate has been awkward, not so much because of his positions but
because we have lacked scientists of similar stature whose work
supports more widely held, opposing views," Jonathan Fink, director of
ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, wrote in an e-mail. "Hence we
have been viewed as somewhat of a fringe institution in the world of
climate-change research."

Wow, its terrible to see such ill-repute brought to America's #1 Party School.  And by the way, what the hell kind of strategy is this?  We want to make a name for ourselves in climate research, so to do so we think we should be just like all the other schools -- that's the way to differentiate ourselves!

I will post links to my podcast that is coming up Monday night.  After that, I am not sure.  I am pretty depressed about the state of the media on this issue.  I have a lot of interests and more than enough to do with my time that I may take a break from climate for a while.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    I got into a “brief instructional exchange” (i.e. I was telling the article author why he is an economic moron) with the author of a different AZ Republic article, and during the exchange, it became readily apparent that this person had no clue about either the subject matter, or critical thinking in general. And he easily confused fact with opinion. It was astounding.

    It is depressing, and speaks to what appears to be social and intellectual "tiering," specifically the separation of those who think critically (readers of your blogs) and those who lack critical thinking skills (journalists, consumers of the AZ Republic).

    But I wouldn’t worry about the clueless AZ Republic. They are not to be taken seriously, and judging from their most recent circulation numbers, fewer and fewer people do so. Keep up the great work.

  • "I have a lot of interests and more than enough to do with my time that I may take a break from climate for a while."

    I'm sure the clueless nitwits at the Arizona Republic would just love that. Keep up the good work.

  • Hey Coyote - I'd never even heard of the AZ Republic until I read about it on your blog. Take three really deep breaths, and don't despair.
    Have a look at this chart from Australia - I can't find out why the average line hasn't been updated for about 6 years 😉

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/reg/cli_chg/timeseries.cgi

  • Streaker

    I read that article this morning on the AZCentral site and yes, it was disappointing. At the time I read it, I didn't know they were quoting you as I wasn't aware of your real name.

    I'd urge you to not give up on talking to the press, though. They may somewhat distort your main message, but I assure you... any rational, skeptical voice is like a candle in pitch black darkness. It may only illuminate a small area but it is sorely missed when it's gone. In this debate, not only is it missed but it is desperately necessary.

  • ethan

    Despite the biased article, I think you came out fine and what is more important is that the article gets your name out there whereby more people will go online and look at your as well as Anthony Watt's work. I believe sites like Climate Skeptic and Climate Audit are great resources for individuals to explore the issue of global warming.

  • Anonymous

    Coyote, I wouldn't sweat it. You can't convert the die-hards, as tempting as it may be to try. And trying to get empirical data into a mainstream paper is a quixotian endeavor. Some of your information got out there, and the people who are open to it will know how to find the rest.

    Probably the single most important thing is the distinction between "global warming" and "catastrophic anthropogenic global warming". And that came through in the article, as much as you can reasonably expect.

    So relax. All press is good press.

  • ethan

    wow, nicely said streaker.

  • Phil

    Hey Coyote,

    I remember that you posted a few articles from a "Chinese Sister Publication" called PandaBlog. I cannot find this anywhere on the net. Do you have a link, or is it all in Chinese?

  • Larry Sheldon

    If it is any comfort....

    I and a few of the people whose opinions I respect no longer expect newspapers to be more than bought-and-paid-for shills.

    I don't even trust the "funny papers" much anymore.

    So the thinking folk are not going to have been harmed by the hit piece, the rest of them won't see anything they haven't seen before.

  • ArtD0dger

    I dunno, Warren, the very fact that they even felt the need to print the story belies the narrative that the debate is over. By the end of the article, the open-minded reader is left with a list of new names and claims to google on the one side, and a "nothing to see here folks, move along" argument from authority on the other.

    I wouldn't be too hard on the reporter or the Arizona Republic, either. They are in a quandary -- they perceive (probably rightly) that bucking the trend on this issue would bring them financial loss and a lot of grief. Naturally, they wouldn't do this unless they had particularly strong convictions. But nowadays a lot of people understand that, and that's part of the reason that the opinions of media outlets are worth so little. If I were you, I'd welcome any new readers who found you via the article, and point them to your excellent book, film, and other resources.

    If, as they say, the internet treats censorship as damage to be routed around, then your blogs are routing around the damaged media. Hope you keep chipping away.

  • BobH

    I understand (don't know for a fact) that one of the Republic's cost-cutting measures in the past couple years, to offset the circ losses noted above, has been to lay off most of their experienced reporters and replace them with recent J-school grads.

  • David

    "I have a lot of interests and more than enough to do with my time that I may take a break from climate for a while."

    Just what they want.. for you to shut up and cede the floor to them!

  • Hoi Polloi

    Most reporters write what the readers want to read. Why not write a letter to the editor?

  • jt

    In an earlier career, I spent a lot of time on lengthy explanations that usually ended up on the cutting room floor. I gradually figured out that reporters really wanted sound bites--preferably sound bites that made an interesting point, but anything brief and colorful was better than a thousand words of undigestible technical talk. I ended up being one of the most-quoted analysts in my industry, which was priceless PR.

    You're not necessarily talking down to a journalist when you do this (though many are as dumb as a turnip). You're just making sure your audience--and by extension the journalist's audience--gets the point. That's something everyone should try to do.

  • SuperMike

    Dude, what do you expect? You're insulting these people's religion.

  • Do be sure and write a short letter to the editor objecting to the fact your position was not really described. If they decline to include it, then you have leverage to undermine the reputation of the paper. If they do include it, then some readers at least will realize something is afoot.

    Either way, it would be great for you to keep writing. I guess you just have to lower your expectations with this particular rag.

    Sorry you got such bad treatment. FWIW, the article you describe sounds like a lot of arguments I have with friends. SuperMike hits the nail on the head as far as I can tell. Many people treat this stuff like a religion, and do not care to look into whether it is actually true or not.

  • I have been quoted in the press a lot on local financial issues. You should immediately write a full and passionate (yet in a sense dispassionate--factual) letter blasting them for blatantly misrepresenting your views. Perhaps counter intuitively, they will take you more seriously and are more likely to go back to you in the future. Be factual however, which you always are anyway. In fact, if you can quote specific examples where they misrepresented what you said all the better.

    People will read it and it will make a difference.

    I agree with the one who said that they like sound bites. They like expressions that sound humorous yet make a point. "Climatologists are on a feeding frenzy at the governments global warming grant tits" or something like that. Ok, that is a little over the top, but expressions like that that say a lot in a funny, concise sound bit way work well to get your true opinion in. Ridicule sells. That's what happened to you, you got ridiculed.

    Fight fucking back.