The Week That Was
Sept. 4, 2004





2. Is Balanced Science Reporting Sign Of Bias?
Space Daily, 30 Aug 2004

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 of view.
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 (see below)

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 is spurious.

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).



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