Journalists In A Cage, or The Curse Of Climate Change Bias

Bar a sudden epidemic of Damascus Road Conversions, there is no hope for a serious, balanced, informed, informing reporting by mainstream media on the topic of Climate Change. For a series of reasons, not too dissimilar from why politicians cannot go wrong on climate change:

  1. Bad news is the only good news
  2. Journalists can only be as good as the sources they carefully select
  3. Scientific laziness and ignorance leading to dumbing down

1. Bad news is the only good news

Nobody has ever sold any newspaper by printing really good news. Readers are simply disinterested, partly because of the thrill of reading about somebody else’s misfortune, and mostly as a natural way, responding to alerts much more than to the sound of high-five’s. Hence as journalists are only as good as the readership they attract, good news for them are bad and vice-versa.

As a corollary, to mistake newspapers as remotely informative about reality is to open one’s life to doom and gloom. Take a bunch of users of an IT application and they will never ever tell each other how fast that application is: they’ll either say nothing, or complain when the application is slow. Somebody reporting out of their comments might mistakenly become convinced that the application is, on average, slower than it should be, simply because there is no information about it being faster, even when it is faster. And that, independently from the application’s speed. Analogously, a newspaper reader is likely to become just as mistakenly convinced that the world is going pear-shaped, independently from how well the world is doing.

On the other hand, skepticism on climate change means (a) the world is not going pear-shaped, at least in matters of climate and the environment and (b) if there is little to worry about the future, that’s good news.

Combine now these three observations and you’ll find mainstream journalists striving to stay away from any skepticism on climate change (even when it’s skepticism coming from professional scientists), as that would twice undermine their business, and even their professionalism. Climate Chambers skepticism is anti-news. If you want a related example, see what the BBC did when some good news threatened to be coming from Chernobyl.

The BBC did not, could not report the American Scientist article that said things around Chernobyl were better than previously thought: they reported instead, weeks later, the alarmist criticisms against the American Scientist article.

2. Journalists can only be as good as the sources they carefully select

I have experienced this first-hand in the UK with the BBC away from climate change. If you read the BBC, it’s almost impossible to fathom what happens in Italian politics: it all looks like a movie where half of the plot is missing and a great deal of the image is blanked out.

Simply, all BBC reporting about Italy is invariably left-leaning (from an Italian point of view). That’s because the Italians they interview are 99% of the time only Italian journalists writing in leftist newspapers. I remember once months ago there was some time given by BBC Radio4 Today to a recorded statement by an Italian non-leftist MP, drowned by untold number of live radio minutes given to a leftist journalists. Same happens with the Financial Times.

If journalists only keep company with a certain group of people, they will only report what those people tell them. If journalists actively avoid communicating with another group of people, they will never correctly report their point of view. As we’ve seen, mainstream journalists keep skeptics as far away as possible. And as Climategate has shown, they have very friendly relationships with scientists turned activist warmists.

Mainstream science journalists won’t and can’t fathom what climate change skepticism is about, because they can’t listen to skeptics.

3. Scientific laziness and ignorance leading to dumbing down

Journalists have to make sure somebody will read their articles. Scientific journalists of mainstream media find themselves in trouble trying to translate science news in a way that the average reader will find remotely interesting. The right way to do that would be to write great articles in a splendid prose: but that’s a lot of effort, so the common way is the lazy one: dumb down the science content so that it will elicit the most basic of responses in the least interested of the readers.

In other words, transform a scientific topic into something that appeals to the readers’ guts. In the case of climate science, this has meant depicting the whole global warming thing as a struggle between Good and Evil, heroic scientists vs debased skeptics, with the journalist as a biased commentator of some kind of spectator sport. In other words, science transformed into a cheap-and-cretin feuilleton.

Of course this issue is badly compounded by the fact that most scientific journalists have no idea of what making science entails, and often have no science degree at all.

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In conclusion, with no clue on what they are forced to write about in the hope of getting the least likely reader to still read their articles; with communications strictly coming only from a single channel; unable to report good news, ignorant of science and pretending to be commenting football: well, climate change reporters live in a cage of their own making and the real miracle is when any one of them does report anything remotely non-biased on climate change.

ps It’s hard not to notice that even the skeptical journalists, like James Delingpole, have developed their own “bad news” mantra, in the form of Watermelons taking over the world. QED

pps Andy Revkin is not a full-time journalist any longer, so his climate change reporting has progressively improved compared to the past, becoming much less biased. QED again.

Ppps David Whitehouse is no longer a BBC science journalist, more or less since climate change became the Beeb’s mantra. QED number 3.

Climategate: It's Richard Black vs Roger Harrabin, Sir Muir vs Fred Pearce

UPDATE: Phil Jones reinstated at UEA within minutes of the Russell report being published. Final proof the Professors behave as absolute fools in matters of Public Relations.

And so when the Sir Muir Russell’s Climategate report came out, confusion reigned. Richard Black is now claiming “skeptical circles” had issues with the Oxburgh Science-but-not-science report (what are you implying, Richard, has your BBC colleague Roger Harrabin entered any “skeptical circle” of late?).

And Sir Muir (according to what is reported by Black) appears to have spent untold amounts of public money only to miss at least two of the “five key leaked emails” identified (at no cost to the taxpayer) by Fred Pearce.

There we are then: three Climategate Commissions, and the only thing that is clear is how important FOI is.

If this is the way climate-related stuff is publicly handled, Lovelock might have been right, after all.

WE ARE DOOMED!

Maybe not because of AGW, maybe not because of swine flu, but one day surely something serious is going to hit us, and all we’ll get will be obfuscation, retrenchement, delays, half-baked reports…

ps in the meanwhile…can I have my UK tax money back please?

Whatever Happened To The Blog Of Bloom?

Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to last. The Blog of Bloom, either The Best BBC Climate Blog…or their way of “showing impartiality”, is definitely no more.

The aura of mystery about its death at the end of July has just been slightly dissipated by Richard Black, writing in one comment to his “Biases, U-turns, and the BBC’s climate coverage” entry:

A few people including omnologos have asked what’s happened to the “blog of Bloom”. I know that the journalist who used to look after it has left – I’ll try to find out whether there are plans for it to continue

BBC's Climate Thought Police In Action

Remember the BBC’s Science and Environment team dedicating more than twice as many words to critical rather than to supportive comments for the Japanese Government’s recent decision on emission targets?

They’re back. Only this time, the trouble is how to report about a call by a group of AGWer “to ditch climate policies”. Rather awkward, one would think, as the opponents are AGWers as well. Then magic strikes.

It’s 180 words supporting the “call”; against 177 words making the point against it (and 77 neutral words).

And so it’s full AGW Balance restored! Saving AGW, one day at a time!

Richard Black Sees The Light

Rejoice all ye faithful! Warmist Extraordinaire, BBC News environmental expert journalist Mr Richard Black has started to grasp all that is wrong with AGW messages such “the planet is burning”, “humanity is in peril”, “climate change is a bigger threat than nuclear war”.

I would have never expected to read Mr Black (with whom I have a long list of past disagreements) write statements such as

Climate change is projected to become a major driver of biodiversity decline […] but at the moment, the major factor is habitat loss as the human footprint expands. When it comes to fisheries […] the single biggest driver is undoubtedly over-consumption […] And underlying it all is the growth in the human species

[…] if climate impacts are at present largely reversible but the loss of a species self-evidently isn’t, does that make biodiversity loss more important than climate change?

[…] if the fundamental drivers of all the trends are the swelling in the human population and our expanding thirst for raw materials, why aren’t these the things that politicians and environmental groups are shouting about and trying to change?

The blog in question is titled “Does climate cloud the bigger picture?“.

Mr Black goes as far as to admit that

some of the policies being considered as a response to climate change […] could exacerbate other environmental problems

Perhaps he (and some among my twelve readers) will now understand why I simply cannot bear the constant barrage of absurdist climate change claims (shrinking sheep included). AND the BBC’s own fixation with all things global warming.

IMNSHO, anybody that cares about the environment should be wary of overshooting remarks about any particular environmental issue: those will not help solve anything, and likely will make things worse overall.

Numerical Evidence Of Richard Black's (And the BBC's) Biased Climate Reporting

Numerical evidence for Richard Black’s (hence, the BBC’s) biased reporting on climate can be found in the amount of space dedicated to the various arguments in the “appalling” article about Japan’s emission targets.

The article is made of 469 words. Of those, 249 make up “neutral” sentences (54%). Negative comments are made of 156 words (34%). Only 58 words (13%…a mere three sentences!!) are left to explain the reasons for the Japanese government’s decision (see below for separate extracts).

In other words, for each word supporting the decision, there are a little less than three words against it. And with direct quotes, as if somebody had actively sought pro-AGW opinions…

How many times does a point need to be made before falling into readers’ brainwashing, one asks?

NEUTRAL

Japan has announced a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 15% over the next 11 years –
The target equates to a cut of about 8% from 1990 levels, the commonly used baseline. By comparison, the EU plans a 20% reduction over the same period.
The announcement comes in the middle of talks on the UN climate treaty in Bonn.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN advisory body, has recommended that developed nations cut emissions by 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020.
Mr Aso’s target puts Japan roughly in line with the US. President Obama has pledged to bring emissions back down to 1990 levels by 2020, although legislation coming through Congress is likely to impose a target of about 6%.
Last year, Mr Aso’s predecessor Yasuo Fukuda set a longer term target of cutting emissions by 60-80% by 2050, and indicated the 2020 target would be close to the EU’s.
The US, and some EU nations, are determined that major developing countries such as China and India should adopt emission curbs.
But they have repeatedly said they will not sign up to measures that could curb their economic growth, arguing that the developed world must lead the way.
The two-week meeting in Bonn, which ends on Friday, is the latest in a series leading up to December’s key summit in Copenhagen, which is supposed to usher in a climate agreement to supersede the Kyoto Protocol, whose current emissions targets only run as far as 2012.

NEGATIVE REMARKS

a figure derided by environmentalists as “appalling”.
Some observers say Japan’s goal is not enough to persuade developing countries to cut their own emissions.
“The target is not strong enough to convince developing nations to sign up for a new climate change pact,” said Hidefumi Kurasaka, professor of environmental policies at Japan’s Chiba University.
But Kim Carstensen, leader of the global climate initiative at environment group WWF, said the 8% target represented virtually no advance from the 6% cut that Japan had pledged, under the Kyoto Protocol, to achieve by 2012.
“Prime Minister Aso’s plan is appalling,” he said.
“[It] would mean that Japan effectively gives dirty industries the freedom to pollute without limits for eight years.”
Japan’s annual emissions are currently about 6% above 1990 levels, despite its Kyoto Protocol pledge to make cuts.
To the chagrin of environment groups – who point the finger at lobbying from Japanese industry – this has not transpired.

JAPANESE GOVERNMENT’S REASONS

Announcing the target, Prime Minister Taro Aso argued it was as strong as the EU’s because it does not include “flexible mechanisms” such as international carbon trading.
But the government points out that the society uses energy much more efficiently than other industrialised countries. Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions are about half the rates in Australia and the US.

Explanation For BBC Science News Webpage's Climate Change Policy

Having carefully watched the BBC “Science & Environment” news web page for several weeks now, I am inclined to identify the following as their underlying “Climate Change” reporting policy:

  1. No day shall pass without at least one climate-change-related link somewhere on that page
  2. Reporting on scientific articles supporting AGW will be strictly confined to a slight change of the original press release with the smallest and most inconsequential of doubt and criticism in the results
  3. Whatever Prince Charles or any other environmental celebrity has to say will be considered worthy of publication
  4. No such luck for anything not supporting AGW, however authoritative the source.
  5. Point 4 will not apply once a quarter or so, in order to demonstrate “balanced reporting”
  6. No climate change link will be considered too trivial to report
  7. There will be links to Richard Black’s blog
  8. There will be no link to the BBC’s own “Climate Change – The Blog of Bloom” blog. After all, it does make fun of AGW

And so there goes my licence money at work supporting the fight against the destruction of the world by evil SUV drivers…

Either The Best BBC Climate Blog…

…or their way of “showing impartiality”?

In any case, the BBC’s “Climate Change – The Blog of Bloom” is well worth an entry in one’s RSS feeds list.

And the authors there are quite humorous and far, far less the self-conscious, bordering-on-pompous, depressive types like Roger Harrabin and Richard Black.

For a couple of suggestions, start from these:

Carbon-neutral adventurers find reason to love oil tanker

Giant trees decline in Yosemite: climate change may, or equally may not be to blame

Sacked climate minister reveals somewhat unsurprising support for state aid

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Now…can “The Blog of Bloom” really be used to demonstrate the impartiality of the BBC in the climate debate? I am afraid it cannot. See, there is no link to it, and there has never been, into the “Science and Environment” section of the BBC News website.

Climate Expertise Inflation By The BBC

Richard Black’s desire to defend the BBC is natural and even commendable. Still, his or any defence of the (unsigned) Feb 15 “Global warming ‘underestimated’” article is untenable.

That article is clearly misleading.

Black tries to make a point about Field’s political weight and the breadth of the IPCC “Impacts” Working Group remit:

As the new co-chair of the IPCC working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, he now has a leadership role in the periodic assessments of global climate change that are the most politically significant documents in the field; so his views on the subject will presumably carry some political weight, and are therefore worth reporting.

As to how well qualified someone who started life as a biologist is to pronounce on climate change; well, if you look at the scope of that IPCC working group, it’s extremely broad, and I suggest it would be impossible to find anyone who has formally studied all of the relevant disciplines.

That situation, though, is hardly unknown in science. Even within universities, a dean of science could hardly be expert in every subject in his or her faculty; yet many intelligent and able people seem to make a decent fist of it, and it’s highly unlikely, I would suggest, that Chris Field would have got the job if his peers didn’t think him qualified.

But that’s not the issue with the Feb 15 article. The problem is that the BBC chose to describe Field as a “leading climate scientist“. And whilst Black is right in stating that Field is a leader, and a scientist, and a biologist with experience in the potential impacts of climate change, by all means Field is no “climate scientist“.

Why couldn’t the BBC write of Field as a “leading biologist in the field of climate change“? As things stand instead, casual readers of that article will have no clue of the fact that Chris Field’s take on future temperatures is not a climatologist’s.

A quick search in past BBC news reports reveals how Brian Austin for example, Dean of Science at Heriot Watt University, was characterised first and foremost as the exact kind of expert he was (microbiologist) (“Sponge puzzles superbug experts“, 26/12/2005).

The BBC faux-pas about Field is perhaps telling of a mindset that conflates all kinds of experts under the all-encompassing umbrella of “climate”, whenever anybody mentions climate change/global warming within the IPCC orthodoxy.

And that mindset can only succeed in cheapening up the very concept of “climatologist”.

The Soft Science Of Climatology

Virtual kisses and hugs to Richard Black of BBC Science News fame for his recent “A questioning climate” blog, the work of somebody whose eyes may have just seen some climate sensibility:

[…] In earlier years of reporting climate change, news media were regularly accused of attributing any unusual or extreme weather events to climate change – and often the accusations were justified. […]

some scientists have on occasion gone beyond the data in arguing that climate change will bring global catastrophe […]

clearly, highly intelligent, highly educated people can look at the same set of scientific evidence and come to radically different conclusions – not, perhaps, on the basic issue of whether climate change is or isn’t happening, but certainly on what the pace is likely to be and what threat it poses. […]

These are all disparate elements of a complex picture. How do you rate them? Which do you regard as more or less important?

We are back to what you believe; and if Chris Field sees catastrophe in the picture before him, he is entitled to say so, just as Vicky Pope or Mike Hulme are entitled to urge restraint. […]

On this issue of climate understanding as a (personal) belief, I would especially like to quote the last part of Black’s blog:

Individual pieces of research rarely prove anything by themselves […] In the meantime, scientists, politicians and Joe and Joanna Bloggs down the pub are all entitled to give their own assessments, and often there is a fair amount of belief involved, even for the scientists.

To me, there’s little wrong with that. It’s what we do with politics and football and music and film, and I don’t see why climate discourse should be different.

There are facts out there, and we should recognise them as such, just as we should with medicine and social issues and economics; but there is freedom to believe too, and that, the last time I looked, was supposed to be a universal human right.

In other words, Black is saying that climatology is a “soft science”, just as the Social sciences, Economics (and may I dare suggest for personal experience, much of Medicine). He may have even claimed that the “climate discourse” is akin to pub-based football analysis, but personally I really do not want to go in that direction!!

Now, before the usual voices are heard, let me state that I do not consider “soft” to be a demeaning word for a “science”. Of course we would all want to have all sciences as precise and cast-in-stone as Mathematics, and Physics is perhaps the clearest example of what comes closest to the “ideal” concept of a “hard science”.

But there is no point in wasting time in the realm of the impossible: there are areas of knowledge that can only be dealt with in a “soft” manner. As argued by Massimo Pigliucci for “Rationally Speaking“, under the headline “Strong Inference And The Distinction Between Soft And Hard Science” (Jan 27, 2009), perhaps it’s just that the more complex the phenomenon, the more “soft” its science.

Still, if one recognizes Climatology as a “soft science”, then there is absolutely no meaning in oft-repeated claims such as “the science is settled” and “all skeptics are crank, corrupt and/or perverts“. A soft science, by definition, cannot be settled. Its conclusions are ultimately a matter of belief.

The BBC Stumbles on "Cosmic Climate Link"

Letter sent to the BBC via their website:

The title of Richard Black’s article “More doubt on cosmic climate link” is wrong, as Mr Black proceeds in the second part of the article to illustrate a relationship between cosmic rays and “local” polar temperatures. A better choice would be “New findings in cosmic climate links. How on Earth can an effect on both poles be considered as “local”, I cannot understand. The maps published in the article seem to show cosmic rays changing temperatures over large parts of the globe.

Some hope! Since I am not a pro-AGW rabid activist threatening the reputation and livelihood of Richard Black or any other journalist, chances are my comments won’t be taken into consideration.

 

BBC's Unbound Climate Zeal: Again!

After a few days of rest, aimed perhaps at calming down the furore around the Harrabin-Abbess story, the BBC Climate Change Propaganda Committee is running at full steam once again. Now is the turn of Richard Black to be on-message with a new scary piece about sea levels in fabled year 2100.

There are several interesting points to consider.

(1) Mr Black mentions how the new “scientific analysis” by Svetlana Jevrejeva and others “from the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL), near Liverpool, UK”, provides results of the same order of magnitude as other efforts in the past, for example by “German researcher Stefan Rahmstorf”.

Unfortunately there is no mention of the fact that the pages of Science magazine are hosting a peer-to-peer debate among Rahmstorf, the POL group and others, about the very significance of Rahmstorf’s linear-modelling methods.

(2) For some reason (more about this later), Mr Black leaves unchallenged the notion that “for the past 2,000 years, the [global average] sea level was very stable, it only varied by about 20cm” adding that according to POL’s Simon Holgate “There is some limited archaeological evidence [based on] the sill heights of fish enclosures that the Romans used, that’s probably the strongest evidence that there hasn’t been any significant change in sea level over the last 2,000 years”. Some major news would that indeed be: compare it to the POL’s much nuanced FAQ (e.g. “Changes in ocean level due to climate change can be greater in some places than others because the ocean circulation will adapt to accommodate the new climate regime”).

And go look for Roman sills and sea levels in the POL website, if you can.

(3) Mr Black doesn’t involve himself that much in numbers. Too bad. Here some results. If the current rise rate of 3-mm per year is true, by the year 2100 the sea level will have risen by 28 centimeters. For that level to reach “between 0.8m and 1.5m”, the yearly rate must go up to 9-16 millimeters per year (3 to 5 times more than today), or more. One would hope that measurement systems able to “see” 3 millimeters with any significance, will be able to measure a three- to five-fold increase. By when that is going to happen, we are not told.

(4) Funnily enough, it’s at the end of the article that we are told that “Dr Jevrejeva’s projections have been submitted for publication in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”. So the whole the piece was about a poster presentation at the EGU conference? So much for a major breakthrough deserving front-page space in the BBC News website.

If anybody asks me, that’s the strongest evidence for climate-change zeal…

There is more…looking around Google News, it becomes evident that the news story originated with a Reuters reported at the EGU conference in Vienna. Apart from the BBC, most if not all news media are now reporting the Reuters piece verbatim. On the BBC site, Mr Black does not mention Reuters, and is reported as actually physically being in Vienna himself.

The whole BBC article looks like original research: perhaps it is. Suspiciously, though, the same people are mentioned by Mr Black and by Reuters…

Troubled BBC

The Harrabin-Abbess story has not died yet (here’s Bishop Hill on “Jo Abbess’s fifteen minutes of fame“; a video of Noel Sheppard on CNN’s Glenn Beck Show; and Melanie Phillips on The Spectator hardly containing her glee on the “emerging truth” of the BBC showing its pro-AGW bias for all to see).

In the meanwhile, Freeborn John demonstrates that another BBC journalist, Richard Black, is not immune from that same reporting bias, in matters of climate change (Mr Black knows very well my thoughts on the BBC warming bias); in the process, Freeborn John exposes a curious stealth-editing BBC policy.

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Folks at “the Beeb” better play it safe on global warming for a few weeks now…because if something else just as fishy pops up, then I can already imagine huge anti-BBC blogging and journalistic armies will be unleashed.