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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.