THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart”
If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975
Table of Contents
- The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
- Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
- In The Cage
- The Unconnected Dots
If everybody reported climate change (skepticism) the way Mr Painter and co-authors did in “Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism“, most statistics about skeptical voices in the media (possibly, elsewhere) would be zero. Indeed, they do hover near zero, apart, that is, from the GWPF, both in the media and in “Poles Apart”. QED. “Poles Apart” surely risks being remembered as just another example of what it was meant to report, the attitude of the media to “skeptical voices”.
This is why “Poles Apart” ends up a frustrating read, in spite of the effort made to put it together. Potentially huge stories are missed by experienced and passionate journalists. How can that be possible? This series of blog posts has illustrated one explanation, the reliance on unreliable sources combined by a self-imposed conviction that the world could be understood from a single point of view. It’s like having to follow to a whole season of football from the ManU TV channel, when Chelsea FC wins the Premiership: you know the commentators are professionals and speak with knowledge and expertise, yet you also know there is a lot of the actual story they are going to miss.
There is simply no way certain ideas will be uttered, true and real as they might be. “We wuz robbed” will always take precedence over “they were robbed”: analogously “skeptics are funded by right-wingers and Big Oil” will be taken as granted whilst “let’s look at the arguments instead of labelling people” is perhaps briefly pondered, only to be quickly hidden away. In both cases, extremely little space will be provided to the opponents’ remarks. True Believers won’t find anything controversial for their eyes to read, in “Poles Apart”.
This is what happens when only one channel is listened to: mental closure, oversimplification, time wasted in caricaturing the ‘enemy’, ultimately ‘reductio ad certamen’, i.e. the transformation of science (and journalism) into team sports.
To talk about skepticism to a warmist audience becomes like explaining Nostradamus followers they should really start reading something else. Or opining about foreign policy to some of the current Republican presidential hopefuls in the USA. Ironically, Dr Nadin might have been even especially right when she told the RISJ:
“Journalists and other key communicators often lack the knowledge base, skills and online and offline resources to cut thought the confusion and accurately report on the complex science of climate change and this can be especially true in developing countries.”
“Poles Apart” is close to the solution and yet stubbornly and half-blindly refuses to consider it. Still, the cage’s locks can be broken. Dear Mr Painter! Start from Geoffrey Lean’s words!
(p115) All but the extremists on either side agree that the planet is warming that humanity is at least partly responsible – and that we don’t know how big its contribution is, or what the effects will be
Expand the report. Include skeptics, their propositions, their first-hand quotes, especially what argument they make for their particular brand of skepticism. Include the online activity, and analyse the full spectrum of ideas in much detail. Don’t be afraid to admit there is scientific and policy variety among the non-skeptic, and by all means never ever conflate people away, to debate regions resembling the areas marked “Hic Sunt Leones” in ancient maps, literally “Here there are lions” with the meaning of “This is the deadly dangerous unknown region to avoid at all cost”.
Mr Painter, and anybody else who says they care about AGW: it’s time you realise the future is in opening up the debate. At the risk of sounding like an unreformed Libertarian: let the fact, and the truth free. They’re struggling within.