The Media and Climate: They don’t know. They don’t know they don’t know. And They don’t care.

November 23, 2011

Is the media determined to botch the biggest story of the millennium?

“We did it for the Iraq War, why not do it for the Climate Issue, too?”

Indeed. Why not?

Media Matters:

Earlier today I asked whether American news outlets would do their due diligence in evaluating the content of the newly-released batch of “Climategate” emails hacked from the University of East Anglia two years ago. It didn’t take long for our esteemed print outlets to disappoint.

Writing on the Washington Post’s website, Juliet Eilperin quotes an email exchange that she said was about “whether the IPCC has accurately depicted the temperature rise in the lower atmosphere”:

In one round of e-mails, researchers discuss whether the IPCC has accurately depicted the temperature rise in the lower atmosphere. An official from the U.K. Met Office, a scientific organization which analyzes the climate, writes to the Climate Research Unit’s former director Phil Jones at one point, “Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary […]”

Later, the official adds, “I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.”

Astoundingly, Eilperin does not tell readers that these email exchanges took place in February 2005 and were about the first draft of a chapter of the IPCC report released two years later. The emails depict the authors of the chapter hashing out what should be included — exactly what you would expect this process to look like.

After providing comments on the draft, then-Met Office official Peter Thorne wrote: “I’m pretty sure we can reconcile these things relatively simply. However, I certainly would be unhappy to be associated with it if the current text remains through final draft – I’m absolutely positive it won’t.”

So were his concerns addressed in the final draft? If only we had reporters who asked these questions. For his part, The Hill’s Ben Geman simply repeats what Eilperin reported, while admitting that he hasn’t even “been able to view the newly released emails.”

In the email exchange, Thorne provides comments “on the upper-air portion” of the chapter. He wrote: “There is little effective communication in the main text of the uncertainty that is inherent in these measures,” later adding, “we need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest.”

And this is from the final version of the chapter, which cites Thorne’s own research at least 5 times:

Within the community that constructs and actively analyses satellite- and radiosonde-based temperature records there is agreement that the uncertainties about long-term change are substantial. Changes in instrumentation and protocols pervade both sonde and satellite records, obfuscating the modest long-term trends. Historically there is no reference network to anchor the record and establish the uncertainties arising from these changes – many of which are both barely documented and poorly understood. Therefore, investigators have to make seemingly reasonable choices of how to handle these sometimes known but often unknown influences. It is difficult to make quantitatively defensible judgments as to which, if any, of the multiple, independently derived estimates is closer to the true climate evolution. This reflects almost entirely upon the inadequacies of the historical observing network and points to the need for future network design that provides the reference sonde-based ground truth.

Raphael Satter of the Associated Press has also has a premature report, which has been publishedon the websites of countless news outlets, asserting that the emails “appeared to show climate scientists talking in conspiratorial tones about ways to promote their agenda.” What agenda is that?

The article doesn’t say.

Satter admits that the context of the emails “couldn’t be determined” because the “Associated Press has not yet been able to secure a copy” of the documents. 

They don’t know. They don’t know what they don’t know. And they don’t care.

3 Responses to “The Media and Climate: They don’t know. They don’t know they don’t know. And They don’t care.”


  1. I hesitate to use the word ‘skeptic’ here, because in order to be skeptical one has to have studied the subject with an open mind and been unconvinced by the mountains of evidence in support of the prevailing theory
    Not that those of you who are in denial of the extent of anthropogenic climate forcing need any more cherry-picked straw-men to beat down, but it looks like you’ve been handed one or two by the selfish, deceitful, morally suspect, ignoramuses who brought us the hogwash that came to be called ‘climategate’.*
    Again, the snake oil salesmen will come out en masse and hype up these tenuous soundbites in an attempt to sabotage the Durban Climate Change Conference and create the impression** that there is still uncertainty in the data and no consensus on the ameliorative path that humanity needs to be on.
    Those of us who have bothered to consider the evidence*** – which will include the majority of the World’s leaders in attendance at Durban – know that we have to take action in order to avoid warming our planet too fast.

    We must make ourselves heard this time, we must not let the ignorant deniers make a mountain out of a molehill all over again. They stole the show two years ago, but it turned out to be all smoke and mirrors – let’s not fall for it again. As Bush famously failed to say – Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.

    (* Wrongly, IMO, because a ‘~gate’ should be a genuine controversy, rather than a smokescreen designed to obfuscate the scientific certainty that humanity is adversely effecting the climate.)
    (**temporarily – because another nine inquiries would find no fault in the science)
    (*** or even those of us who are merely happy to take the assurance of thousands of [possibly bearded] intellectuals and climate experts over the protestations of arrogant, self-absorbed, right-wing, religious fundamentalist, nut-jobs who are so bent on not changing anything that they are unable to see that some of the changes would be beneficial, regardless of where the science stands.)

    • Alteredstory Says:

      “or even those of us who are merely happy to take the assurance of thousands of [possibly bearded] intellectuals and climate experts over the protestations of arrogant, self-absorbed, right-wing, religious fundamentalist, nut-jobs”

      THIS.

      I keep telling my friends and acquaintances that this SHOULD NOT be a matter of belief. They should educate themselves, and then use that knowledge to educate others, and so on. For some, it IS about taking it on faith from people they trust, and that’s just as bad when it’s ME they’re trusting, as when it’s someone else.

  2. Martin_Lack Says:

    This is a very sad indictment of the intelligence and wisdom of the majority of journalists today. A few weeks ago, I bet they did not report the International Energy Authority’s warning that, unless we stop building and using more new fossil-fuel-based energy infrastructure within five years, we will be guaranteed to trigger humanly-irreversible catastrophic climate change.


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