on journalism

Flugtag 2008 Tampa, FL – 1/200 f/4.8 ISO 100

So far I have only posted photos of Flugtag that I took from my Blackberry.  This one was taken with the D80 on a tripod with shutter release cable.

This is a response to a comment from my post yesterday titled “In Search of Conservative Comedy.” The context of what follows can be best understood by reading said post and said comment.

It must certainly be true that the scientific community is not in total agreement about “exactly” how much influence human activity is having on climate change.  The quote you cited below was, I concede, written in the heat of the moment.  My thought can be more clearly stated in the following way: Peer-reviewed scientists are not debating the existence of global warming or whether human activity largely contributes to it.

Climate change is a very important issue, but I am much more interested in the topic of ethical journalism. It has been said that freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.  Luckily, the internet is beginning to change this unfortunate reality.  Mainstream media, though, is fast becoming the great leveler of information.  No longer is there a quest for the truth. If there were an ethics statement among today’s mainstream journalists it would be, “Always give equal time for bullshit.”  Forgive me when I say that the articles cited in the comment strike me as examples of shoddy journalism.  Rather than a point-by-point rebuttal in defense of global warming, I’d rather share some ideas in defense of responsible readership and ethical journalism.

The first thing that caught my attention while reading Nigel Calder’s article is the first sentence in paragraph two.  He has this to say regarding the certainty of the IPCC about its findings:

“The small print explains “very likely” as meaning that the experts who made the judgment felt 90% sure about it.”

I’ve read that statement several times and I simply cannot get my head around it.  Calder seems to be saying that 90% isn’t enough to be called “very likely.” He goes on to claim that, because a scientist said in 1958 that he was 90% sure of something and turned out to be wrong, the 90% certainty quoted in the 2007 IPCC report must be equally wrong.  This is exactly the kind of unscientific argument made by Penn and Teller. Calder’s only scientific evidence hinges on a single experiment done by a man named Svensmark.  Now, I wouldn’t dare challenge Svensmark’s findings without knowledge of their validity, but he eventually reveals the following:

“Thanks to having written The Manic Sun, a book about Svensmark’s initial discovery published in 1997, I have been privileged to be on the inside track for reporting his struggles and successes since then. The outcome is a second book, The Chilling Stars, co-authored by the two of us and published next week by Icon books. We are not exaggerating, we believe, when we subtitle it “A new theory of climate change”.

And, of course, the bottom of the article tells readers how to purchase said book:

“The Chilling Stars is published by Icon. It is available for £9.89 including postage from The Sunday Times Books First on 0870 165 8585”

Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean to say that because Calder is selling a book that his writings, thoughts, or ideas are invalid.  What it does mean is that his article is useless as a credible source of information.  And yes, the same goes for Al Gore and company.  If it is true that Al Gore has financial interest in the “green” marketplace, he too is in the same leaky scientific boat as Nigel Calder.

Lastly, one need only look to the article’s publisher for a reason to question.  The Times of London has been owned and run by Rupert Murdoch for over 27 years.  Yes, that Rupert Murdoch.  Hardly an example of journalistic integrity.

The most wonderful thing about science and reason is that conclusions matter little as long as the method is sound. In thinking about these things I often think of my children.  Every chance I get I encourage their creative questioning of the so-called experts and authorities. I will know I have succeeded when my children freely question the claims of politicians, teachers, clergy, and especially the claims of yours truly.


3 Responses to “on journalism”

  1. 1 DO
    August 13, 2008 at 1:31 am

    BTW I agree with the fact that there is a problem and humans are part of the problem BUT not the whole problem. When I say humans I mean humans – point being is that Americans are NOT the biggest problem in the world today. China has surpassed the USA as the biggest violator in pollution and here is just an example:

    China has moved to ban the production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), according to a statement from the country’s environmental protection agency. The action is in accordance with the 1987 Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of ozone layer-depleting products. China, which signed the agreement in 1991, says it will end all CFC production by 2010.
    Info provided from: http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0628-china.html

    It only took them 10 years to get this done. China has no regulation up to this point of any matter however they are currently working towards improving there environment: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/olympics/2008-08/05/content_6903737.htm

    Here are the main causes of Ozone depletion:
    CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons
    Solar Flares
    bromofluorocarbon or halons
    carbon tetrachloride


  2. 2 rb
    August 13, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    “Peer-reviewed scientists are not debating the existence of global warming or whether human activity largely contributes to it.”

    So my reply to Dan’s last post was hammered out in the 15 minutes I should have been getting ready for work. Those two articles I referenced were the product of quick searches and speed reading. My position on all this is that the global cooling/warming is cyclical and that science does not really know what will occur. Measurements have only recently been very accurate (60-70 years) and this is hardly enough time to extrapolate what will occur in the centuries following our own. No doubt we contribute, but how much and how damaging is the question.

    If I spent the time I could find as many articles by scientists raising the alarm of impending man-made global warming holocaust and assaulting those who do not agree. There are plenty of peer-reviewed scientists that are in agreement of global warming, rather the debate is to what impact the human contribution is really having.

    India, Pakistan, China, Russia are the countries that are not bearing the burden of filtering/conversing/eco conscience living.

    Gotta run…that second paragraph is not 100% fleshed out, so live with it : )

  3. August 13, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    RB, I completely agree with you on all points. The question then is this: What should we do with this information? True, it is difficult to predict the future of Earth’s climate. Should we then sit on our hands and do nothing? That is certainly what large corporations would like. And what about China? True, that country is polluting almost as much as we are now. Should we then simply blame China for climate change and completely deregulate our own polluting companies (assuming there is any deregulation left to be done)? CEOs and board members the world over are the only real beneficiaries of such denial.

    The rich and powerful have so much to lose in this battle for the American mind. We, the people, have almost nothing to lose by acting on the 90% certainty claimed by the world scientific community and we have everything to gain by speaking out and voting around this issue. Sadly, it is the rich and powerful that control most of the dialogue in this country. This is why I am so interested in journalism and the media. A failed press is why the poor and middle class vote against their own obvious self-interest, not just on climate change but on economics, foreign policy, and civil rights. The idea that we are a largely informed population is an illusion.

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