Borenstein's Biased Reporting
By David Henderson
I posted last week on Andrew C. Revkin’s and John M. Broder’s New York Times news story, to show how clever journalists can bias the reader at every turn. In today’s local Monterey County Herald appears an Associated Press news story from yesterday that does the same thing on the same issue: Climategate. The story is by news reporters Seth Borenstein, Raphael Satter, and Malcolm Ritter.
Here are some of the key paragraphs that do that, starting with the first paragraph. [I won’t quote all the paragraphs, both because of my time constraint and because of my concern with copyright issues.]
LONDON (AP) — E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data – but the messages don’t support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.
Notice, as in the NY Times’ piece I analyzed last week, the prominent use of the word “stolen.” Again, if it’s true, it’s important–theft is bad. But is this such an important part of the story still? Also, is it true? How do we know the e-mails were stolen rather than leaked? The major point made explicitly in this paragraph is that the messages don’t support the view that the science was faked. Of course, because that’s the main point Borenstein, Satter, and Ritter make, a careful reader will want to see whether they establish that claim in this 1800+-word story.
The 1,073 e-mails examined by the AP show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
There are two claims in the above. The first is that they had private doubts and that these were slight and fleeting. Nowhere later in the story do they establish that their doubts were slight and fleeting. Second, the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence supporting the global warming thesis. But nowhere in the article do they refer us to a “vast body of evidence.”
The scientists were keenly aware of how their work would be viewed and used, and, just like politicians, went to great pains to shape their message. Sometimes, they sounded more like schoolyard taunts than scientific tenets.
OK, I’ll give them that one. That does sum up a lot of the juvenile tone of the e-mails.
Frankel [Mark Frankel, mentioned in an earlier paragraph as director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science] saw “no evidence of falsification or fabrication of data, although concerns could be raised about some instances of very ‘generous interpretations.'”
“Generous interpretations” sounds pretty serious to me. As Frankel said, it’s not falsification or fabrication, but it sounds like going beyond what the data say. Weren’t the reporters curious enough to ask him to give instances? Where did these scientists go beyond the data? And to what extent is the much-vaunted “consensus” due to people giving over-generous interpretations?
The e-mails were stolen from the computer network server of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in southeast England, an influential source of climate science, and were posted online last month. The university shut down the server and contacted the police.
Did we forget to mention that the data were stolen?
One of the most disturbing elements suggests an effort to avoid sharing scientific data with critics skeptical of global warming. It is not clear if any data was destroyed; two U.S. researchers denied it.
This is semi-good reporting. It is disturbing. Their second sentence implies that the data may have been destroyed. Their last clause is weak: two U.S. researchers denied it? Who are these researchers? What is their role in this?
Again, because of copyright issues, I don’t want to quote too many of their paragraphs but some of the next paragraphs are decent reporting. They point out that the some “mainstream scientists repeatedly suggested” that they all block attempts of critics who sought their data under Freedom of Information Act kinds of laws. They also pointed out that this raises a “science ethics question.” They also, to their credit, directly quoted some of the damning e-mails. They also quote Michael Mann’s statement that, despite the request, he didn’t delete e-mails. Finally, they quote one scientist celebrating the death of a critic, another jokingly suggesting that they hire a Mafia hitman to murder global warming skeptics, and another stating his temptation to beat the crap out of another skeptic. Interestingly, though, they don’t point out that this skeptic who avoided being beat up is himself a climate scientist named Patrick Michaels.
When the journal, Climate Research, published a skeptical study, Penn State scientist Mann discussed retribution this way: “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.”
We’re getting warm because we almost get to the circular reasoning. “The skeptics don’t publish in the peer-reviewed journals,” goes the chant. And so when they do so publish, let’s boycott those journals. But now notice the very next paragraph:
That skeptical study turned out to be partly funded by the American Petroleum Institute.
In other words, dear reader, you can dismiss your concern about these scientists’ suggested boycott of a scientific journal because the paper it published was partly funded by an oil lobby. And, of course, none of the papers done by the players who believe in anthropogenic global warming were funded by organizations with an ax to grind, right?
One e-mail that skeptics have been citing often since the messages were posted online is from Jones. He says: “I’ve just completed Mike’s (Mann) trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (from 1981 onward) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
Jones was referring to tree ring data that indicated temperatures after the 1950s weren’t as warm as scientists had determined.
The “trick” that Jones said he was borrowing from Mann was to add the real temperatures, not what the tree rings showed. And the decline he talked of hiding was not in real temperatures, but in the tree ring data which was misleading, Mann explained.
Lots going on here. Notice that the reporters don’t comment on the use of the word “hide.” When researchers try to hide something that contradicts their other findings or views, then, as comedian Will Durst says, “That’s not good.” Notice also that the tree ring data say that temperatures weren’t as warm [they mean “high”] as “scientists had determined.” In other words, scientists had already “determined” that the temperatures were high.
Remember that the reporters promised, in the second paragraph, that the e-mails “don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.” They’re coming close to the end of the story now, so it’s time to show that. Here goes:
But in the end, global warming didn’t go away, according to the vast body of research over the years.
Wow! That cinches it. They don’t actually give us any quotes or hints or specific findings from this “vast body of research” on which Borenstein has apparently been reporting on for years. Instead, they then quote two “moderate” climate researchers who state that the e-mails didn’t change their minds.
They finally get around to citing one of the skeptics, Steve McIntyre. Then they write:
McIntyre, 62, of Toronto, was trained in math and economics and says he is “substantially retired” from the mineral exploration industry, which produces greenhouse gases.
Trained in “math and economics.” That’s fair: he’s not a climate scientist. But he was in an industry that “produces greenhouse gases.” So, of course, he must be biased, right?
Interestingly, Borenstein et al never mention two e-mails that raise the most skepticism about the science, both by Kevin Trenberth. I can’t say it better than Bob Murphy and so here is his comment:
But hold on just a second. Trenberth’s follow-up email was even more interesting than the one receiving the bulk of the press coverage. Tom Wigley quoted Trenberth’s statement and said, “I do not agree with this.” In other words, Wigley was saying that he thought he and his colleagues could explain the lack of warming, and so there was no travesty. To this Trenberth replied (bold has been added):
How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!
At the risk of being melodramatic, I do declare that the above email is simply jaw-dropping. If the climate scientists cannot tell if a particular remedy is working, it means that they aren’t exactly sure how the climate would have evolved in the absence of such a remedy. In other words, Trenberth at least is admitting that he is not at all confident in the precise, quantitative predictions that the alarmists are citing as proof of the need for immediate government intervention. And this expression of doubt wasn’t from the distant past: Trenberth sent the above email in October of this year!