WHO ARE THESE GUYS? Is Easterbrook a bit of a nut? William Broad didnt want you to ask: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2007
SPECTACULAR INCOMPREHENSION: We agree with Kevin Drum—this Post news report about No Child Left Behind was infuriating (for Kevins initial post, click here). But Sundays editorial was even worse, and we dont think Kevin got anywhere near the heart of the problem with his various posts on this topic last week. Call it the curse of low-income education. We dont think theres any topic which smart liberals understand less.
Whats wrong with that painfully clueless editorial? Well offer several posts this week. Most likely, well wait until Wednesday to start.
LOOK WHO THEYRE FOOLING TOO: On Friday, we marveled at a Q-and-A between Keith Olbermann and Richard Wolffe (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/16/07). Who is the Bush Admin trying to fool, Keith asked, with its patently bogus claims about those fired U.S. attorneys? Theyre trying to fool the voters, we said—and in many cases, despite their growing problems, theyre still succeeding quite nicely. Yesterday, Post ombudsman Deborah Howell helped us see who theyre fooling. She cited reader complaints about the way the Post has covered this story:
HOWELL (3/18/07): The story on the ouster-that-backfired of eight U.S. attorneys around the country kept getting deeper last week as media and congressional scrutiny continued.Who is the White House trying to fool? Theyre trying to fool the Malcolm Tanigawas—and in many cases, theyre still succeeding. Howell went on to explain, quite clearly, why Tanigawas challenge makes little sense. But it was quite amazing when Wolffe and Olbermann expressed their puzzlement over this matter. For at least the past fifteen years, people like Tanigawa have heard every type of crackpot claim from various conservative and mainstream sources—and they have believed almost all of these claims. Indeed, our politics has been driven by bogus tales over the course of the past fifteen years. On Wednesday evening, Woffe and Olbermann still didnt seem to have heard.
Note: It isnt enough to correct these misstatements, as Howell did in this case. At some point, liberals and mainstream press figures have to present the larger framework—the framework we have just offered. Youve been played for fools, for the past fifteen years! This notion wont occur to most voters until someone actually says it to them. Of course, this would involve describing the mainstream press corps behavior in recent years, and thats something that highly-paid mainstream press employees simply dont do.
Who is the White House trying to fool? Theyre trying to fool Malcolm Tanigawa! Theyve succeeded brilliantly down through the years, often helped by the mainstream press corps. Its stunning to see big mainstream press stars who still dont seem to have heard.
THE STORY CONTINUES: Below, we offer our fourth post about last Tuesdays report on Al Gores global warming critics. For Part 3, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/16/07. Youll find links to Parts 1 and 2.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS: William Broad didnt waste any time vouching for Al Gores warming critics. Here was the start of Tuesdays report in the lofty Science Times:
BROAD (3/13/07): Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' which won an Academy Award for best documentary. So do many environmentalists, who praise him as a visionary, and many scientists, who laud him for raising public awareness of climate change.Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore—but Don J. Easterbrook has some real data! As Broad continues, he is soon vouching for the motives and good faith of Gores critics:
BROAD (continuing directly): Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made ''the most important and salient points'' about climate change, if not ''some nuances and distinctions'' scientists might want. ''The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,'' he said, adding, ''I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.''Got that? Because theyre scientists, Gores critics are sensitive to [the] details and claims in Gores film. Thats a sweeping, blanket statement; it excludes other explanations for these critics pursuit of Gore. Gores critics cant be advancing their claims because theyre jealous or angry or kooky or dumb—or because theyre industry-supported hacks, or because they have some sort of politics. Nor are advancing their claims because theyre just plain wrong, and Gore isnt. Indeed, the good faith of Gores critics is even advanced in the headline atop this lengthy piece. Heres the headline which appeared on page one of Science Times and inside, on page D6:
NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE (3/13/07): From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype.The critics are rapt—theyre deeply attentive, not deluded—and they want Gore to tone down the hype. In short, by the time youve read that headline and those first five paragraphs, youve been exposed to some fine propaganda; Herr Broad has largely chosen a side. And in paragraph 6, he continues his tilt. Note how Easterbrook is described—and note what gets smuggled past readers:
BROAD (continuing directly): Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.Don Easterbook? Hes just a rank-and-file scientist, Broad says—although we are told, very much in passing, that a few of Gores critics see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. That means that these critics are far outside the current scientific consensus, although Broad doesnt take the time to specify that basic fact.
Indeed, Broad forgets to say something else; he forgets to say Don J. Easterbrook is one of these outlier scientists! Thats right! Easterbrook may be rank-and-file (whatever that means), but hes also one of those few Gore critics who dont believe that global warming is being caused by CO2. Heres David Roberts, in his angry review at The Huffington Post:
ROBERTS (3/13/07): Here's something else you never hear about Easterbrook in the piece: he doesnt believe human GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions are causing current global warming. That's fine. More power to him. But it puts him way outside the scientific mainstream; the recent IPCC report put confidence in the culpability of human GHGs at between 90-99 percent. Does Easterbrook's ... idiosyncratic stance on the basic science of climate change not warrant a mention, since he is the critic most prominently featured? Apparently not.Roberts links to this news release about Easterbrooks presentation to the Geological Society of America last October (the presentation which Broad later quotes). But theres no real doubt about Easterbooks views; in the wake of Broads report, he voiced this same view on several cable programs. Here he is on Hannity & Colmes, expressing his outlier outlook:
EASTERBROOK (3/13/07): I don't agree with some of the inaccuracies that are both in the film and the book. And that some of the things that [Gore] alleges are incongruent with logical facts.To Easterbrook, one of the inaccuracies in Gores film and book is the claim that global warming is being caused by humans! As Roberts notes, this places Easterbrook far outside the current scientific consensus. Indeed, how unusual are Easterbrooks views? He predicts global cooling in this century, as we see in last falls news release:
WESTERN WASHINGTON NEWS RELEASE: Easterbrook predicts that temperatures should cool between 2065 until 2100, and that global temperatures at the end of the century should be less than 1 degree cooler than at present. This is in contrast to other theories that there will be a warming by as much as 10 degrees by 2100.Easterbrooks view is in contrast to other theories, his news release modestly said. In fact, his view stands in glaring contrast to the prevailing scientific consensus—a fact which Broad withheld from readers in the course of his lengthy report. Indeed, Broad did more than withhold this fact; he actively suggested that Easterbook wasnt one of the few Gore critics who hold this decided minority view. Easterbook is rank-and-file, Broad said in paragraph 6; this clearly seemed to distinguish him from the few critics who see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Later in his piece, Broad identifies one Gore critic, Richard Lindzen, as a vocal skeptic of global warming. But he never tells readers that Easterbrook, his featured critic, fits in that category too. Nor does he identify Robert Carter, who is quoted challenging Gore, as another such warming skeptic. Broad quotes three outlier warming skeptics, but only identifies one.
Lets be clear; the fact that Easterbrook holds a minority view doesnt necessarily mean that hes wrong. But Broads piece would take on a whole different aspect if we were told that his rank-and-file lead critic is, in fact, in a quite decided minority about the most basic issues of warming science. If Broad had been willing to tell readers the truth, this might have produced a better, more honest report—a report in which Broad evaluated the scientific reasons for the prevailing consensus about greenhouse gases. (More on that missed opportunity tomorrow.) But uh-oh! That would have made it harder to write the article Broad chose to write—an article in which (as always with the Times) Gores basic honesty is held up to question. Broad—baldly misleading his readers—tells us that his leading Gore-critic is just a modest rank-and-file scientist. If he had told his readers the truth, a possibility might have entered their heads; many readers would have wondered if Easterbrook is a just a big, f*cking nut. This would have undercut Broads novel, so Easterbooks outlier status was withheld. In the process, New York Times readers got played once again—and Gores honesty was once again questioned.
In fact, David Roberts (and others) have challenged the status of other critics whom Broad cites. Because we arent scientists, these claims are hard for us to judge. But to savor the rank and blatant dishonesty which has typified Times reporting on Gore, lets look at Broads groaning use of controversial centrist critic Bjorn Lomborg.
In Broads report, Lomborg is described as a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming. This is true—but its not quite enough, given Broads use of Lomborg. Again, here is the passage where Broad cites Lomborg. Its the most gruesome part of Broads report—the part where he makes the groaning apples-to-oranges comparison we discussed in last Thursdays post:
BROAD: Some of Mr. Gore's centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe's warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore's message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.According to Broad, [s]ome of Mr. Gore's centrist detractors drew that apples-to-oranges comparison. (As youll recall, Gore was discussing what will happen if the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves break off. By contrast, the IPCC was discussing what will happen if these two shelves dont break off.) Broad never names those centrist detractors—but one of them seems to be Lomborg. Indeed, here is the syndicated article to which Broad refers—and its just as gruesome as Broads overall piece. Indeed, Lomborg pimps that apples-to-oranges comparison; heres what the Gore detractor says about the IPCCs 23-inch prediction:
LOMBORG (2/7/07): This [prediction] is especially interesting since it fundamentally rejects one of the most harrowing scenes from Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." In graphic detail, Mr. Gore demonstrated how a 20-foot rise in the sea level would inundate much of Florida, Shanghai and Holland. The IPCC report makes it clear that exaggerations of this magnitude have no basis in science—though clearly they frightened people and perhaps will win Mr. Gore an Academy Award.Maybe Lomborgs just stupid—or perhaps hes dishonest. For the record, heres how Times Andrew Goldstein reviewed his controversial book, The Skeptical Environmentalist:
GOLDSTEIN (8/26/02): The book, which was published in English last year, became a best seller, and conservatives worldwide use its ideas to justify inaction on such issues as deforestation and global warming. "...We cant judge the overall controversy RE Lomborg. But is he guilty of selective use of data? He certainly was in that syndicated column, pimping that apples-to-oranges comparison. And William Broad—dumb or dishonest?—rushed to repeat this perfect cant. Lomborgs bull-roar had appeared in the New York Sun. Thanks to the hapless (or dishonest?) Broad, it soon found its way to the Times.
One last comical (and typical) point: In the passage quoted above, Broad quotes Lomborg saying that the cacophony of screaming about warming does not help. Indeed, those phrases come straight from the final sentence of Lomborgs syndicated column. But as you can see from his piece, Lomborg wasnt talking about Gore in that passage; he was talking about the recent press frenzy accompanying the IPCC report. Lets spell it out: Lomborg wasnt speaking about Gore in that passage; he was speaking about the New York Times! But as weve shown you down through the years, mainstream press corps liars like Broad never tell you when their own news orgs get scalded. Lets pretend he was name-calling Gore, this great science writer said. But so it goes—so it has gone for many years—at the very top of American journalism.
TOMORROW: How and why this garbage persists.
FOR THE RECORD, WHAT BROKAW SAID: In his own Discovery Channel special (last summer), Tom Brokaw discussed the possibility of those ice shelves breaking off. Heres a chunk of the program which was featured on Dateline. Brokaw relies on two well-known scientists—Princetons Michael Oppenheimer and Goddards James Hansen:
BROKAW (7/9/06): About 10 percent of the earth's surface is covered by ice, most of that in the polar regions. But if enough of that ice melts, the seas will rise dramatically, and the results will be calamitous. If the temperature rises more than four degrees, many believe it could trigger irreversible, runaway melting ice at both poles.We cant speak to the science here; Broad actually could have informed Times readers if he had tried to evaluate these claims. But Brokaw presented the same worst-case scenario for which Broad chose to ridicule Gore (by adopting Lomborgs apples-and-oranges). This catastrophe could happen in this century, Hansen said.
We cant judge the merits of Hansens statement. But last month, Lomborg turned Hansens apple into an orange. And, thanks to hapless (or dishonest?) Broad, Times readers got played for fools too.