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GOLDBERG’S THREE WATCHES! Just how sure is the IPCC? Readers are given three choices: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2007

THE HAIRCUT WARS: Let’s start with an elementary fact. Given the history of the past fifteen years, it’s amazingly unwise for a Democratic White House candidate to get his hair cut at a place called The Pink Sapphire. But alas! Because he made this foolish move, John Edwards has joined former candidates Clinton and Kerry as victims of the press corps’ long “haircut wars.” Since 1992, only Gore, among Dem nominees, has escaped this kind of insightful press scrutiny. But then, there was no time to study Gore’s cut; he was busy being criticized for his boots, his earth tones and his three-button suits—Chris Matthews thought of a horny sailor—and, of course, for his polo shirts, which caused Brian Williams such angst. At one point in October 1999, Williams attacked the troubling polo shirts five nights in an eight-day period. (They were Gore’s attempt to fool female voters. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/11/01.) Today, this kooky fellow stands behind the anchor desk at a well-known place—NBC News.

How bad have the haircut wars become? Today, the Post calls in the heavy artillery—Robin Givhan, on page one of Style. Givhan’s the person on whom they call to make us think that they’re all bat-crazy. Meanwhile, Nagourney fusses and clucks at the Times. He’s never heard of such outrageous charges for hair care on a man.

Yes, it was dumb when Edwards dropped by The Pink Sapphire. At the Post, they live to explore such big topics. Why on earth is Gore so fat? they asked on page one of this Sunday’s Style section. This morning, on the same page, they ask: Why does Edwards “primp” so much? Our guess: They actually think their brilliant insights help us see to the souls of these hopefuls. They think that this highly selective nonsense is part of the crucial “character” vetting that helps us pick out our next chief.

And we’d have to say this—their record is strong! As they picked and pulled at Gore’s clothes, they could just see it: Al Gore was a fake! By contrast, George Bush was a plain-spoken man, these savants were willing to tell us.

IT’S A GIVHAN: Last April, we promised to ponder some mind-boggling news—Givhan had been awarded a Pulitzer! Perhaps determined to maintain our sanity, we never came through on that promise. But here was Givhan just last week, analyzing those Rutgers basketeers as they gave their now-famous press conference:
GIVHAN (4/13/07): A few of the young women wore earrings. Others had on a bit of lip gloss. And while they wore their hair in a variety of styles from buns to bobs, none of it appeared to be nappy. (And if it was, so what? Nappy should not be mistaken for unkempt. )

There were no heels, no trendy Juicy Couture, Seven jeans or any other expression of sophistication or cool that one might expect to see on a college student. They weren't dressed to look more grown up than their years would suggest. They were wearing nothing but play clothes and sneakers.

The clothes hid their athletic physiques, so there was no hint of muscular arms or strong legs. They appeared smaller than one might expect of such successful athletes. They looked like kids, and they seemed vulnerable, like a chain of fold-and-cut paper dolls. They only needed to hold hands to complete the image.
It was solid, thought-provoking stuff. But then, here she was, two months before walking off with her prize, discussing the necktie Dick Cheney wore when he discussed his hunting accident:
GIVHAN (2/17/06): It was intriguing to see Cheney in pink. He has never given the impression of being the sort of gentleman who would get involved with pastels, being neither a preppy nor a dandy nor a man willing to give five seconds' worth of thought to the topic of "style" ...

Cheney's pink four-in-hand registered in the manner of pigtails on a gangsta rapper. In the parlance of hip-hop, the look is full of macho swagger and the not-so-subtle suggestion that even with the hairdo of a pre-adolescent girl, the rapper is still the toughest thing standing in the room. The incongruous sartorial flourish is a display of irony and confidence.
Do you start to see why she won that prize? For ourselves, we criticized Givhan way back when—when she unloaded on poor Katherine Harris (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/22/00). Many liberals cheered her on at the time. But do you see now what we’ve told you? Can’t you see what eventually happens when we let these types of nonsense take hold?

Three cheers for Mike Getler, then the Post’s ombudsman! He called Givhan’s trashing of Harris “a classic example of the arrogance of journalists that undermines people's confidence in the media.” Today, though, Pulitzer Prize in hand, Givhan enlists in her cohort’s haircut wars, through which they impart their deep wisdom.

Special report: The 90 percent conundrum!


ENJOY EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: How sure was the IPCC about warming? Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: How sure was the IPCC about warming? The Post and the Times still aren’t sure. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/9/07.

PART 2: The AP made the report very clear. But a string of big papers still bungled. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/07.

PART 3: The Washington Times didn’t care for the facts. So they invented a new one. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/12/07.
And now, for our final installment! We dedicate the brilliance which follows to those kids in that U of N class:

PART 4—GOLDBERG’S THREE WATCHES: In today’s Post, Juliet Eilperin reports a fascinating new survey of public attitudes about global warming. In the past year, the public’s concern about warming has grown. Huh! We give details below.

But let’s start with a different part of Eilperin’s report. Most people think there’s “a lot” of disagreement among scientists about climate change, Eilperin says. Then, she takes a stab at explaining why. Frankly, her logic is puzzling:
EILPERIN (4/20/07): Eighty-four percent think that average global temperatures have been rising over the past century, and more than half say weather has become more unstable where they live. Still, only four in 10 are "extremely" or "very" sure global warming is happening, and 56 percent continue to think there is "a lot" of disagreement among scientists about climate change.

This last finding may stem from Americans' skeptical attitudes toward scientists: A third of respondents trust what scientists say about the environment "completely" or "a lot," and a quarter say they trust such statements "a little" or "not at all.
Frankly, we don’t get it. According to Eilperin, only 25 percent distrust scientists’ statements. How would that explain the large number of people who think there’s “a lot” of disagreement among climate scientists? As is often the case with such reports, the logic just doesn’t seem to be there. But uh-oh! As she continues, Eilperin quotes a poll respondent. A logical reason for the public’s belief that scientists differ seems to swim into view:
EILPERIN (continuing directly): Public doubt that there is a scientific consensus on global warming has dipped since last year, but it still contrasts with the growing evidence that climate change is real and is caused by human activity.

Charlotte Stewart, who works for a title company and lives in Terre Haute, Ind., said she believes researchers are divided because when she looks around online, "you see one person saying it's a problem, you see another person saying it's not a problem." But, Stewart added, unstable weather in her own area has convinced her that climate change is happening.
Why does Charlotte Stewart “believe researchers are divided?” She doesn’t say that she distrusts them. It’s just that, when she goes on-line, Stewart find a lot of people saying that global warming ain’t real. Of course, Al Gore discussed a variant of this syndrome in his Oscar-winning film; he discussed the way the mainstream press corps gives wide credence to “warming skeptics”—the kind of credence these skeptics don’t get in the actual scientific literature. (Many of these high-profile skeptics are paid by energy interests, Gore said.) But Eilperin steers clear of such tangy matters, offering instead an illogical reason for the public’s view on this matter. (There may be more than one reason, of course.)

Was Eilperin playing it dumb on this point—playing dumb, as Gore describes in the part of his film that dealt with this problem? We don’t know—but then again, Gore isn’t mentioned in Eilperin’s report. On Sunday, the Post devoted a page-one report to this burning question: Why is Gore so god-awful fat? Today, he’s MIA from this report—although the changes in attitude Eilperin describes almost surely result, in part, from the high profile won by his film. Indeed, here is Eilperin’s opening paragraph; it describes a change in public outlook Gore drove with his famous, now disappeared movie:
EILPERIN: A third of Americans say global warming ranks as the world's single largest environmental problem, double the number who gave it top ranking last year, a nationwide poll shows.
Huh! Why did that number double this year? Everyone knows, but the Post fails to say. At the Post, Gore gets discussed for being so fat—not for the kind of brilliant work which is changing the public’s understanding of this major world problem.

Oh well. Americans continue to struggle ahead despite lightly bollixed reports of this type—despite the press corps’ instinctive avoidance of questions about warming skeptics. Is Charlotte Stewart being misled by a bunch of hoaxers and kooks? (Listen up, people. Mars is warming!) Eilperin sidesteps that question today. But we do get an important new finding—offered inside an odd framework:
EILPERIN: Americans are also split on what causes global warming in the first place: 41 percent say the temperature rise stems mainly from human activities—a 10-percentage-point increase from last year—and 42 percent attribute it about equally to human and natural causes.
Despite Eilperin’s framework—Americans are split—that adds up to a very high number. According to this new Post survey, 83 percent believe that human activities are causing most warming or about half of warming. And that’s amazingly close to what the IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) said at the start of the year.

Are human activities causing warming? In the first three parts of this street-fighting series, we chuckled a bit as scribes floundered, trying to describe what the IPCC said. So let’s make this a teachable moment. Let’s recall exactly what the IPCC said about human causation of warming. And let’s recall the level of certainty they attached to their statement:
IPCC REPORT (page 10): Most of the observed increases in globally averaged temperature since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
For the record, that’s from Part 1 of the panel’s new report, released on February 2. According to the IPCC, “most” global warming in the past half century has been the result of human-made gases. And the IPCC rated this judgment as “very likely.” According to the report, this meant that the panel’s level of certainty was “more than 90 percent.”

As good citizens, let’s be sure we know what this report really said. The IPCC didn’t say that all recent warming has been human-caused. They said most such warming has been human-caused—and they stated a very high level of certainty (more than 90 percent). But this, of course, is very close to what Eilperin reports from the Post’s new survey. In the Post’s survey, 41 percent said that warming is mainly human-caused. (Essentially, that’s why the IPCC said.) But 42 percent came very close; human and natural causation have been roughly equal, they said.

How much warming has been human-caused? The IPCC didn’t try to nail it down. After all, “most” warming could be 51 percent—or it could be much more than that. And by the way—what are the non-human causes which have caused recent warming? We don’t think we’ve seen a scribe explain that. For ourselves, we’d like to learn more.

But that may be a bit much to ask of our current reporters. They tend to detour around the reasons why people believe that scientists differ. But then, they’ve had a heck of time just explaining what the IPCC said! When the IPCC report came out in February, both the Post and the New York Times made it their top, front-page story. But uh-oh! It was like the old joke that is called “Goldberg’s Law” (text below). If you read one newspaper, you thought you knew the IPCC’s level of certainty. If you read both major papers, you were no longer sure.

Did the IPCC state its view with 90 percent certainty? Or was it more than 90 percent sure? We didn’t know (until we checked it ourselves)—and then the Washington Times came along and just made up a new set of numbers! And omigod! As discussion of the IPCC proceeded, a third formulation soon swam into view. The stated certainty was “at least 90 percent,” both papers now said. What was the IPCC’s level of certainty? Like Goldberg having to check a third watch, readers now got three choices. The IPCC was:
a) 90 percent sure.
b) More than 90 percent sure.
c) At least 90 percent sure.
You’re right—“b” and “c” are very close. But no—they aren’t quite the same.

Poor Goldberg! Let’s remember his famous law—the famous law that tortured his mind:
GOLDBERG’S LAW: The man with one watch always knows the time. The man with two watches is never quite sure.
Reading these papers, Goldberg got a third watch. Goldberg has now been handed three different choices about the IPCC’s level of certainty.

You’re right—these differences may not matter that much. But our young analysts shake their heads when they see all this floundering. They ask us: When our biggest news orgs are so inexact—so unable to state simple facts—will they be able to sort out big problems about climate change? Will they sort out all the bull-roar swirling around the warming discussion? And how about this: Will editors see how horribly bollixed a report like William Broad’s really was? Broad’s report was a hopeless mess—and it appeared in our most famous newspaper. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/07, for our four-part report.)

Charlotte Stewart wants the truth, just as Goldberg wanted the time. But omigod! It isn’t just when she goes on-line that she’s likely to face real confusion.

JUST WAIT A WHILE: If you don’t like the weather at the New York Times, just wait a while:
ROSENTHAL AND REVKIN (2/3/07): The report is the panel's fourth assessment since 1990 on the causes and consequences of climate change, but it is the first in which the group asserts with near certainty—more than 90 percent confidence—that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming in the past half century.

NOCERA (2/10/07): Most recently, Exxon Mobil has been accused of ''bribing'' scientists through one of the organizations it helps finance, the American Enterprise Institute, to cast doubt on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. That's the report that made headlines recently by saying there was a 90 percent certainty that human activities had been the main cause of global warming.

REVKIN (4/5/07): That [February 2 IPCC] report said there was at least a 90 percent chance that most warming since 1950 had resulted from a continuing buildup of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere.

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (4/8/07): The [April] report from the intergovernmental panel was the second of three due this year. The first concluded with ''90 percent certainty'' that humans had caused the rise in atmospheric temperatures over the last half-century.
Actually, that February report concluded with “more than 90 percent certainty” that humans had caused most of the rise in those temperatures. But that editorial was close enough for journalistic work at the paper which gave us Broad’s howlers. The IPCC’s finding was really quite clear. Would it kill them to get this stuff right?