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Bug #30348 closed:unresolved

"He said, she said" in NYTimes/ClimateWire story on Gore's "24 hours" effort

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This bug appeared in a news report published by New York Times on Sep 16, 2011 by Umair Irfan. View the original news report.
Bug Type:  Other

A pure he-said-she-said story with no attempt to adjudicate: the article's second half is given over to PR executiveTom Harris, introduced as "executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition" (which Harris is permitted to describe: "...climate realists"); yet Harris has no climate science background, and no verification of any of his statements (including the "climate realists" one) is attempted.   (The first half extensively stenographs Gore, and again, no verification is attempted.)


Anna Haynes has not contacted New York Times

Bug History

Sep 21, 2011 3:11 pm Open Anna Haynes
Sep 21, 2011 3:18 pm Open: Under Discussion Anna Haynes
Nov 27, 2011 9:02 am Closed: Unresolved admin

Discussion Leave a comment


(FWIW, I'd like to edit the title of this bug, to say "he-said-she-said" instead of false balance, but I don't seem to be able to.)

Sep 21, 2011 3:18 pm

Also: I submitted this with some hesitation since "he-said-she-said" isn't a MediaBugs category, & for MB to extend into false-balance & "he-said-she-said" territory might cause it to become quagmired, or quagmire-able.

Sep 21, 2011 3:26 pm

I edited the headline for you.

Yes, this one is definitely either on the border for us or beyond. The criteria we try to apply is, "Is it correctable?" In other words, can you imagine a correction notice resolving the problem? In this case, you're pointing out what you see as a flaw in the structure and methodology of the piece. And while that's a totally worthwhile area for media criticism, it might not be resolvable through our process...

Sep 21, 2011 9:24 pm

Thank you.
Suggestions for MediaBugs site:
1. In the FAQ, the answer to "What's a "media bug"?" should point to the "what is a media bug?" page. (Right now, their answers aren't alike, & "is it correctable?" isn't mentioned in the FAQ)
2. The bug report form could include an optional field for "Suggested correction notice" - & if the submitter can't think of how to word it...

So - to return to & then carom off this particular bug - the "make it a MediaBugs bug" Q is, is it possible to refactor a "he-said-she-said" complaint so as to expose a fundamental & correctable flaw...
(to do so is beyond me at the moment, but maybe not beyond others, and I'll ruminate)

Sep 22, 2011 8:30 am

First, it is important to mention that only 38% of the story went to our side of the climate science debate. Mr. Gore got the remaining nearly 2/3 of the coverage, not half as described above.

Media Matter, Joe Romm's site and others will not allow me to respond to the charges against me - I have posted responses but they are censored out. Perhaps your site is open minded and fair enough to allow the target of the attack to reply?

In the hopes that this is the case, here is my response to the many mistakes and misrepresentations committed by Media Matters:

Misleading Point (MP) #1: “NYTimes.com Strikes False Balance On Climate Change”

Response: The NYT is to be complimented for allowing the views of climate realists to be expressed along side those of Al Gore. In a field as complex and important as climate change, to listen to only one side of the argument is a recipe for making very large mistakes in public policy formulation.

MP #2: I am labeled a “contrarian”. Polls show that a majority of Americans do not support the idea that humanity is causing dangerous climate change. I may be saying things that are contrary to what Al Gore and most of the media say, but a slight majority of the public are now doubting or disagree with the catastrophic human caused climate change hypothesis. Hence my position, and that of ICSC, is no longer contrarian.

MP #3: I am quoted as saying that “This extreme weather thing is not a function of temperature” as if that statement was incorrect.

Response: Weather, extreme or not, I explained to the writer, is driven by temperature and pressure differences (called gradients by weather experts) between different regions, generally not the temperature itself. In a warmer world, the temperature difference between the tropics and the arctic regions is expected to lessen and so, in general, extreme weather lessens as well. Mr. Gore has the situation backwards. It is during cold periods when we have experienced the most, and most severe extreme weather events. Many studies show this. For example, a recent report from the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed that it was during cool periods that typhoon activity was highest in the Pacific in the past centuries.

MP #4: I am cited as estimating that “90 percent of the important facts [in Gore's presentations] are wrong or misrepresented.” “The article offered no details to support this claim.”

Response: Yes, it is true that in a short piece like the NYT article there was undoubtedly no space to include details to support this claim. However, I stand by the statement. As I explained to the author, whether you are looking at strong tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, heat waves, extreme precipitation events, fires, etc., there is no overall significant upward trend in the extent or severity of extreme weather events. Some are actually dropping significantly.

MP #5: “Nor did mention that the vast majority of scientists agree that humans are changing the climate.”

Response: This is an urban myth repeated over and over by alarmists. There is no compelling evidence of consensus since there has never been reputable, world-wide polling of scientists who study climate change causes.

Among the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), only 62 of the 2,500 expert scientific reviewers commented on anything in the chapter in the IPCC report that includes the oft-repeated statement about the climatic impact of human greenhouse gas emissions. That 98% of them said nothing about it does not indicate that they agree or disagree, of course, but claims of consensus within that body about the most important assertion of the debate are unsubstantiated.

It is also meaningless to say that IPCC’s views are supported by the learned academies of science in all of the countries of scientific accomplishment, as Gore does. None of the academies have polled their members and showed that a majority of them approve of the academies’ positions. These statements are simply the opinions of academy executives or special committees appointed by the executives, and are often just political statements unsupported by many of the member scientists.

Most experts in the field understand that global warming science remains immature and highly uncertain.

MP #6: “And at no point did the article explain who Tom Harris is or why he was quoted evaluating statements about science instead of, say, a climate scientist.”

Response: I work with many of the world’s leading climate experts and, as someone with an advanced technical/science degree and 30+ years of experience in technical/scientific topics (mainly thermo-fluids—thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer), I have the training required to read and evaluate many of the science papers and reports and formulate informed opinions, even though I do not do the research myself. Contrast my background with Al Gore, or any of the Executive Directors of the various groups promoting the climate scare who are often cited in mass media.

MP #7: “Starting in the late 1990s, big companies whose profits were tied to fossil fuels, … Since then, industry-funded groups have used the media’s tradition of quoting people with competing views to convey a state of confusion even as consensus on warming has built.”

Response: This is irrelevant to the group I lead, the International Climate Science Coalition (http://www.climatescienceinternational.org ) since we are not, and have never been, supported by industry of any kind, let alone the fossil fuel industry.

Regardless, it is an obvious logical fallacy to assert that what anyone on either side of the argument says is wrong because the group is supported by, or has ties with, vested interests such as corporations. That is why the International Climate Science Coalition does NOT use this “motive intent” argument to criticize the many climate campaigners who have significant corporate funding (such as the David Suzuki Foundation).

MP #8: “Harris is a mechanical engineer, not a climate researcher.”

Response: Se MP #6 above.

MP #9: “According to a 2007 Toronto Star article, he previously worked for a lobbying group which represented the Canadian Electricity Association and the Canadian Gas Association.”

Response: Yes, for about five months in 2006, I worked for High Park Group (HPG), which, so I am told (I was not involved in any lobbying activity while I worked for the company), lobbied on behalf of the Canadian Electricity Association and the Canadian Gas Association. They also lobbied on behalf of solar and nuclear companies, the head of HPG has told media. So, what is one to conclude about HPG – are they for greenhouse gas controls so as to please their solar and nuclear clients or are they against GHG controls to please their fossil fuel clients? This part of the above article is meaningless.

MP #10: The implied “guilt by association” logical fallacy reference to Heartland.

Response: Yes, of course ICSC works with groups that share ICSC’s perspective on climate change. We don’t get involved in their non-climate related work and we are happy to work with groups from any side of the political spectrum that want to approach the climate issue in a realistic fashion. Heartland is one of the original climate realist groups and they have done much important work on this file, especially the Nongovernmental International Panel on climate Change (NIPCC – see http://www.nipccreport.com ).

Regardless, I and the scientists involved with the ICSC will speak at any conference that is open to hearing an alternative viewpoint on the climate issue. It is important to note that Heartland had speakers and attendees at their conferences from both sides of the climate controversy—even Al Gore was invited. This approach of allowing, indeed welcoming people from both sides of the debate to speak and attend is something climate alarmist organizations would do well to emulate if they want to be taken seriously.

Attacks like this one from “Media Matters for America” give climate realists an important benchmark. As bomber pilots in the air force used to say in World War II, “You get the most flack when you are over the target.” We must be doing something right to warrant this attention from those who apparently want to censor the important climate debate to include only one point of view.

Media Matters for America say they are “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media”. But ICSC is not conservative. Neither is it liberal or centrist. It is trying to follow the example of Ben Franklin, taking the best from both sides of the political spectrum to promote policies that are beneficial for our nations and the world around us.

Sep 24, 2011 3:53 pm

There's definitely value in having a MediaBugs variant for misleading climate coverage (via false balance, equating public opinion with (evidence-based) scientific opinion, etc); but it's clear that such reports would derail MediaBugs.org in short order. MB folks, feel free to move this one to "off topic"; and sorry.

Sep 24, 2011 5:10 pm

(FWIW, I revisited Romm's post to try to add a link to Harris's comment since Harris couldn't, but comments over there are closed.)

Sep 25, 2011 7:52 am

Anna Haynes just e-mailed me today to ask me for some basic background information about ICSC FOUR DAYS AFTER she had already posted this so-called "media bug" criticizing me. Perhaps she should have done her fact checking before commenting in public, you think? Anna has committed the same basic journalistic error committed by Media Matters in the first place.

I told her that I would not take the time to answer her questions because of her association with SourceWatch (which she said she would add information to based on her "fact checking" of my statements - what a polite and respectful approach, and how encouraging for me to work with her - not). I have already tried to steer SourceWatch in the correct direction on ICSC, but it was a complete waste of time. All the information she asked for is on our site anyways.

BTW, comments were not closed on Romm's site when I tried to add my response to the criticisms. Romm, or whomever is his censor, just blocked my comments out so it seems unlikely they would have accepted them from Anna Haynes either.

Sep 25, 2011 12:58 pm

(I'd emailed to ask Dr. Harris the names of a couple of his "many of the world’s leading climate experts" & whether they shared his view on what constitutes "climate realism", and asked if I understood correctly [from HI Form 990s] that the Heartland Institute was among the funders of his organization.)

Sep 26, 2011 1:59 pm

(asked Harris to reconcile his org's claim of being "funded and supported exclusively by private individuals" with its getting $45k from Heartland in 2007 (source: HI 990))

Sep 27, 2011 9:12 am