Environment

Attacking the Messenger

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFeb 9, 2010 9:17 PM

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I'm not surprised that Romm goes bananas over this front-page article in today's NYT by Elisabeth Rosenthal, because it prominently quotes Roger Pielke, Jr. Any high profile story with a Pielke makes Romm all frothy. (I do, however, think the piece leaned too heavily on Roger and that it should have mentioned that he is a frequent critic of the IPCC.) What surprises me is the over the top reaction that Romm elicits from Robert Brulle, a communications expert at Drexel University. He tells Romm in an email that the story is the "the worst, one sided reporting I have ever seen." Hmm, that makes me wonder how much reporting he's actually read. (Worse than many of the MSM stories leading up to the Iraq war?) But wait, it gets better--er, I mean worse. Because this morning, according to Romm, Brulle lards it on during a phone conversation:

In this article, the New York Times has become an echo-chamber for the climate disinformation movement.

Now that's a mouthful. Just to be clear: this is not a perfect story, by any stretch (how many are?). I have my own beefs, namely that the writer didn't deliver all the goods. Rosenthal writes, for example, that

the climate panel has found itself in the political cross hairs, its judgments provoking passions normally reserved for issues like abortion and guns.

So how about an example of those culture war passions? She doesn't offer any, though the blogosphere is ablaze with them. I also don't understand why Rosenthal didn't mention the larger implications of the IPCC controversies, in terms of the impact to public opinion. It's not like there aren't polls to reference. Even liberal bloggers like Kevin Drum are wondering what the effect of all the bad news is. These quibbles aside, I thought that the story was a fair (but narrow) representation of the IPCC's (and it's chairman's) recent troubles. Rosenthal didn't overplay all the accusations (she even downplayed the latest ones as "half-truths) and she gave Pachauri and his supporters equal space for rebuttal. Was it necessary to let Monckton tag-team on Pachauri over the conflicts of interest issue? No. It wasn't even necessary to use Monckton. I suspect his presence in the story--in addition to Pielke's-- is what gets Romm and Brulle all riled up. Monckton represents the bonkers wing of the skeptic universe. He's just not a credible critic of climate science, much less the IPCC. If the point of Rosenthal's story was to highlight how the IPCC's recent troubles is reinforcing Morano's manufactured narrative, then Monckton is your man. But if the point is to suss out the legitimate criticism of the IPCC from the exaggerated--and where to go from there-- then why not use a credible source, such as a Mike Hulme? Still, does Monckton's presence and the extra dose of Pielke really add up, in Brulle's words, to an "echo-chamber for the climate disinformation movement"? I don't see it. If any of my less partisan readers disagree, please set me straight. UPDATE: Tom Yulsman over at CEJ poses a different set of questions related to the Times story, most provocatively,

Has the IPCC outlived its usefulness?

UPDATE 2: Mathew Nisbet at Framing Science has an interesting take:

Critics on the left are alleging bias in the story, but if there is bias, it is simply journalists' orientation to pay attention to and report on possible wrong-doing by those in positions of influence and to follow perceived conflict.

I'm overly sensitive to the term "bias," but Nisbet is right about this journalistic tendency to cover the controversy or some perceived trangression. In this case, however, I think the story was warranted, given it was preceded by weeks of widespread reporting of numerous IPCC issues.

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