Environment

Science, Opinion Writing, and Journalistic Standards

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyApr 4, 2006 9:30 PM

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I really think the folks at Real Climate have an important point when they write, in outrage over Robert Novak's recent attack on James Hansen, the following:

What is happening at the Washington Post, unfortunately, has nothing to do with a critical examination of the evidence for an imminent danger. It has nothing to do with a quest to come to a real understanding of the issue. The editorials mentioned above [by Novak and George Will] show no respect for the truth; they shamelessly use distortion and deception to discredit climate science and climate scientists. It is hardly new that us humans can go to great lengths when it comes to denying unwelcome truths - what is surprising and disturbing, however, is that the Washington Post does not seem to have a quality control in place that ensures minimal journalistic standards, such as intellectual honesty and basic fact-checking.

At the outset, I'd caution Real Climate that this missive should not have been directed exclusively at the Post. Both George Will and Robert Novak (who write "columns" or "op-eds," not "editorials") are widely syndicated. Whatever they write, it appears everywhere. Everybody prints it. Still, the central point remains: Science and news reporters at the Post, or at any other of a number of leading papers, would never be caught dead printing the kind of junk that has been spewed recently by Will and Novak. If they did so, they would be in deep doodoo--with their readers first, and then later, probably, with their editors. So why does the mere fact that Will and Novak write "opinion" give them license to put out plain misinformation about matters of science?

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