On Media

I have given up on my local newspaper.

It’s been a long time coming. I’m tired of letters to the editor that talk about how carbon dioxide is good for the environment because it makes plants grow. I’m tired of editorials that conclude with, “So-and-so is a senior fellow at (insert name of suspiciously-funded conservative lobby group here).” I’m tired of the skeptical editor who gets an entire page on Saturdays and one or two columns during the week, often to talk about “Al Gore’s eco-horror film” and “scientists who have exaggerated data and silenced critics”. And I’m tired of the paper’s notion that any story even remotely related to global warming has to include a picture of a polar bear. If there’s one thing that the public needs to know about climate change, it’s that it’s not just a problem for the polar bears.

I’ve been reading my local newspaper every day for years, but now I have decided two things. Firstly, this isn’t a paper that I want to support. But more importantly, when the paper is making such a muddle out of their climate change reporting, it’s not a source that I trust to inform me accurately on other issues.

In terms of alternatives, I’ve subscribed to RSS feeds from the CBC for national and world politics, and the BBC for science and technology. I’ll read the Globe and Mail when I can get my hands on it, as it’s a very good paper that does a good job (at least comparatively) of climate change reporting.

I can always use my local paper, or any paper in the world for that matter (yay Internet) as a case study for how the media reports climate change. However, I’d like to rely on something else for my personal knowledge about the world. And it’s very nice not to feel that sense of doom as I turn to the editorial page.

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19 thoughts on “On Media

  1. Maybe what they need is a letter to the editor about how carbon dioxide isn’t really all that good for the environment. In fact, it’s looking to be pretty harmful to some of us, polar bears and non-polar bears alike. ;)

    [Luckily, many such letters are published. But that has never stopped the paper from “balancing” them with more strange skeptical ones. -Kate]

  2. Kate, take a look at the paper’s owner.

    Virtually all big-name papers in major Canadian cities are owned by CanWest (or have been for some substantial time; there’s been a bit of financial trouble with that corporation recently and they’ve had to sell some). CanWest is probably best known for the National Post. There’s a reason their Wiki page has an “Editorial Controversies” section. The only big-name papers I can think of that are an exception are the Globe and Mail (you’ve noticed the quality difference) and the Toronto Star.

    CanWest’s not quite as bad as News Corp (read: Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, infamous for Fox “News”), but it’s still pretty insidious. Their major editorial blind spot lies with middle-eastern conflicts, running only stories which aren’t critical of Israel. While not explicitly anti-science, consider the audience that appreciates a censor-sanitized news source (i.e. one less likely to challenge their beliefs).

    I had similar problems with my own newspaper, which goes one step further because Lorne Gunter (of the National Post and this Climate Crock vid) is local and therefore gets more page time than he would nationally. We’ve got a handful of good journalists and climate stories run with reasonable regularity (they aren’t terribly good, though, unless recited completely from the AP), but our letters page is utterly awful. Several of the local university’s professors write in to counter this frequently, and since one of the better journalists is a political columnist, we get a decent amount of anti-noise (that is, when said columnist isn’t writing about Alberta’s many other political malfeasance instances…), but it isn’t enough to justify reading it as a credible science source.

    I parted ways with it about two years ago, for much the same reasons you list, except for reading the occasional story my father sends me. He still reads regularly – and often asks me if I’d heard suchandsuch story four or five days after it’s already been dissected in the climate or energy blogosphere. Unless he’s talking about a distinct local issue (usually reported by just a handful of journalists), I’m always ahead of the curve with him. Since what I’ve done is essentially what you say you’ve done (except that the CBC isn’t on my feed list), this might be representative of the results you’d expect.

    [Yes, I see a LOT of CanWest articles in my local paper! Very interesting, I didn’t know that they owned the National Post. I like the Globe and Mail, but I haven’t read much Toronto Star – I should check it out. -Kate]

  3. I subscribe to the paperless Alternatives Journal, and that’s been quite worthwhile. Google News and other media aggregators are nice for getting a variety of perspectives.

  4. From the CRU leaked FOIA e-mails:

    Personally, I’d offer that this was known by most people who understand Mann’s methodology: it can be quite sensitive to the input data in the early centuries . Anyway, there’s going to be a lot of noise on this one, and knowing Mann’s very thin skin I am afraid he will react strongly, unless he has learned (as I hope he has) from the past.

    Then from Michael Mann:

    The important thing is to deny that this has any intellectual credibility whatsoever and, if contacted by any media, to dismiss this for the stunt that it is.

    [Do you have any more context on what they were discussing? -Kate]

  5. Not just a problem for Canada. Many Australians are surprisingly well informed about global warming, surprising given the denier stance of pretty much all the mainstrem press.

    When it comes to daily statewide papers I have a choice of one.

  6. While watching the Copenhagen talks on the news (CBC, I think…Lloyd Robertson, Sandy Rinaldo), I was pleased to notice that night after night they didn’t give any coverage to the antiscience side. If they did, then I missed it. And this reminds me, I have to send them a letter thanking them for sticking to the science.

  7. Kate, context is for wimps ;-)

    Here it is anyway, as an illustration for the whole readership of MikeN’s, let us say, trustwortiness:

    http://eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=376&filename=1067194064.txt

    (BTW what happened to on-topicness? Getting soft, Kate?)

    [I’ve never really minded off-topic comments. As long as they’re on the topic of this blog, and follow the comment policy, feel free to keep them coming. That’s why I don’t bother with open threads. -Kate]

  8. I concur. The Free Press is beyond hope in providing objective scientific coverage, especially when its editorial board keeps jumping on the “delay, delay” or anti-science bandwagon of the skeptics, conservatives, and those who are in the employ of the fossil fuel industries. On occasion, they will have some article with reasonable scientific credibility, but they try their best to make the general public confused about the issue.

    No wonder the percentage of the general public who are wanting action is so far lower than that of the percentage of climate scientists! (60% or so of the general public think AGW is an urgent matter to be dealt with, while 97% of climate scientists think the same way.) It’s a sign of a gross misconduct and failure of the media.

  9. I’m not sure which specific paper, but it was a paper by Steve McIntyre criticizing Mann’s hockey stick paper.

  10. >(BTW what happened to on-topicness? Getting soft, Kate?)

    I was responding to the part above which referenced:

    “scientists who have exaggerated data and silenced critics”.

  11. “in terms of alternatives, I’ve subscribed to RSS feeds from the CBC for national and world politics, and the BBC for science and technology.”

    good places to look, might I sugest another? http://www.nature.com/climate/index.html

    For what its worth, dont give up explaining the facts on climate change,even if if gets exasperating at times with the local media. I have seen on a personal level from colleges at work that the information is being recieved just recently and has given me heart to continue informing them on what is known.

    These instances may be few and far between but are encouraging non the less

  12. Sure Mike. Whatever you say.

    My comment was on-topic for Kate’s “who [what newspaper] do you trust?”. The topic extends naturally to the credibility of blog commenters.

    [Again, guys, I really don’t care about being on topic. -Kate]

  13. I don’t see anything out of context in what I posted. Looking at the full e-mail, I wasn’t aware that the two quotes were from the same e-mail. So at least Mann was aware of someone else not liking his methodology, other than just the skeptics.

    [inflammatory]

  14. Kate, but I care. You used to have an editorial policy. You have no right to complain about your local paper if you don’t take care that your own blog is any better. If you really want its comment section to become one more reality-free sewer, you won’t see me here again.

    [Martin, my comment policy is alive and well – it’s written in the sidebar. It eliminates comments that are 1) inflammatory or 2) lacking appropriate citations. Being on-topic isn’t part of it, though. -Kate]

  15. > So at least Mann was aware of someone else not liking his methodology, other
    > than just the skeptics.

    Eh… here it is (without mail headers and sig):

    Dear All,

    This has been passed along to me by someone whose identity will remain in confidence.

    i.e., not Mann.

    Who knows what trickery has been pulled or selective use of data made. Its clear that “Energy and Environment” is being run by the baddies–only a shill for industry would have republished the original Soon and Baliunas paper as submitted to “Climate Research” without even editing it. Now apparently they’re at it again…

    My suggested response is:
    1) to dismiss this as stunt, appearing in a so-called “journal” which is already known to have defied standard practices of peer-review. It is clear, for example, that nobody we know has been asked to “review” this so-called paper
    2) to point out the claim is nonsense since the same basic result has been obtained by numerous other researchers, using different data, elementary compositing techniques, etc.

    Who knows what sleight of hand the authors of this thing have pulled. Of course, the usual suspects are going to try to peddle this crap. The important thing is to deny that this has any intellectual credibility whatsoever and, if contacted by any media, to dismiss this for the stunt that it is..

    Thanks for your help,

    mike

    …and here follows the text that was passed along to Mann:

    two people have a forthcoming ‘Energy & Environment’ paper that’s being unveiled tomoro (monday) that — in the words of one Cato / Marshall/ CEI type —

    …and here, the person-not-Mann quotes “one Cato / Marshall / CEI type”, i.e., a career denialist:

    “will claim that Mann arbitrarily ignored paleo data within his own record and substituted other data for missing values that dramatically affected his results.
    When his exact analysis is rerun with all the data and with no data substitutions, two very large warming spikes will appear that are greater than the 20th
    century.

    Personally, I’d offer that this was known by most people who understand Mann’s methodology: it can be quite sensitive to the input data in the early centuries.
    Anyway, there’s going to be a lot of noise on this one, and knowing Mann’s very thin skin I am afraid he will react strongly, unless he has learned (as I hope he has) from the past….”

    End quote, end text-passed-on-to-Mann, end Mann’s email.

    Reading comprehension.

    Normally I wouldn’t go on like this. But as I scientist I know that today Michael Mann, tomorrow me.

  16. Posting here because I try to stay on topic, even if it means the comment will probably be ignored. It’s more for Kate at this point, since I know this’ll be read in moderation.

    Above I said:

    I had similar problems with my own newspaper, which goes one step further because Lorne Gunter (of the National Post and this Climate Crock vid) is local and therefore gets more page time than he would nationally.

    Well, there he goes again – a great example of why I don’t regret leaving the papers.

    I’ll write a letter shortly and encourage those I know here who care to do the same.

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