Recommended Reading

A lot of great articles reflecting on the Durban talks have come out in the past few weeks, particularly in the mainstream media. Some of my favourites are Globe and Mail articles by Thomas Homer-Dixon and Jeffrey Simpson, The Economist writing that climate change, in the long run, will be more important than the economy, and George Monbiot on how much money we spend bailing out banks while complaining that cutting carbon emissions is too expensive.

Share your thoughts, and other articles you like, in the comments.

Salvaging Science Journalism

Yesterday, I felt depressed about the state of the world – as if we were walking blindly into heavy traffic without bothering to stop or even open our eyes. I think it was this Globe and Mail editorial that put me over the edge. It claimed that the original 2035 Himalayan glacier claim was “reported around the world“, that Rajendra Pachauri “shrugged it off“, and that the 40% Amazon reduction claim was “a mess” (just like Leake, this article doesn’t mention that the statistic itself was correct, it was just cited incorrectly).

And that’s just in the first few paragraphs. I could go on and on about the inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims, especially once it gets going on ClimateGate. If the author had bothered to read the primary sources for the Amazon claim, to read the supposedly-nefarious emails in full context (as well as the results of the first inquiry), or to read the IPCC’s actual response to the Himalayan glacier screw-up, her proclamation of “scientific scandals” would have fallen apart.

We see this all the time, everywhere, and it’s doubtlessly gotten worse in the past few months. The line of attack has switched from the science to the scientists. It’s just as unsubstantiated as the claim that global warming stopped in 1998, but that doesn’t matter. Science journalism, as it pertains to climate change, doesn’t seem to care about the facts any more. Fox News is one thing, but really – the Globe and Mail?

So what do we do to fix it? I can’t just sit around anymore and wait for it to pass. Many of us reading this blog have largely given up on the mass media as a source for climate change information, passing it off as a lost cause. But most of the public doesn’t know that it’s a lost cause. I think fixing it is better than ignoring it.

I have a few preliminary ideas that I’d like to open up for discussion:

1) Good old letter writing campaigns. Once a week, say, we could choose an article that’s particularly devoid of accuracy and citations, but written by a generally responsible journalist (eg not Glenn Beck). We could each write a unique letter to the author/the paper/the editor of the paper expressing the problems with the article. We can rant a bit about the media’s responsibility to provide people with accurate journalism.

2) Lobby for a citation policy. I got some great responses from my last post about the importance of a comment policy to promote better discussion that doesn’t turn into a food fight. What if we pushed to enact a similar policy in mainstream media outlets? The policy would be different for each outlet, obviously, but the basic rule would be that all articles/letters to the editor that dealt with science had to include peer-reviewed citations when appropriate. Let’s stop treating science like opinion, and start getting people to back up their arguments before we give them space.

3) Volunteer ourselves as research tools. By the time most of us read articles about climate change in the mainstream media, we’ll have heard about the particular issue in question for several days, and we’ll be able to point to two or three credible sources pertaining to it. We could help journalists and newspapers do their research more quickly and accurately.

4) Become a part of the mass media. I know a lot of great science journalists, but none of them are regulars in the mainstream media. I know Michael Tobis, and Tim Lambert, and Coby Beck, and James Hrynyshyn. (Tamino and the RC folks are great too, but geared toward a more technical audience.) These guys back up every statement they make, provide citations, correct their mistakes, and follow the “means justify the ends” approach. As part of our outreach for accurate journalism, why don’t some of us try to get columns in the mainstream media outlets?

Let me know what you think.