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Aug 15, 2007


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Peter Kirk

Dissent is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society.

Indeed, but so is the right to call dissenters "a fool, a crank or an industry stooge".

Michael W. Kruse

The full quote:

"As we debate it, journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale—as NEWSWEEK did—in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed as a fool, a crank or an industry stooge."

The topic is journalism, not free speech. The Newsweek article belonged in the opinion section. Jounalist are free to pontificate all they want in editorials. This article was a diatribe, not news analysis and reporting.

Peter Kirk

Michael, I think you are trying to enforce on Newsweek idealistic but perhaps rather obsolete standards of journalism. Do any newspapers or news magazines still strictly separate news and comment like this? But of course they have the right to publish what they want, and so in fact journalists are free to pontificate in news articles if they and their publisher want to.

Michael W. Kruse

There is no such thing objective reporting. Everyone reports from a context. But there are such things as factual accuracy, decorum and avoidance of blatant advocacy. Violation of any of these three debilitates civil discourse instead of promoting it.

(I will be more specific decorum which I would define as showing respect to people of differing views and giving them the benefit of the doubt as to motives while engaging in candid disagreement about positions taken or the implications of positions taken.)

“But of course they have the right to publish what they want, and so in fact journalists are free to pontificate in news articles if they and their publisher want to.”

Again, I’m not talking about rights. I’m talking about standards of journalism. Of course they are free in the political sense, but they are not free in the journalistic sense. They are not free to pontificate in news articles if they wish to be considered journalists.

Is it your position Peter that a better version of society is to gang up on dissenters in society and spew hate, venom and derision at them? Is that the kind of discourse that news sources should strive to promote?

Peter Kirk

No, Michael, I am not in favour of spewing hate and venom at anyone. But I see more of that coming from you than from the people you are criticising. As for a bit of derision, if people are secure in what they believe they should learn to tolerate that. Meanwhile, what is wrong with blatant advocacy? Better that it is blatant than that it is subtle, as with so much that we read in our newspapers, see on TV etc.

Michael W. Kruse

"But I see more of that coming from you than from the people you are criticising."

I don’t doubt this and here is why. I believe you have a narrative working that says that the only reasons that people would raise questions about catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is that they are stupid or they’re sinister liars with ulterior motives. No one with integrity could raise questions. In other words:

All skeptics of C-A-GW are idiots/liars. We know this because only idiots/liars would doubt C-A-GW.

Therefore, it makes no difference how politely or rationally I present my case. By definition I'm an idiot or a liar.

On virtually every post (with very few exceptions) I have made on GW issues in recent months you are the first to comment and more often than not the comment is combative. In the previous post on GW you chastised me for saying global warming in the US wasn’t happening when I displayed a chart showing that it was. I even gave the amount of suspected warming in the US and globally. Despite having written that I was puzzled by the relative lower level of warming in the US vs the global warming. You wrote: “Anyway I don't see what your point is, unless it is a narrowly selfish one, in focusing on US figures rather than world ones.” ???? This stuff happens repeatedly. You come here looking for a fight because the only way you can picture me in your mind’s eye is as a pugnacious S.O.B. I’m only worthy of your derision not serious engagement on the face value of what I have said. That is how it feels from where I sit.

“As for a bit of derision, if people are secure in what they believe they should learn to tolerate that.”

I agree. So why do you become so derisive toward me every time I even ask questions much less state criticism? Shouldn’t you just learn to tolerate my "derision" and not respond to it in kind?

Peter Kirk

Let me restate what I wrote: not "But I see..." but "It is objectively true that there is more of that [hate and venom] coming from you than from the people you are criticising."

For it is objectively true that you are spewing hate and venom, as in this:

I can't remember reading a more impudent and vitriolic news article

Not to mention the way you accuse me of holding that "By definition I'm an idiot or a liar." That is not at all my position. My position is twofold: I want to bring some balance to the one-sided position you are putting forward on this blog; and I want to challenge you on deductions you make which at first sight do not appear logical.

Michael W. Kruse

When someone behaves impudently and with vitriol, and you call them on it, that means you are spewing hate and venom? By that definition no critique could ever be given of irresponsible journalism. It is only hate and venom if it isn’t true!

Summarily lumping any and all skeptics of cataclysmic anthropogenic GW as part of a conspiracy called the “denial machine” as the article did repeatedly, is the rhetorical equivalent of writing a news story labeling pro-choice advocates “baby-killers” or pro-life advocates “woman-haters.” The only hard evidence she offers for her “denial machine” is the thoroughly discredited story about Exxon paying $10,000 for people to write contrarian articles. This is vitriol! I was making a reasonable assessment of the tone of the article. Paul Samuelson, an editorialist for the same magazine, is making the same case in the linked editorial; a very unusual occurrence for a news magazine.

As to the content of the articles I link, you’re darn right they’re imbalanced. I’m trying to offer balance. This issue is enormously complex, based on nascent science, and politically supercharged. The data that hits the popular press is overwhelmingly tilted toward simplistic sensationalism. I don’t need to keep showing the other side because it is ubiquitous. Until the science on this firms up, or until the hysterics calm down, I’m going to keep putting forward links that challenge the popular culture orthodoxy. You're perfectly welcome to chime in but I grow exceedingly weary of the personalizing of disagreement instead of discussing the factual content presented.


Peter Kirk

Until the science on this firms up ...

The problem is that as far as I can see the science is firm, more or less, and the people who deny it are a small minority who are not genuine scientists. Now that viewpoint may not be entirely fair, but it may help you see where I am coming from.

Michael W. Kruse

"The problem is that as far as I can see the science is firm, more or less, and the people who deny it are a small minority who are not genuine scientists."

Bingo! That is precisely the bone of contention. I disagree with this narrative. And that is why I think you find it very hard to believe I’m anything but exceeding naïve or sinister in motives for posting what I do.

We just finished talking about journalism. You discounted there being anything objective about reporting. Everyone has agendas and points of view. I agree. But journalism strives to be as factually based and civil in its presentation of a story. The fact is, that even the selection of what makes it into print is driven by agendas and points of view, much less the actual subject matter of story that is printed.

What I am suggesting to you is that science is precisely the same thing! Science is a human enterprise. Agendas and points of view directly influence what issues get studied and which ones don’t. It affects which theories get tested and which ones don’t. It effects which articles get published and which ones don’t. “Peer” review means living human beings who have agendas and points of view are doing the “peer” reviewing. Having an agenda or point of view does not make a person sinister; it means they are human. The question is how will we live together with different agendas and points of view to come to a better understanding of truth?

Climate modeling involves the use of very sophisticated and expensive computers. Computer companies want demand for their product. Climate modeling is one of few applications that requires this kind of capacity. Climate modelers need computers to do modeling. Some combination of government money and corporate charity from computer firms is necessary to sustain this. There is great pressure for scientists to come up with “results” that governments can use to justify expenditures and corporate firms can use to market the importance of their products in lieu of revenue they forego. Climate modelers’ livelihoods directly depend on governments and computer firms providing results that justify the arrangements.

It is also true that many scientists who have gone into environmental science have done so because they had noble visions for making the world a better place. It is pretty heady stuff to find yourself on the frontlines battling the greatest threat ever posed to humanity. But what if it isn’t the problem you thought. What does the mean for the years of of time, talent and devotion you invested? Some scientists have an emotional need for there to be a looming catastrophe.

Now, throw powerful political interests into the mix. Socialists who need a crisis to justify the suspicion of human liberties and imposition of state control. Alternative fuel providers who want to increase the cost of competitor’s products to make their products look more attractive. (This was Enron’ strategy to increase demand for natural gas use.) Politicians who use GW to tap into their bases’ animus toward large businesses and their bases’ perceived sense of social injustice.

Finally, add to the fever pitched competition among media outlets to capture the attention of readers and viewers. Which sells better: A) the temperature will rise maybe .6 (c) over the next 75-100 with minor changes to the world environment and possibly with some benefits like increased forestation and crop production, or B) the temperature will increase 2+ degrees causing the oceans to rise 20 feet, mass extinction of species, continents ravaged by hurricanes, and desserts over taking entire continents.

You pressed me on the issue of journalism. You think news reporters should openly advocate for positions and should use all the vitriol they so desire to make their point. I will press back. Where did you get your view that the science is firm and that dissenters are not genuine scientists? Was it not from media sources you say are filled with bias and advocacy? Why do you so uncritically accept the reporting on this topic and then flip around charge any dissenters with biased advocacy? Where does the idea that the world of science is a dispassionate and objective come from?

My intent with these posts is to counterbalance the perfect storm of scientific, political and media interests that have combined to exaggerate the certainty of the science, the certainty of a catastrophic future, and the appropriateness of public policy measures to “stop GW” based on what we actually know. I’m inviting you to turn the same skeptical eye on the media bias and advocacy that you acknowledge is there.

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