The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fundamentals Haven't Changed

There's a transcript of a press briefing from Todd Stern, who was the US envoy to Copenhagen. Of course he's trying to put a positive spin on it.

Naturally, some of the questions were about the new feature of weather weirding, the teapot tempest, of which there have been a few of late, especially on the east coast (burying Washington DC in several feet of thick fog) and in the UK. He handled this diplomatically (of course) but very well, I thought. His key claim is that "the fundamentals haven't changed" which I think is the message we need to get across to the press.

QUESTION: ...How much more difficult has your job been since the errors in the IPCC report came to light, both globally and –

MR. STERN: It was difficult already. (Laughter.) No, look, I think that the scientific underpinning for action on climate change, the fundamental science of climate change and the observed data, is quite overwhelming. I think that to the extent – and again, I make no comment one way or another about whether they’re mistakes – I just don’t know. But to the extent that there were any mistakes in the IPCC report, reports, assessments, or anywhere else, that’s regrettable. You don’t want there to be mistakes.

But what should not happen is that any individual mistakes, typos, whatever they might be, be taken to undermine the very fundamental record that exists from scientists all over the world and from observed data from all over the world that this is a quite serious and growing problem. So I think that that’s really the kind of underlying important point.

And nor should – and I think what you do see sometimes is that people who have an agenda that is directed toward undermining action on climate change grab whatever tidbit they can find and say, look, there’s no climate change, it snowed last week in Washington, there’s no climate change. That kind of stuff is nonsense. And the exploiting of this or that mistake that might have occurred in some part of long reports that pull together a lot of scientific data, again, I think is – I think it needs to be seen for what it is, which is a deliberate attempt to undermine. The fundamentals haven’t changed.

So, how about putting it, um, less diplomatically? For that I'd refer you to Charlie Petit whose summary is "one of the greatest outbreaks of institutional lunacy regarding scientific research since the Vatican told Galileo to say he’d made a mistake"!
Oh for the love of god, or Darwin, or whatever one exalts. I have to fully and somewhat proudly concede that when it comes to being objective, I am such as much as I can be. And I objectively believe that the global media and blogosphere convulsions over climate gate, IPPC-hate, Himalayan glaciers’ exaggerated fate, and global warming’s implied demise (despite the data) collectively reflect one of the greatest outbreaks of institutional lunacy regarding scientific research since the Vatican told Galileo to say he’d made a mistake about the Sun, Earth, and the moons of Jupiter. I for one am unsurprised and satisfied that what’s left of the US press, especially its cadre that covers science and environment regularly, is getting tired of reporting the same old same old about the IPCC’s now-revealed shortcomings in the fact-checking and executive summary department, digging up new, latest words about old data files and sloppiness at Britain’s Climatic Research Unit, and echoing the cackling from the bloggy fringe and elected GOP mainstream about global warming buried in an East Coast snow bank, and all of that.
Well said, Mr. Petit. What he said, Mr. Yulsman. Just because there are lunatics willing to spin a sort of a tale doesn't make it, you know, actual news.

Image: Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition, painting by Cristiano Banti, via Wikipedia

5 comments:

Pangolin said...

The most fundamental fact is that good science is observation of the natural world. Global warming and climate change are things that are observed by scientists. It seemingly cannot be reconciled by a certain mindset that believes that science creates things such as computers.

I think that even when climate change is irrefutable on the ground there will be a cadre that believes that it was created by those pesky scientists. No explanation that what we are doing is observing will suffice.

The fundamentals haven't changed since Galileo perhaps.

Nick Palmer said...

Re: Galileo

I think I already posted somewhere - maybe even here - eppure riscalda which is the climate change version of Galileo's "eppur si muove"

Apologies to any Italians if Google translator didn't get "and yet still it warms" right...

Tom Yulsman said...

By referring to me, Michael, just what are you saying? That journalists here should fail to do their jobs — which is reporting the news and trying to help readers understand it? Are you saying that you're happy with what has been written and you see no room for responsible journalism that can explain what science is really saying? Rather than leaving snide little hints in your blog, why don't you come out and say what you really believe?

For the record, I love Charlie's Petit's quote. I agree with every word. But you conveniently ignored other important things that he wrote (not to mention all of my own efforts to set the record straight on the science), including this posting about the lack of coverage here of the IPCC controversy, in which he notes that "in the US press lately one finds practically nothing aside from non-science-savvy columnists . . . But one would expect a bit more on this side of the oceans . . ."

Although he didn't say it strongly as I did, Charlie clearly thinks the U.S. press was not paying enough attention to a story that is newsworthy whether you like it or not. And just because I and many other science journalists believe this story should be covered doesn't mean that we are advocating for shoddy journalism. All I called for was for journalists here to follow the story wherever it leads. If it leads to a conclusion that the accusations have been blown up all out of proportion, then that is the story.

But right now, all Americans are getting is Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and other bloviators of their ilk who are filling the vacuum left by the absence of responsible journalism. Are you actually saying that you would like to cede the playing field to them? Or that if the press ignores the story it will just go away. If you believe that you are more naive than I thought.

Pangolin said...

Tom_ When does "going where the full story leads" get us news headlines about the organized deception that is climate change "skepticism." When do we get to read "previously discredited weatherman Anthony Watts" as part of a news report? When is a journalist going to track down the time stamps on attacks on climate scientists and realize that the news reports are almost instantly followed by posts of the denier talking points on global comments boards? When do I get to see the headline: "Climate change deniers deliberately misquote Phil Jones" anywhere but a blog?

All sides of this issue are not equal. One side is held to a standard of letter perfect accuracy and the other side is allowed pretty much any form of deception they choose to promote. Only the IPCC and it's supporters are held to any standard of objective truth.

If newspapers are getting thin and losing readers it may be because they've lost ethical standards and relevance. I grew up reading two papers every day and three often; I no longer take a paper. There's no point to it.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, if the news is "great swaths of the press have been reporting malicious lies as truth", yeah. But that's not about the IPCC.

The problems of the IPCC are real enough. It's remarkable that such an unprecedented organization functions as well as it does. But the whole operation is bound to run into snags as it becomes something of a tradition.

But the IPCC's issues are tiny compared to the real problems revealed by the recent episodes of attacks on climate science, and the press would do much better to turn its eye on itself, the political environment, and the public attitude.