As we have come to expect from the people interested in covering us, there was a virtual shrug and a turn away. Nobody in the press is willing to say that this is a journalism story above all. So it's left to us to keep saying it.
I had a wonderful IM chat with Paulina today and I convinced her to let me rerun her comment as a guest posting. So Paulina to the press, take it away:
The “story about the news”?
Sounds great. Here’s some more background.
““The story behind that graph certainly didn’t show that global warming was a hoax or a fraud, as some skeptics proclaimed,” Tierney wrote, “but it did illustrate another of their arguments: that the evidence for global warming is not as unequivocal as many scientists claim.”” (Clark Hoyt)
No, it did not illustrate that.
The IPCC AR4 states that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” The story behind the graph has no bearing on this claim.
In fact, Tierney’s sentence is simply false and grossly misleading.
This is just one example of how the New York Times has helped manufacture the impression that these emails should damage the public’s trust in climate science and climate scientists.
Who’s going to cover *this* story about the news?
The NYT immediately ran a front page article that claimed–based on pure fantasy–that the hacked material could “erode the overall argument,” the overall anthropogenic global warming argument. The article made this claim implicitly, by making the understatement of the year: the article said the material was “unlikely to erode the overall argument.” By writing “unlikely,” the NYT implied it was possible. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Yet no evidence for the possibility that a bunch of emails could do this was offered at all.
Or consider the epitome of false balance, put forward by the Yale Forum on Climate Change and Media, of all things:
“Take those who see this event as the end of days when it comes to anthropogenic climate change with a huge grain of salt. And take those dismissing it as much ado about nothing with an equal dose.”
Once again we have the suggestion that the materials possibly could undermine the overall argument.
You do not have to be a climate scientist to see that the burden of proof is on anyone who wants to suppose that the hacked material possibly could have the power to erode the overall argument.
Instead of recognizing and honoring this burden of proof, the media ignored it and manufactured the possibility.
Ironically, to their relative credit, less serious media and hate media at least acknowledge that endowing the materials with such fantastic powers is premised on a conspiracy fantasy.
The media engaged in wishful rather than critical thinking and engaged in a sensationalistic approach. This is no one’s fault but their own. This massive media FAIL is what most desperately needs to be examined in order for there to be any lessons learned from the very unseemly business of reading other people’s mail.
Mainstream science and environmental journalists got “the story” massively wrong.
Perhaps Andy Revkin has part of the answer. In an essay on science writing he points out that, by the “metric of the media,” it’s the “reporter’s job” to be “irresponsible.” “Finding the one element that’s new and implies malfeasance [even if the "find" or "implication" proves mistaken] is the key to getting on the front page.”
I think this irresponsibility, this carelessness–a smashing up of things and creatures–warrants a lot more “story about the news” coverage.
You seem very interested in Dr. Curry. Why?
Curry, of course, has made very strong claims, in the NYT and elsewhere, regarding the effect of the stolen CRU materials on “public trust.” But Dr. Curry had no data (and possibly no argument–I’ve tried over the course of the day to work out, with her, what her argument was, with no success, so far) to back up this assertion and neither did the NYT. Further, there’s been very little exploration of what the concept even means (for instance, Curry’s essay on the topic blurs normative and descriptive concepts, thereby leaving the issue *less* clear). And little distinction between potential damage done by the materials themselves, as a kind of proxy for the scientists, and potential damage done by misleading media coverage.
I look forward to blow-by-blow coverage of media missteps from Nov 20 to the present.
I also look forward to constructive, clear, focused exchanges on what lessons journalists need to learn from this and how the media can avoid making the same mistakes again. This is the time for some serious media introspection.