June 09, 2005
Andy Revkin Responds
Posted to Author: Others | Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change
[Note- This comment received by email from Andy Revkin, in response to a "heads up" from me, is posted with his permission (granted in a subsequent email to the one below). It is a response to my critique of his story in yesterday's NYT - RP]
"Actually I kind of like it!
You do realize, though, that the norms of journalism still require me to cover something like this, right?
Sadly, the White House is so hermetically sealed on such matters that it has essentially created such stories by making scraps of tea-leaf-like information noteworthy.
Piltz is far less significant than the documents themselves. And while the edits are subtle, as I explained, they create a different tone than the one that was there before. And tone does matter in policy debates, doesn't it?
Also, i interviewed some members of the NRC review panel and they were none too happy to see how the report they assessed was 'pre-spun' to heighten uncertainties. even the most careful reviewer would be apt to read thru some of these changes and never realize the overall pattern created in the document.
Every White House edits reports. No brainer. But shouldn't the characterization of the state of science be assessed by those in the White House with scientific background, i.e, OSTP? Why an ex-oil lobbyist with an economics bachelor's degree?
As for Our Changing Planet 2004-5, same deal. This admin, whether by inattention or on purpose, can't seem to get its story straight on the science of climate change, in part, perhaps, because it's petrified of crossing that next bar and accepting there is a human influence (even though you seem to think they'd have more strategies to fall back on to avoid co2 curbs).
I might consider letting you post this."Posted on June 9, 2005 06:54 AM
All well and good, but Revkin's preconceived opinion of this white house comes through loud and clear here and in the article, and it is overtly oppositionist. That is fine for the opposition party, but for journalists? No.
Posted by: Roger Rainey at June 10, 2005 12:10 PM
You write, “But shouldn't the characterization of the state of science be assessed by those in the White House with scientific background, i.e, OSTP? Why an ex-oil lobbyist with an economics bachelor's degree?”
This raises a follow up question to you – If it is inappropriate for a economist who worked for an oil industry interest group opposed to regulations of greenhouse gases to edit Our Changing Planet, then why would it instead be perfectly OK for a person with training in political science who worked for an environmental interest group that supported regulations of greenhouse gases to oversee the editing of Our Changing Planet for 9 years?
Doesn’t this get to the utter nonsense of trying to evaluate agency documents by the characteristics of who is editing them (probably dozens and dozens of people), rather than what they actually say?
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at June 10, 2005 06:02 PM
Roger-- you're comparing apples and oranges with Cooney and Piltz. Piltz was as a bureaucrat who coordinated the writing of the report and synthesized comments from the many reviewers. He did not have the power (nor the inclination) to change the words of scientists. Cooney was a political operative who took advantage of his power to assert control over a scientific document. When a WH official makes an edit, you cannot push back. On the contrary, with Piltz, there could be dialog in resolving comments.
Notice I refer to Cooney in the past tense because he just resigned. See the NY Times.
Posted by: OnTheInside at June 10, 2005 10:05 PM
Thanks for your comment. You are of course correct there is an important distinction to be made between political appointees and career bureaucrats. But at the same time it is unrealistic to suggest that career bureaucrats do not have power or inclination to significantly shape agency documents. In fact before climate became so politicized (say in the first 7 years of the USGCRP) I'd bet that the career folks were 100% responsible for the scientific content of OCP (the CCSP SP is a different story). I don't know this but I'd bet that the first sign off and editing of OCP (which, lets face it, is not a scientific document but a program brochure) by political appointees began around the time of Kyoto. The climate debate is complicated and it is unfortunate that is has been shoehorned into business-as-usual partisan politics - because the issue of politics and science (and climate change as a battleground) transcends these teapot tempests.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at June 11, 2005 07:03 AM
From today's NYT:
"The documents, first described on Wednesday in The New York Times , stirred reactions ranging from defenses of Mr. Cooney by oil lobbyists to strident criticism by environmental groups and satire from Jon Stewart on his comedy-news program “The Daily Show.” Most scientists and scientific groups, including the National Academy of Sciences in a letter released this week, have said the relationship between greenhouse-gas emissions and warming is clear enough to justify prompt actions by countries to curb emissions. Philip Clapp, the president of the National Environmental Trust, an environmental group in Washington, said the problem with White House treatment of the climate issue was broader than just one person. “His resignation is less surprising than the fact that the lead oil industry lobbyist on global warming should have been given this kind of power over climate science and scientists,” Mr. Clapp said."
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at June 11, 2005 07:11 AM