May 31, 2006
Cherrypicking at the New York Times
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters
You won’t find more blantantly obvious example of cherrypicked science than in today’s New York Times, which has an article on two new peer-reviewed studies on hurricanes and climate change. Given the debate over climate change and hurricanes the new studies are certainly newsworthy. However, it is what is left out of the Times story that makes the cherrypicking stand out undeniably.
The New York Times makes (and has made) no mention of two other just-published peer-reviewed studies (links here and here) providing somewhat different perspectives on the hurricane-climate issue and its policy significance (I am a co-author on one of the studies. It does not deny a global warming-hurricane link, but instead characterizes the literature in the context of an exchange with others with a different view). These studies, which are two among a larger family of research, are not necessarily "the other side" but they do add important context selectively ignored by the Times. In today's article, for balance the New York Times interviewed NOAA’s Stanley Goldenberg, who is a respected scientist, but who hadn’t seen either of the papers referred to in the article or published a peer-reviewed study this month. Interviewing one of the authors of recent peer-reviewed work would have necessarily required referencing that work.
To the extent that the New York Times has a powerful role in shaping how policy options are framed and discussed, it does a disservice to the public and policymakers when it cherrypicks science. I suppose this is because they have decided to pick sides in the political debate over climate change and that political calculus shapes its editorial decisions.Posted on May 31, 2006 07:01 AM
This by email from Andy Revkin of the NYT:
Now that i see what you've written, I feel compelled to jump to the defense of my able, tireless, and brilliant colleague, John Schwartz, and my newspaper.
This piece was examining only one facet of the broad climate-hurricane arena -- whether it's possible yet to attribute any change in hurricanes' cumulative energy or intensity to rising sea surface temperatures and/or human-influenced global warming and ocean warming.
That's it. There's no way John, who has written reams of late on one of your favorite issues (knowing coastal vulnerability in hurricane zones), should be obliged to reach over into an entirely different area of analysis to broaden such a story, particularly given the limited length of the story in the first place.
Keep in mind the constraints on the newspaper medium -- two of which are the tyranny of space (science stories don't get more column inches because they're 'harder') and the tyranny of time (John was forced to jump in on these papers because I'm deep in another Arctic story).
For you to assert that this one story is clear evidence of some editorial bent on the part of The Times is not that different than when an over-eager environmentalist asserts that a particular hurricane is clear evidence greenhouse gases must be curbed.
You can learn more about my thoughts on climate science, policy, and the media at a temporary blog I've started: www.andyrevkin.gather.com .
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at May 31, 2006 07:48 AM
Thanks for your comment. On this we will have to agree to disagree for 2 reasons:
1. The two papers I refer to (Klotzbach and Pielke et al.) explicitly address the attribution question and are thus directly relevant to the story published today.
2. I read the Times every day. I have seen frequent reference to peer reviewed studies by Emanuel, Webster, and so on making the case for a hurricane-global warming link. I cannot recall any references in the NYT over the past year to peer-reviewed studies in response to these (e.g., by Landsea, Chan, etc.). I'll stand corrected if you can point to one such reference to a peer-reviewed study in the past year.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at May 31, 2006 08:07 AM
If I may jump in and second Andy's point, the inference of editorial intention that you've drawn ("I suppose this is because they have decided to pick sides in the political debate") is to mistake noise for signal. Andy makes a good argument for why the story is as it is, with which I agree. But let's grant for a moment your argument that it's a lousy story. There are still two possible explanations. One would be, as you suggested, a conscious editorial decision by the Times. The other would be that Schwartz just did a lousy job. I'm not sure what evidence you have for the former, or how you might distiniguish between the two. As a journalist in the midst of the daily hurly-burly, my experience is that patterns of bias inferred by disputants are far more likely to be the result of noise being mistaken for signal.
Posted by: jfleck at May 31, 2006 08:13 AM
Thanks. What you describe could be the case, and in general this is my sense of such situations. I am assuming tha NYT reporters are the best in the business, and do a good job.
But how should one interpret my point (2) in response to Andy? It seems like there is good evidence of bias which may not be explicit, or even intentional.
In the context of hurricanes-climate change, how else should one interpret the past year's coverage in the NYT which frequently references only a selected subset of relevant peer-reviewed literature? When does the data become suggestive of a pattern?
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at May 31, 2006 08:27 AM
It would appear that the game is up: As far as the New York Times and other partisan media outlets are concerned, there is now what framing experts would likely call a "growing consensus" that global warming causes more destructive hurricanes (a simple check on today's Google News provides ample evidence for the new media “consensus”
Let's not beat around the bush: The very idea that campaigners can blame every strong hurricane on human behaviour and the failure of governments to save the nation from mega-disaster is far too tempting.
After all, you cannot expect environmental journalists to adhere to unbiased reporting on climate science or climate policy given that the very basis of journalistic balance has been under fire for many years by climate campaigners, writers and researchers (see e.g. Journalistic Balance as Global Warming Bias http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1978)
It would make an interesting paper to examine how the once speculative global warming-hurricane link has become the new “consensus” in the eyes of the media, in spite strong contradictory evidence. Perhaps one shouldn’t underrate how similar framing strategies worked extremely well for turning contentious sea level and paleo-climate research into devices of consensus alarmism.
Promoting the idea of a new hurricane-consensus is, of course, based on a very simple calculation. It goes a bit like this:
"For those who have been working for decades to raise awareness about climate change, this is a moment charged with opportunity -- and with peril. A series of events -- beginning with Hurricane Katrina and continuing through the release of Al Gore's new movie -- has finally pushed the issue near the forefront of the public agenda. It doesn't yet rank quite up there with the war on terrorism or the high price of gasoline, but it's clear that the next bad storm season or prolonged drought will seal the deal..."
Bearing in mind past experience, I expect that researchers who persist in questioning this “growing consensus” on hurricanes and global warming will be subjected increasingly to similar censure as climate sceptics. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if what you've called the non-scpetical heretics (NSH) will sooner or later be accused of “climate impact denial.”
As I said, confessing ones AGW credence is no longer sufficient to shield oneself against accusations of standing in the way of planetary salvation.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at May 31, 2006 09:05 AM
Even if your point 2 in your response to Andy's missive is correct, you still have made an inferential leap for which you have not yet offered any support - that the reason behind the lack of discussion of Landsea etc. is driven by the Times' decision "to pick sides in the political debate."
If your point 2 above is correct, you might properly accuse the Times of lousy journalism at this point. Again, to be clear, I'm not granting that it's lousy journalism, merely assuming for the purpose of argument you're right on this point. You've still offered no evidence to support your allegation that the reason behind said lousy journalism is a political motivation.
Posted by: jfleck at May 31, 2006 09:08 AM
You are absoultely correct. Here is my answer to your request for evidence.
1. The NYT may have a poor story every now and again, but it doesn't do "lousy journalism", which is why I subscribe. I therefore do not attribute the pattern of coverage on hurricanes to incompetence.
2. Given that there have been many peer-reviewed articles on the hurricane-climate issue from a range of perspectives, it cannot be a coincidence that only one set of perspectives are highlighted in the NYT. You are correct that there are many reasons for this. But from where I sit the circumstantial evidence for a bias -- again maybe not intentional -- is pretty strong.
That there is a bias seems pretty clear. You are correct that I have no evidence as to why the bias exists. So perhaps my views are better stated that I think that the leading hypothesis to explain the bias lies in the political views on climate change of those who cover the issue.
Hows that? ;-)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at May 31, 2006 09:21 AM
A. Roger, perhaps a little empiricism might help. I would suggest doing a search on how many NYT stories in the past year (say) dealt with hurricanes and climate change (or global warming), and (1) count how many of them referred to peer reviewed papers on one side of the issue or another, and (2) how many column-inches or words were spent on papers/authors on one side or the other. My thinking is that if there is a real disparity in the numbers it suggests (but does not necessarily prove) reporting might be unbalanced. On the other hand, a relatively close call cannot tell us one way or the other. Perhaps some thing like this could be done without detailed content analysis. Just a suggestion.
B. Andy, I think it's a copout to always claim that space/time is short, and hence something must get left out. This is particularly the case for the NYT whose motto -- carried on the top of the front page in each edition -- is "All the news that's fit to print", and not as some have said previously, "All the news that fits". Journalists are craftsmen (and women), and as all such craftsmen, they should deliver despite the limitations of the "materials" allotted to them (including space and time). Frankly, given the general nature of the topic, I can't see why any editor at the NYT (or any other newspaper) would care whether this particular story came out on May 31 or June 1 which, I believe, is the official start of the hurricane season. I certainly doubt that any of your readers would feel shortchanged by getting a fuller story slightly later. I certainly would prefer the latter option.
Posted by: Indur Goklany at May 31, 2006 10:44 AM
The wheels of science grind slowly, but I think an awful lot of people have begun to conclude that the Webster/Emanuel camp is right and the NHC/Gray camp wrong. (Wrong about hurricane-global warming attribution, not about the foolishness of developing hurricane-prone coasts with or without global warming.) Why shouldn't journalists begin to draw the same conclusion? At some point, a discredited theory is a discredited theory.
The kicker for me was the little fraud that the NHC committed last year when they tried to use Bell and Chelliah's work as proof of a natural cycle influence on Atlantic hurricanes. I don't recall the subsequent forced retraction ever being discussed in a post here.
The Klotzbach paper seems like pretty thin gruel, BTW, especially since it's main point was obvious enough in Emanuel's original paper.
Also, Roger, why no snarky post from you about the NHC's failure to even mention global warming in their season-opening publicity?
Posted by: Steve Bloom at May 31, 2006 01:22 PM
Do you consider it cherry picking when NOAA forecasters forget to mention the possibility that AGW is contributing to the present highly active seasons? If you listen to them, we're simply in "an active phase."
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 31, 2006 02:50 PM
Steve (and everyone),
Look, things are pretty simple. Just read Knutson and Tuleya (2004) for a primer on how hurricanes are supposed to evolve in a high-CO2 world. Then compare the modelled results with what we have witnessed in the Atlantic. You will find that intensity has increased far more than it is expected to based upon CO2-induced changes to the tropical environment alone. That is because some aspects of the Atlantic tropical environment have evolved to be favorable for storm development in ways not projected by the model. Yes, SST is involved, but a) it is not the sole (or perhaps even the most dominant) player, and b) the degree to which the SST changes are natural or anthropogenic is not clear (despite claims by Emanuel and Mann; see Knight et al. 2005 for example).
Yes, anthropogenic-induced changes to the Atlantic tropical environment have, are, and will influence tropical cyclones, HOWEVER, our best understanding is that their influence has, is, and will be far less than what has been observed. To reach any other conclusion, it is necessary to throw out some observations (of tropical tropospheric behavior), climate model projections from a CO2 doubling, and current state-of-the-art hurricane models.
So, which side is being the more cautious here?
Posted by: Chip Knappenberger at May 31, 2006 03:02 PM
Revkin defends the NYTimes article by stating:
"This piece was examining only one facet of the broad climate-hurricane arena -- whether it's possible yet to attribute any change in hurricanes' cumulative energy or intensity to rising sea surface temperatures and/or human-influenced global warming and ocean warming."
Yet this is precisely the topic that is covered by Klotzbach and by our GRL paper (Michaels et al., 2006). In fact, to get a better understanding of how storm intensity is related to SSTs is the very reason we did our GRL research in the first place! So, it is perhaps the most relevent study that is out there concerning the NYTimes topic as it is defined by Revkin. But, somehow it is not worth the space or the time...
Posted by: Chip Knappenberger at May 31, 2006 03:09 PM
You may have indeed detected the result of bias here, but I suggest it may be the sweeping bias of newspapers to report about events (especially bad ones) and threats rather than simply providing complete information. A new paper that concludes "nothing is happening" may well be of interest in a relevant scientific debate, but clearly does not have much headline appeal. I am not saying this is a good thing, but it is not the same bad thing you have cast it as.
Thus a new paper finding that GW increases hurricanes is "news", whereas a paper finding there is no connection is not "news". For me, that excuses your complaint number 2. Another good reason not to rely on newspapers for scientific understanding.
Now, any in depth piece on this issue would indeed be seriously amiss if it neglected either side. Have you made that observation?
Posted by: coby at May 31, 2006 04:46 PM
Thanks all for comments!
1. Steve Bloom -- You write "I think an awful lot of people have begun to conclude that the Webster/Emanuel camp is right and the NHC/Gray camp wrong." Yes, this is exactly my concern. This may or not be the case at the NYT, uncertainty about which John Fleck and Andy Revkin are correct to point out. However, I don't want reporters making scientific judgments about peer reviewed science when the experts themselves don't agree. I don't want such judgments made on medicine, WMDs, or hurricanes. Give me the diversity of views, don't cherry pick for me. Thanks.
2. Andrew- You ask "Do you consider it cherry picking when NOAA forecasters forget to mention the possibility that AGW is contributing to the present highly active seasons?" For individual scientists, no any more than I would consider it cherry picking for Emanuel or Webster not to acknowledge contrary theories to their own. They probably should, but this is not always done in science, as you well know. NOAA as an agency however does have a responsibility to faithfully represent the state of the science, and they were at one time not doing this, as we discussed here in some depth, but I believe has improved, no?
3. Coby- I agree. However, in depth media stories on the peer-reviewed work of Chan, Landsea, Klotzbach, etc. are pretty rare (I can't think of one!). But your point is a good one. If I had to provide advice to reporters on this subject it would be to reference the WMO consensus statement as the closest thing to where the state of the science currently is.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at May 31, 2006 05:13 PM
Chip, I think most people who follow this subject know that Michaels et al (2006) selected a dodgy metric (SST in the path of the storms). The more suspicious among us might think that the metric was selected precisely because it could be expected to attenuate the connection between SSTs and storm strength.
As for the theory, when people like, oh, Kerry Emanuel and Greg Holland say that after long study they've concluded that observations are inconsistent with the theory, I would say that means the theory is in need of revision.
Regarding Knight (2005), are you referring to the AMO paper on which Mann was a co-author?
Posted by: Steve Bloom at May 31, 2006 05:32 PM
It is an amazing bit of logic to claim that sea temperatures are warmer due to humanity and this warmth is enhancing hurricanes, then claim that sea surface temperatures are a 'dodgy' metric to compare with the strength of hurricanes!
I am not sure how you can consider this a strong argument for discounting serious scientific work.
Also, I am really interested in this evidence you have that "...an awful lot of people have begun to conclude that the Webster/Emanuel camp is right and the NHC/Gray camp wrong." Since I am still waiting for the numbers on how many atmospheric scientists there are in the world and what they all think about global warming, I can't imagine that you already have some numbers on how these scientists break out on the hurricane debate!
Posted by: Jim Clarke at May 31, 2006 06:20 PM
Sorry, Jim, I should have made it clear that there are a number of different potential SST metrics. Emanuel used a basin-wide metric while Michaels et al used SST in the path of the storms. Obviously the details of how each of those were calculated would be important, but I would suggest that the path metric of Michaels et al is especially prone to tweaking since there would be a large variety of ways to calculate it that might give rather different results. How far in front? How wide? Should these be varied according to the speed of the storm? You get the idea.
Regarding the views of hurricane scientists, I'm not aware of any survey having been taken, but please note the following remark contained in the editorial from tomorrow's Nature: "In the past year, an emerging consensus has suggested that rising sea surface temperatures may well be causing hurricanes to become more intense over time." So you see it's not just my opinion.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at May 31, 2006 07:34 PM
More from Andy Revkin
So Roger, I had to take you up on your challenge and break away from my Arctic story to sift our coverage. I have no clue where you see "frequent reference to peer reviewed studies by Emanuel, Webster, and so on making the case for a hurricane-global warming link."
Perhaps in the editorial column or Nick Kristof's op eds? Certainly not in our news pages. I'd actually wager that we are closer to where the science is on this subject than just about any other major media outlet.
The only story mentioning Webster's paper is a tiny AP item, citing Landsea as well:
September 16, 2005, Friday Late Edition - Final
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15
Storms with the power of Hurricane Katrina are becoming more common, in
The number of storms in the two most powerful categories, 4 and 5, rose to
The researchers were led by Peter J. Webster of the Georgia Institute of
There was no increase in storms over all, the researchers said, just in
The researchers said they could not attribute any particular storm, like
Christopher Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and
''For most of the world there was no way to determine objectively what the
May 23, 2006, Tuesday Late Edition - Final
Forecasters Predict Active Hurricane Season
MIAMI, May 22
Federal hurricane experts say the Atlantic Ocean is in a cycle of intense
Other experts, including some scientists working for the oceanic agency,
While there is significant debate and little clear data on what forces,
My 2005 piece on loop currents was entirely on local, seasonal influence of
September 27, 2005, Tuesday Late Edition - Final
Claudia Dreyfus did a Q&A with Emanuel, which was totally justified given
Ken Chang's story is, if anything, tilted well over toward cycles:
August 30, 2005, Tuesday Late Edition - Final
HURRICANE KATRINA: THE OUTLOOK; Storms Vary With Cycles, Experts Say
Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that
But that is not the case, scientists say. Instead, the severity of
From 1970 to 1994, the Atlantic was relatively quiet, with no more than
In 1995, hurricane patterns reverted to the active mode of the 1950's and
Historically, the rate has been 1 in 3.
Then last year, three major hurricanes, half of the six that formed during
''We were very lucky in that eight-year period, and the luck just ran
Global warming may eventually intensify hurricanes somewhat, though
In an article this month in the journal Nature, Kerry A. Emanuel, a
But even that seemingly large jump is not what has been pushing the
STORM AND CRISIS: CLIMATE; So Who Is Right in Debate on Role of Global
With an American city swamped by one great hurricane and then by another
The issue has been addressed from starkly different vantage points. For
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at May 31, 2006 09:30 PM
Response to Andy's latest reply:
1. You are right that I probably conflate news and editorial material
2. Even so, in the news pages Webster and Emanuel peer-reviewed papers are referred to, but none of the others are.
3. I do see a difference quoting Landsea versus referring to his peer reviewed work.
Even so, I accept your points, and perhaps my response to today's story was a bit overstated.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at May 31, 2006 09:33 PM
Newspapers are in some way analogous to weather. There are a lot of small, detailed, constantly evolving events (stories) that are experienced over time. The mind remembers these events through a filter in order to construct some narrative. Human beings need narrative the way plants need sunlight. That's why science was invented, to combat the effects of the filter. I think this is why both the right and the left believe that newpapers are biased against them. Not that they don't have biases, but we readers have biases too, and we read with them.
PS. I am interested in trying to figure out the "truth" about global warming and it's proven to be very difficult as I have no way to evaluate the science, but I really appreciate the attempt at civility and intellectual honesty at this site, as evidenced by your concession to the Times guy. That gives you credibility, and the only way I am every going to know what to think about global warming--given my time constraints--is by finding credible experts to listen to.
Posted by: cw at May 31, 2006 10:28 PM
It seems there are two models, one based on AGW and one not, which currently produce the same predictions. Until they produce different predictions, it seems there is no easy way to discriminate between them from the data. In such circumstances, one usually stays with the existing model. The new theory -- the challenger -- bears the burden of proving its superiority, which is most easily achieved when contrasting predictions can result in a meaningful test.
However, not everyone follows this approach. People see the world through through their own eyes and tinted glasses. Along these lines, Robert Solow once said of Milton Friedman: "Everything reminds Milton of the money supply. Well, everything reminds me of sex, but I keep it out of the paper." There might be some wisdom in that remark with respect to AGW.
Posted by: TAC at June 1, 2006 04:38 AM
I'm afraid your disappointment is valid, but rather naive. Are you seriously expecting balanced, impartial reporting on a global warming issue?
"I don't want reporters making scientific judgments about peer reviewed science when the experts themselves don't agree. Give me the diversity of views, don't cherry pick for me."
The problem with this line of liberal argument is that it has been comprehensively demolished by climate alarmists: don't ever give critics a voice. Of course there are plenty of climate experts and many papers in the peer reviewed literature that don't agree with certain aspects of the AGW theory or its predictions. Mostly, they are completely ignored, just as hurricane sceptics will be more and more dispensed with.
And given that the number of climate alarmists is many times greater than the number of open-minded (never mind sceptical) researchers, it is almost certain that the quantity of new papers confirming the "growing consensus" will substantially outnumber those that keep on questioning it. At least, that has been the practise of publication 'swamping' on almost all contentious AGW issues.
The strategy of swamping the scientific literature is one of the most effective methods of silencing or even quashing any critics, thus making it pretty easy to manufacture what is then quickly called a "growing consensus" - regardless of significant inconsistencies, uncertainties of contradictory evidence.
Indeed, it would appear that the mass media have already come to this conclusion: "...although scientists can't say that global warming causes more hurricanes, there is growing consensus that warmer oceans are making the storms that do form stronger and more violent."
I'm pretty certain that environmental campaigners and green journalists won't deviate from this new party line, regardless of any new research to the contrary. Mark my words.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at June 1, 2006 04:55 AM
I don't really know what to respond about our choice of using local SSTs instead of regional SSTs to relate to storm intensity--that was the whole point of our paper. I'll gladly send you a copy if you don't have one already and gladly answer any questions you may have about it. BTW, we did find a positive relationship between SST and storm intensity over all SSTs, however, that relationship broke down at SSTs above 28.25C. We didn't set out to be 'dodgy' nor, I hope, did we end up with a 'dodgy' analysis.
And, yes, I was referring to the Knight et al. (2005) article that Mann was a coauthor on. That paper clearly shows a natural AMO(-like) oscillation in proxies, a similar cycle in their climate model, and some contribution of this cycle to the SST warm-up since the 1970s.
Posted by: Chip Knappenberger at June 1, 2006 08:13 AM
Just to clarify for TAC, there is no competing natural cycle theory. That is to say, there is an idea or hope that it's a natural cycle, but no physical model. By contrast, the Emanuel/Mann paper discussed above found an AGW signal while excluding a natural (AMO) influence. Bill Gray sought to come up with a THC-based natural cycle theory, but only succeeded in embarrassing himself.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at June 1, 2006 11:28 AM
I am not sure what you mean by "there is no competing natural cycle theory" or "no physical model." The Knight et al. work provides both.
The full citation is:
Knight, J. R., R. J. Allan, C. K. Folland, M. Vellinga, and M. E. Mann (2005), A signature of persistent natural thermohaline circulation cycles in observed climate, Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L20708, doi:10.1029/2005GL024233.
Analyses of global climate from measurements dating back to the nineteenth century show an ‘Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation’ (AMO) as a leading large-scale pattern of multidecadal variability in surface temperature. Yet it is not possible to determine whether these fluctuations are genuinely oscillatory from the relatively short observational record alone. Using a 1400 year climate model calculation, we are able to simulate the observed pattern and amplitude of the AMO. The results imply the AMO is a genuine quasi-periodic cycle of internal climate variability persisting for many centuries, and is related to variability in the oceanic thermohaline circulation (THC). This relationship suggests we can attempt to reconstruct past THC changes, and we infer an increase in THC strength over the last 25 years. Potential predictability associated with the mode implies natural THC and AMO decreases over the next few decades independent of anthropogenic climate change.
How much more clear do things need to be before you will admit not that the AMO-theory is correct, but at least that it exists?
Posted by: Chip Knappenberger at June 1, 2006 01:01 PM
Chip, the hurricane linkage in Knight et al is...? There doesn't seem to be one. That there is a connection between the AMO, THC fluctuations and SSTs infers nothing about hurricanes. This discussion was all starting to sound a little familiar, and indeed you have sought to make this same inference about Knight et al before and have been corrected. See http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/04/gray-on-agw/, and comments 56 and 86 in particular. The issue with any changes in SST from the AMO is whether additional energy is made available to hurricanes. From the report I saw (I haven't read the paper yet), Emanuel and Mann found that the AMO influence on SSTs has no detectable influence on hurricanes while AGW very much does.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at June 1, 2006 09:47 PM
P.S. - Anyone using that URL will need to delete the comma at the end.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at June 1, 2006 09:58 PM
Steve B asks: "an awful lot of people have begun to conclude that the Webster/Emanuel camp is right.... Why shouldn't journalists begin to draw the same conclusion?"
The appropriate approach for a journalist is to look for two things - first, at the breadth of the literature, where the debate is (as you know) quite lively. The second is the sort of expert panels - IPCC, NAS, etc. - that attempt to sythesize for policymakers and the lay public the state of the science. In this case, the WMO statement to which Roger has referred many times reflects no such consensus.
Posted by: jfleck at June 2, 2006 01:59 PM
John, that's an interesting approach. It seems to allow for full coverage without making any effort to understand the content of the science. So, if you has been covering relativity in about 1920, I suppose you would have told your readers that things were still unsettled?
Were you to cover this story, an alternative approach might be to consider talking to all of the leading researchers in the field and seeing what they think. This is basically what the Nature reporter did, and you saw the results. Was that bad journalism?
One can choose to wait for a formal consensus statement, but that's tantamount to saying that journalists can never report the actual state of the science to their readers (so long as the science is moving fast). Finally, you might try calling Kerry Emanuel and asking him if that statement still holds.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at June 2, 2006 06:46 PM
Speaking of institutions that have picked sides in the climate change debate, see http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/noaa-hill-briefing/ for a leaked NOAA Congrssional briefing memo on hurricanes. Right up front:
"Question: The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most active on record. Is global climate change responsible for this increased activity?
"Answer: Available research indicates increased hurricane activity can be explained by natural cycles of hurricane activity driven by the Atlantic Ocean along with the atmosphere above it."
This memo appears to have been written after the forced recantation of the NOAA statement falsely claiming that Bell and Chelliah's work amounted to a natural cycle theory. Draw your own conclusions.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at June 3, 2006 01:42 AM
I'm not covering this debate (I live in and report on a landlocked state well above sea level), but were I to, I would talk to scientists on both sides of the issue, review the lively state of the scientific debate, suggest that some people with scientific standing believe there is an "emerging consensus" and that others do not, and offer the WMO statement as guidance to my readers. It's quite straightforward.
When expert panel consensus reviews like the WMO statement exist and you abandon them and pick a side, you open up the debate to the sort of scientization that Sarewitz so ably documents.* It seems to me that the strength of your position in this debate, Steve, is the way it aligns with a strong consensus on the major issues associated with climate change, as articulated by the IPCC etc. As soon as you abandon that alignment on a question like this, you open up the field for your opponents to do the same on other questions, which is a recipe for gridlock.
Posted by: jfleck at June 3, 2006 09:07 AM
You make a valid point that resonates with much of what Roger and Kevin have been saying here for some time. As you stress, the WMO-guided statement on hurricanes and global warming remains, at least for the time being, rather open-minded on any possible linkage:
“The research issues discussed here are in a fluid state and are the subject of much current investigation. Given time the problem of causes and attribution of the events of 2004-2005 will be discussed and argued in the refereed scientific literature. Prior to this happening it is not possible to make any authoritative comment.”
It looks almost as if the statement intended to play for time and pass the buck. So here is the question:
A key representative of the human-warming-causes-stronger-hurricanes theory, Kevin Trenberth, is the IPCC's coordinating lead author on the very subject matter, directing the focus, selection and outcome of the next IPCC assessment on hurricanes and global warming.
A key representative of the natural-variability-drives-hurricane-intensity theory, Chris Lansea, has withdrawn from the IPCC assessment process in protest, stating that he "cannot in good faith continue to contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by pre-conceived agendas and being scientifically unsound."
Now, given your almost blind faith in the IPCC process and its expertise, what would you say if one group of researchers, including leading experts such as Landsea, would question the validity of a biased panel and a prejudiced assessment?
Posted by: Benny Peiser at June 3, 2006 12:03 PM
Cherrypicking at Prometheus?
Your article, and the subsequent comments on the NYT only referring to two articles and ignoring others (one of which you are a coauthor), was interesting but disappointing. I will not comment on the NYT’s choice or neglect of papers but I will question a similar “cherrypicking” on your blog. On May 1 you commented extensively on the Klotzbach paper, not then published by the way, noting that it questioned results from “high profile papers”. But when you described the NYT action you failed to mention that the Sriver-Huber paper gave strong support to the results of the Emanuel and the Webster et al. paper (I presume the high-profile papers to which you refer) through the use of independent data. It seems to be one thing to report on the Klotzbach paper as having very interesting results but another to ignore on the substance of the Sriver-Huber paper. Yes, the Emanuel-Mann and the Sriver-Huber papers were mentioned by name but their content was not discussed nor their potential significance. What I find disappointing is that you are prepared to highlight Klotzbach’s results but not the results of papers that provide alternatives to Klotzbach’s conclusions. Please be assured that I care little whether or not you comment on any of the papers that you mentionr. Their relative significance will come out in the peer-reviewed wash. But if Prometheus is to be considered to provide a balanced persepective, then you should have commented on the science of the two papers mentioned in the NYT. To me that was at least as great an omission by Prometheus as the neglect of the omitted papers by the NYT.
Posted by: peter webster at June 3, 2006 01:05 PM
I'm not sure my "faith" in the IPCC process is "blind," but I'm comfortable waiting until the report comes out to see how it handles this issue.
Posted by: jfleck at June 3, 2006 04:45 PM
Fair enough, John. But don’t you sometimes wonder whether making the promoter of a controversial hypothesis the arbiter of his own research and that of his opponents might look as incongruous as if the IPCC had chosen the hockey-stick team to, well, reassess their own hockey-stick? :-)
Posted by: Benny Peiser at June 4, 2006 03:58 AM
Thanks Peter Webster for your comments. Apologies for the sign in problems, we are working to fix this.
As far as cherrypicking, we are guilty as charged. All presentations of information are necessarily selective, thus here as well.
As far as the specific issue of the NYT article, my thinking is that if the NYT features several scientific articles then they will get wide attention., perhaps even wider than if they were featured on Prometheus;-) By contrast the other articles have not received similar attention.
On the Klotzbach paper, our decision to feature it seems appropriate as, to my knowledge, no media outlet (certainly not any major media outlet) covered it.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at June 4, 2006 08:17 PM