Johann Hari has written an excellent article in The Nation on the scandalously poor reporting in the main stream media on climate science and scientists:
Yet when it comes to coverage of global warming, we are trapped in the logic of a guerrilla insurgency. The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative–See! The global warming story is falling apart!–to be reinforced by the media. It doesn’t matter that their alternative theories are based on demonstrably false claims, as they are with all the leading “thinkers” in this movement. Look at the Australian geologist Ian Plimer, whose denialism is built on the claim that volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans, even though the US Geological Survey has shown they produce 130 times less. Or Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker, who says the Arctic sea ice can’t be retreating because each year it comes back a little… in winter.
Many Americans assume that if a story has been in the news section of a reputable English newspaper, it has been fact-checked. One recent climate “scandal” that spread from Britain shows how these stories actually originate. In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–the umbrella organization of the world’s climate scientists–explained that 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest is at risk of dying if there is even a slight reduction in rainfall. This is true. It is the view of the most distinguished scientists in the field. The IPCC sourced this claim to a report by the World Wildlife Fund–when, in fact, it should have referred to a report by professor Dan Nepstad, whose work is mentioned only in passing by the WWF.
It was a minor footnoting error–but when a denialist blogger named Richard North noticed it, he announced he had found the IPCC making fake predictions. He tipped off the Sunday Times, owned by Fox king Rupert Murdoch. The newspaper’s journalists quoted Dr. Simon Lewis, a leading rainforest expert, who explained that it was a very minor mistake and that the core claim is accurate. The paper ignored the bulk of his comments and mangled his quotes to make it sound like he agreed that the IPCC had been talking rubbish–and ran the “story” under the headline “UN Climate Panel Shamed by Bogus Rainforest Claim.” It gave credit for “research by Richard North.” The story was then zapped all over the United States as Amazongate, and as a result millions of people are now under the impression that the Amazon is in no danger. The Sunday Times refuses to admit it made a whopping error–in a story that attacks the IPCC for supposedly making a whopping error.
Read the whole thing.
Also worth reading is Mark Hertsgaard in the same issue:
Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who has been surveying Americans’ views on climate change since 1995, says that, in fact, Americans remain overwhelmingly convinced that man-made climate change is happening and must be confronted. “The media is sensationalizing these polls to make it sound like the public is backing off its belief in climate change, but it’s not so,” argues Krosnick, who delivered a paper on the subject at an American Meteorological Association briefing in Washington a day after the Gallup poll was released. Krosnick says that Americans’ views have remained quite stable over the past ten years and that in November 2009–the very time the media were full of stories about the stolen British e-mails–a whopping 75 percent of Americans said they believed that global temperatures are going up.
Krosnick, whose academic specialty is the wording of survey questions, suspects his colleagues at Gallup and elsewhere have gotten misleading results because of the way they worded their questions: their phrasing ended up testing whether Americans believed in the science of climate change rather than the phenomenon of climate change. “Most people’s opinions are based not on science but on what they experience in their daily lives,” Krosnick told me. “So our surveys ask people if they have heard about the idea that temperatures have been going up over the past 100 years and if they agree with this idea.” The 75 percent of Americans who answered yes to that question amounts to “a huge number,” says Krosnick–a far higher level of agreement than pertains on most political issues. Where climate change deniers have had an effect, he adds, is in reducing, to 31 percent, the number of Americans who think all scientists agree about climate change. “But most Americans have thought that [scientists don't all agree on climate change] for the entire fifteen years I’ve been polling on this issue,” adds Krosnick–further tribute, it seems, to the media’s longstanding habit of giving a handful of deniers prominence equal to the vast majority of scientists who affirm climate change.
Hat tip: Climate Shifts.