The Intersection

In my book, The Republican War on Science, I noted that James Inhofe in a 2003 speech had included a “harsh attack on science blogger and journalist David Appell.” The phrase “sheer lunacy” was used. You can see for yourself here. (Why I’m defending Appell I don’t know, as he hasn’t been particularly kind to me lately, but whatever, he’s part of the tribe.)

Anyway, now Inhofe and his staff are at it again, with attacks on two very respected science writers, Seth Borenstein of the AP and Andy Revkin of the New York Times. Much of this has been reported in Greenwire, for which you unfortunately need a subscription. Anyway, the criticisms are seriously weak: Borenstein wrote a completely fair story saying that most experts found Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth to be generally accurate. Well, they did. There’s no point whining about it.

As for Revkin, the criticism is that he wrote a book (!):

In recent interviews, Marc Morano, communications director for Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), listed the Times’ reporter, Andy Revkin, among journalists who have tied their personal and professional reputations to the catastrophic effects of global warming.

Morano said Revkin’s new children’s book, “The North Pole Was Here,” leaves readers with the impression climate change is occuring at a rapid rate and predisposes the newspaper and author to write hyped-up stories in the future about global warming.

“The title alone implies climate alarmism,” said Morano, who added that he has not read Revkin’s book.

Revkin’s reply, emailed to me, shows just what a flimsy critique this is:

I doubt there’s a current account of Arctic climate change out there as true to the science and as spin-free and scare-free as The North Pole Was Here. It is, in every way, an extension of the journalism I’ve been doing on climate for 20 years, journalism that has been consistently lauded by people on all sides of the climate debate for its accuracy and fairness.

With this book, the first on climate change written for everyone 10 and up (a range that includes all elected officials), I’m simply broadening my audience to include the next generation — which is a vital and under-served part of any discourse on this century-scale issue.

My reporting has consistently let the science lead the way. Readers can judge for themselves by exploring www.nytimes.com/learning/globalwarming, where they can find the first chapter of the pole book and links to many of my climate stories and my multimedia work from three recent Arctic trips.

As for the book being commercial, well, just the process of selling newspapers in the United States, where the media are not controlled by the government, is implicitly commercial. So which way would Marc and the senator prefer to have it — state-controlled ‘neutral’ coverage of this important issue or fair and accurate free-market coverage?

By the standard they have set, everyone from John Stossel and Bill O’Reilly to Anderson Cooper and Bob Woodward should close up shop and cover, say, knitting every time a new book is out.

I agree: This standard that is being suggested basically rules out journalistic book writing, because all journalists tie their “personal and professional reputations” to the content of their books (and most even expect to sell a few copies). Furthermore, I have read Revkin’s book and interviewed him about it, and I actually find that his statements about climate change science and policy err on the side of caution and conservatism, rather than alarmism….

Comments

  1. #1 Fred Bortz
    July 24, 2006

    Well, it just goes to show that Inhofe is willing to speak out on any subject, regardless of how little he knows. He claims to understand climate science, but if you asked him what he knows about books for young readers, [snarkiness alert on] he would probably talk about the evils of Harry Potter’s witchcraft and the terribly undisciplined Max in Where the Wild Things Are. [snarkiness alert off]

    I write science books for young readers, mainly middle grades and teens (My latest is at http://www.fredbortz.com/HammelBio/ ), so I know something about the people who publish them. Let me contrast them with publishers of books for adult readers.

    Publishers of adult books can–and do–make money from alarmism and sensationalism, but they also publish a great number of informative and thought-provoking titles, which are the kind of books I focus on when reviewing for newspapers ( http://www.scienceshelf.com ). If a book is sensationalized, it’s more likely to get a pan from me than a paean, if I decide to review it at all.

    Children’s publishers, because of the audience, stay away from sensationalism and especially alarmism. Some, especially religious publishers, have a tendency toward indoctrination, since doctrine is explicitly part of their mission. But the mainline children’s publishers, like the Kingfisher imprint of Houghton Mifflin (Revkin’s publisher), definitely shy away from anything that will raise children’s fears.

    Since 2002, I have been marketing a proposal of a book on global warming with a political subtheme, like Bob Reiss’ The Coming Storm (review: http://www.scienceshelf.com/ComingStorm_HurricaneWatch.htm ), without success. Andrew Revkin’s journalistic credentials enabled him to sell the book as a factual look at global warming as seen on a research trip to the North Pole. I can only congratulate him on producing a book that is appropriate for my audience — and for snagging that trip.

    I just got a copy of The North Pole Was Here, and I see nothing about policy, other than that we need one. For example, there’s this near the end of the book (after Revkin’s having even mentioned possible commercial benefits of global warming):


    As so many writers and thinkers have said, with power comes responsibility. Now, whether we like it or not, people are becoming responsible for the shape of things to come on earth. We are somewhat like a student driver, learning the rules as we roll along.

    Scientists say that the great challenge with global, and Arctic, warming is that people need to make decisions now even though we don’t yet understand all the rules and lack a clear road map. And it is unlikely to be clear anytime soon.

    He then notes a 2000 New York Times headline about the possibility of having reached a tipping point in a polar meltdown:


    It quickly became evident that the situation was not nearly that simple….

    Uncertainty will continue to cloud scientific projections of climate change….

    He continues by noting the expert consensus that prompt action is needed, otherwise “the odds will only mount that earth’s climate could shift in truly profound ways later in this century.”

    Even in that last sentence, Revkin’s language is cautious and measured. His career is tied to the reporting of events, no matter which way they come out. Yet Inhofe and others like him continue to claim Revkin has a vested interest in catastrophism.

  2. #2 G
    July 24, 2006

    Fred posted “if you asked him [Barton] what he knows about books for young readers, [snarkiness alert on] he would probably talk about the evils of Harry Potter’s witchcraft and the terribly undisciplined Max in Where the Wild Things Are. [snarkiness alert off]”

    Don’t give Barton any ideas — for his own sake, since more than one idea at a time might overload his brain circuit and who knows what might happen then.

  3. #3 G
    July 24, 2006

    Oops, I just noticed the reference is to Inhofe (not Barton).

    Six of one, a half dozen of the other.

  4. #4 Kit Stolz
    July 24, 2006

    For a chat with Revkin about this and the change in the NASA mission statement, see:

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/7/22/11360/0466

  5. #5 Karl
    July 24, 2006

    I think you should be ashamed of yourself for picking on Jim Inhofe.
    Do you think it’s fair for a 250 pound man to pick on a 99 pound weakling?

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