The Scientific Activist

More on Today’s Revkin Article

Earlier I published a post about an interesting article by Andrew Revkin in today’s New York Times about industry’s willful ignorance of global warming science. There was an interesting quote in there that I didn’t mention earlier about how journalistic practices enabled this campaign of misinformation:

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.

Will Bunch of Attytood already has some good commentary about this quote as it relates to the practice of “he said, she said” journalism.

This is an issue that particularly affects American journalism, and it’s one side effect of having more intensive journalist training courses that stress objectivity particularly strongly (and, of course, it’s also a natural result of time-strapped journalists just trying to meet deadlines). But, this is an issue that’s become much more pronounced in the era of 24-hour cable news. Whereas Americans once received much of their news and analysis distilled through trusted media figures that strived to be objective, nowadays people are more likely to just be exposed to a series of talking heads speaking from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Although, in this case it’s more of a “he yelled, she yelled” phenomenon.

Want to do a story about global warming? Just pit a climate scientist against a fringe global warming denialist, and your work is done! Is there really a scientific controversy there? No, but one guy says this and the other says that, so the perception of the viewer is that the truth must be somewhere in the middle, even when it couldn’t be further away.

So, given the recent rise of cable news punditry, it’s hard to be optimistic that this “he said, she said” type of journalism (or its louder cable TV cousin) is going anywhere in the near future.

Hat tip to Bora of A Blog Around the Clock.


  1. #1 larrydalooza
    April 24, 2009

    This smells a bit like whining. Try not to demonize a healthy trace gas and you will do OK. Renewable energy developed via a capitalist ideology is OK. Convince people to buy clean renewable energy. Otherwise… shut up. Totalitarian socialist invocations shall never be acceptable in the US.

  2. #2 winnebago
    April 24, 2009


    Are you arguing that the current energy infrastructure was developed without govt interference?

  3. #3 BAllanJ
    April 24, 2009

    Evidence, larrylakooka, or GTFA. The smell isn’t whining, it’s crap at comment #1.

  4. #4 Stefan Jones
    April 24, 2009

    Do you do this for free, Larry?

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