Out of the gate, Bret Stephens punches the hippies, says dumb things

Right in the middle, between the Trump-inspired March for Science, and the Trump-inspired People's Climate March, the New York times managed to come down firmly on the side of climate and science denial, in its editorial pages.

This week sees the first NYT installment by the ex Wall Street Journal columnist and author Bret Stephens (also former editor of the The Jerusalem Post). He is a professional contrarian, well known for his denial of the importance and reality of climate change, as well as other right wing positions. I assume the New York Times added Stephens to their stable of opinion writers to appease the new Republican Majority in Washington DC. And, maybe that is a good idea. But they should have gone with a principled conservative who is interested in things like facts, rather going with a modern philistine like this guy.

Just consider this all too cute sentence with which he attempts to dazzle his readers.

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.

First, let's admit that time passes, so a 2014 report based on pre-existing information mainly from a year or two earlier is out of date in 2017, in a dynamic, rapidly changing field like climate change. As I note here, it is becoming increasingly common for climate science deniers to use the aging IPCC report to make an outdated point. The IPCC report is a good starting point for understanding the scientific basis of climate change, but it is not a current document and should not be treated like one. Editors of the New York Times, please take note of this and hold your columnists to a higher standard.

Or, for that matter, hold them to any standard at all with respect to fact checking. Stephens' 0.85 degrees has to refer to the planet, not the Northern Hemisphere, as he claims. The editors of the New York Times still think the Earth is round, with hemispheres, right? I would hope so. Also, we understand that this average (the 0.85 for the globe, or the higher value for the Northern Hemisphere) is a low ball estimate for two reasons. One is statistical, as explained in the IPCC report Stephens pretends to have read. The other is because the estimates have a problem now being increasingly realized in that they ignore a lot of earlier warming. (This all has to do with baselines and confusions about them, and the often unexamined and incorrect assumption that the first century of burning coal does not count because it was so long ago. Trust me, it counts.)

And, that is not a modest number. It is a significant number, and the warming in the pipeline which will not go away on with wishful thinking from climate contrarian columnists, is an even larger and even more significant number.

But never mind the pesky details such as facts. Or that he separates the indisputable form the probabilistic, when it is all probabilistic and none is indisputable (science is not really ever indisputable). His overall argument is utterly stupid.

Listen: he says that Hillary Clinton read the polling data wrong, a certainty (her victory in November) turned out to not happen, therefore we should not put much stock in a widespread scientific consensus as we have for the basics of climate change. I note, however, that the chance of Clinton winning was around 50-50, and that only one candidate can win. And, oh, yes, she did win the popular vote, which is actually the measure were are talking about when referring to polling data. So, Stephens has that totally wrong. As your analogy goes, so goes the rest of your argument, Bret.

Stephens' run up to this point involves some very attractive conspiratorial ideation (very attractive if you are a conspiracy theorist, that is) using the argument that the more sure science is of something, the more likely it is to be a complete lie based on a vast conspiracy. That whole idea is so conspiratorial that I was forced to use the word "conspiracy" or a form of it three times in one sentence and five times in one paragraph. How about that?

I'm pretty sure Stephens was listening to the widespread complaints about his hiring at the NYT, and perhaps heeding his masters' voice in the editorial room, because he does in the end admit that climate change is real and mostly what the scientists say. He has, rather, adopted a rather Revkinesque view of climate change -- and I know this is Revkinesque because Stephens blames this half assed idea directly on Andy Revkin twice in this one column. That view is this: Breathless yammering about climate change has now and then emanated from out of control hippies who don't know the science. Therefore, the science is less certain than the scientists say it is.

OMG, what hogwash. I can rearrange the letters in the name of a great American President to spell hairball conman. Therefore that president was a hairball conman.

What is to be said about a columnist who responds in his first installment to an honest and widespread critique by scientists and their supporters by making so many foolish statements about science? I'm not sure, but wise people say this is a reason to cancel their subscription to the New York Times in protest.

The New York Times has often been a little iffy on climate change, but it has not been a total rag. The Grey Lady's reputation took a real hit in this area with the addition of Stephens. Even the other writers at the New York Ties are put off by it.

More reactions to Bret Stephens

  • Sou at Hot Whopper: Bret Stephens lowers the bar for intellectual honesty and more @NYTimes
  • In his very first NYT article you'd not have guessed that Bret Stephens had ever been awarded a Pulitzer. You'd not have known that he was a journalist at all, let alone one with any sort of reputation. You'd have thought he was a ...

  • Graham Readfearn at Desmog: Climate Scientists Cancelling Their New York Times Subscription Over Hiring of Climate Denialist Bret Stephens
  • Stephens wrote several columns while at the WSJ disparaging climate science and climate scientists, which he has collectively described as a “religion” while claiming rising temeperatures may be natural.

    The NYT has been defending its decision publicly, saying that “millions of people” agree with Stephens on climate science and just because their readers don’t like his opinions, that doesn’t mean ...

  • Dana Nuccitelli at The Guardian: NY Times hired a hippie puncher to give climate obstructionists cover
  • Most importantly, the global warming we’ve experience is in no way “modest.” We’re already causing a rate of warming faster than when the Earth transitions out of an ice age, and within a few decades we could be causing the fastest climate change Earth has seen in 50 million years. The last ice age transition saw about 4°C global warming over 1,000 years; humans are on pace to cause that much warming between 1900 and 2100 – a period of just 200 years, with most of that warming happening since 1975.

    Of course, how much global warming we see in the coming decades depends on ...

  • Joe Romm at Think Progress: The NY Times promised to fact check their new climate denier columnist — they lied
  • The very first column the New York Times published by extreme climate science denier Bret Stephens is riddled with errors, misstatements, unfair comparisons, straw men, and logical fallacies.

    Leading climatologist Dr. Michael Mann emailed ThinkProgress: “This column confirms my worst fear: That the NY Times management is now willingly abetting climate change denialism.”


  • Osita Nwanevu in Slate on Bret Stephens sexist and racist remarks about rape
  • Here is Stephens’ exchange on campus rape:

    Jeff Stein: You wrote, “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation — Congo on the quad — why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?” My question to you is: Isn’t it necessary for women to attend these coeducational schools for their economic and educational advancement? Isn’t it possible that’s why they’d be there even if there’s a higher risk of sexual assault?

    Bret Stephens: Of course it is. But if sexual assault rates in, let’s say, east Congo were about 20 percent, most people wouldn’t travel to those places. Because that is in fact — or, that would be, in fact, the risk of being violently sexually assaulted.

    (I'd like to point out that a traveller's chance of rape in a "place like E. Congo" is not the same as the chance of a woman who lives there. Not that it is a particularly safe place to go, but Bret Stephens exhibits here an excellent example of the Ignorance of Privilege and how it can be used to make excuses for bad male behavior and scare the bejesus out of white people. - gtl)

  • From Peter Sinclair at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Climate Scientist (Stefan Rahmstorf) to NYTimes. Cancel my Sub
  • When Stephens was hired I wrote to you in protest about his spreading of untruths about climate change, saying “I enjoy reading different opinions from my own, but this is not a matter of different opinions.” I did not cancel then but decided to wait and see. However, the subsequent public defense by the New York Times of the hiring of Stephens has convinced me that...

    Selected tweets about Bret Stephens








    More like this

    I've been meaning to write a letter to the New York Times I just wrote this letter to the New York Times about their very wrong decision to add a climate science denier to their editorial staff. When they were recently challenged about this idea, the response was, paraphrasing, "millions of people…
    MSNBC has added Bret Stephens, climate denier formerly of the WSJ, lately of the NYT, to their list of commenters. Shame on them. Also, shame on Wikipedia and others for referring to Stephens as a journalist. He is no more a journalist than Anne Coulter. He is a commenter. (He's way better than…
    Honestly, it is hard to have an honest conversation about science with science obstructors or deniers. That is how you know you are conversing with a denier. You try to have the conversation, and it gets derailed by cherry picking, misdirection, faux misunderstanding, or lies. I don't care how…
    The New York Times Elizabeth Spayed, Public Editor Dear Elizabeth, I am writing to express my concern for the addition of Bret Stephens to the NYT team as a columnist. I don't expect a columnist who seemingly writes about everything to be wrong about nothing. But the Gray Lady should, at the very…

    Bret Stephens has clearly never had a real science moment in his entire life. He has never had the “Aha! I've got it!” moment that Archimedes got and that everyone who considers himself or herself a scientist has gotten at one point or another in a lab, in a classroom, on a factory floor, , or wherever else that great moment occurred. Instead, this highly overpaid wordsmith thinks that he can pontificate with impunity on life or death problems about which he does not have any standing at all. He is a practitioner of the dismal art of economics, , and he should really confine his writings to economics. Period. When he writes about science, it is not science journalism. When he writes about science, he is sticking his camel's nose into a tent in which he has no business, and he should not be at all surprised if the humans in the the tent give him a well deserved punch in the snot locker. A pox on your ignorance, Bret Stephens. If you want to write about the scientific topic of climate change, you need to take a few years off and get a basic science education in the subject. If you are not willing to do that, then why don't you go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. Really. Asshole.

    I read a lot of the comments in the mytimes.com following the article. There is a surprisingly large number of denier comments, all with gobs of disinformation. These people were ready and organized.

    By t marvell (not verified) on 28 Apr 2017 #permalink

    Smug insubstantial clickbait from Stephens...don't know why the NYT thought this was what they need more of.
    Yes, Greg, Stephens has wheeled out AR5, without having read much of it if any, in exactly the way you noted obfuscators were increasingly doing.
    He's trying to drive a wedge between 'the scientists' -as though they are some discrete group- and the boosters of action over climate change- as if they're some kind of discrete group. Of course the feeble framing doesn't stand up.
    At least it's brief, though that's an indication he cannot engage with the subject in any detail.

    The NYT got it all wrong in the run up to the Iraq war.
    The NYT can't get over their obsession with finding something, (anything) illegal that can be pinned on the Clintons.
    The NYT now publishes bogus science.
    This is our nation's "Paper of Record"?

    By Walt Garage (not verified) on 28 Apr 2017 #permalink

    " When he writes about science, it is not science journalism"
    Precisely. Thankyou.

    It is to be wished that Mr. Stephans could display any indication that he knows anything about the subject. He reminds me of a college freshman doing his best to hide the fact that he didn't do the assigned reading. If he has difficulty understanding the printed word he would be well-served by viewing Richard Alley's episodes of EARTH: The Operators' Manual which explains it succinctly with many pictures and animations.

    By Elmo Craven (not verified) on 28 Apr 2017 #permalink

    I think the Washington Post is more paper of record than the NYT these days.

    I cancelled my subscription. This was the last straw... I took a long hiatus from the NYT after its motivated miscoverage of the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the war itself.

    But I eventually came back, only to start to question why as I saw it making the same kind of 'mistakes' with Clinton's emails. Covering something as consequential as a U.S. presidential election with that sort of false equivalency, and allowing some of its veteran staffers' longstanding personal dislike of Clinton to leak over into the news and editorial pages was appalling.

    The NYT has excellent reporters and columnists, including on climate. But it is like the proverbial curate's egg, good in parts and rotten in others. I viewed Stephens' hiring and first column as a deliberate insult to the paper's readers from its management, and acted accordingly.

    You cancel your subscription(future) over hiring of Stephens, then you read his articles?

    ...then you read his articles?

    Reading what Magma wrote he read first and then cancelled. After all one has to check if the enemy really is your enemy, Magma was not disappointed.

    Quite simple really.

    #2: Just the latest in a decades long trend of denial. Now we have people denying that clear errors of fact by a columnist are not errors at all. I remember when a foreign newspaper headline read: "How Can 58 Million People Be That Stupid? after G. W. Bush's reelection. Apparently it's easier than one might think. Facts are now what you choose to believe. That's it. Now you ARE entitled to your own facts.

    By Tyvor Winn (not verified) on 29 Apr 2017 #permalink

    "You cancel your subscription(future) over hiring of Stephens,"

    Can you not read?

    "you read his articles?"

    Can you not read?

    #10 my apologies, was referring to Greg, not Magma.

    Still means we have to wonder if you cannot read.

    Did any desubscriber demand they fire the Lede writer too?

    In my experience, there's no tellling what title a major paper will fit above what you write or say - headers manifest the em count, not the fitness to print. I've had Opeds end up on the ed page and vice versa .

    By Russell Seitz (not verified) on 30 Apr 2017 #permalink

    Do you have a problem with the lede?