Juan Cole to Climatologists: "It is not your fault"

Juan Cole, who has himself been a target of political campaigns regarding Middle East foreign policy, lays out why climatologists haven't been as successful as they could be in persuading the public (hint: It's not framing). First:

Very, very wealthy and powerful interests are lobbying the big media companies behind the scenes to push climate change skepticism, or in some cases (as with Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp/ Fox Cable News) the powerful and wealthy interests actually own the media.

Reason number two:

Powerful politicians linked to those wealthy interests are shilling for them, and elected politicians clearly backed by economic elites are given respect in the US corporate media. Big Oil executives e.g. have an excellent rollodex for CEOs, producers, the bookers for the talk shows, etc. in the corporate media. They also behind the scenes fund "think tanks" such as the American Enterprise Institute to produce phony science. [Note: changed as I double-pasted a paragraph]

Onto number three:

Media thrives on controversy, which produces ratings and advertising revenue. As a result, it is structured into an 'on the one hand, on the other hand' binary argument. Any broadcast that pits a climate change skeptic against a serious climate scientist is automatically a win for the skeptic, since a false position is being given equal time and legitimacy. It was the same in the old days when the cigarette manufacturers would pay a 'scientist' to go deny that smoking causes lung cancer.

If that sounds at all familiar to creationists, well.... Anyway, reason number four:

Journalists for the most part have to do as they are told. Their editors and the owners of the corporate media decide which stories get air time and how they are pitched.

Think he's wrong? That certainly seems the case with financial reporting. Another reason:

Many journalists are generalists and do not themselves have the specialized training or background for deciding what the truth is in technical controversies. Some of them are therefore fairly easily fooled on issues that require technical or specialist knowledge....

The good journalists are aware of their limitations and develop proxies for figuring out who is credible. But the social climbers and time servers are happy just to host a shouting match that maybe produces 'compelling' television, which is how they get ahead in life.

Cole makes some other good points too--as the kids say, read the whole thing. But the take home message for me is that this isn't about framing, but fundamental institutional and structural biases. I'm not sure how to fix these problems, but blaming scientists certainly isn't the way to do it.

More like this

For several decades, journalism happened only in the three 'traditional' methods of communication: print, radio and television. The means of production of these is expensive, thus owned only by wealthy individuals or corporations, or heavily subsidized by such (through advertising and such). One…
I've finally gotten around to reading The Next Big Storm, Can Scientists and Journalists Work Together to Improve Coverage of the Hurricane-Global Warming Controversy? -- the Skeptical Inquirer's monumental review of media coverage of the hurrican-climate change links, by our own Matthew C. Nisbet…
My post last week about the death knell of science journalism prompted some incredible responses. Here's Larry Moran, putting it more bluntly than I expected, and enunciating an opinion we'd better hope does not prevail: Seriously, most of what passes for science journalism is so bad we will be…
Dear Mr. Hume, I doubt that you intended to further tarnish your already sullied reputation in the journalism community, but your failure to exercise even an infinitesimal measure of professional skepticism this past Monday during a climate change segment of your Fox News program "Special Report"…

I don't see the difference, word for word, between reasons #1 and #2.

What am I missing? Is this a rhetorical technique to highlight the weight of the influence?

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Strike #1

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

I also like this: Every single serious climate scientist should be running a blog.

My take on the article is this:

If you want any journalism done, you have to do it yourself. Don't rely on journalists to do it for you.

By Keith Harwood (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

I blame society.

Media companies and politicians are nouns that refers to two different things.

Actually, every single climate scientist shouldn't have a blog - they should only have a blog if they can write compellingly, have a sense of humor, etc... all things not necessarily required for being a good climatologist. Actually, maybe every single climatologist should have a media-savvy lover who can report their findings ;-).

Sharon