16 February 2014
Meet The Press Shows How Not To Cover Science
Posted by Dan Satterfield
My friend Heidi Cullen will be on ABC’s THIS WEEK Sunday morning (Feb16, 2014) talking about climate change, and our 2013 President of the American Meteorological Society, Marshall Shepherd will be on Face the Nation. Dr. Cullen works for Climate Central (a non-profit clearing house that helps science communicators (like me) keep up to date on the latest real science), and Dr. Shepherd has been a great supporter of our AMS Committee on Station Science ( I’m the chair). Both will speak eloquently about climate science.
On Meet the Press there is a debate between Bill Nye who does have a science background and a politician who doesn’t. A perfect example of false balance and of course lousy journalism. IMHO, Bill Nye (who recently spent an evening trying to convince people in Kentucky that the world is more than 6,000 years old) should have told NBC no. Now, NBC could have gotten one of the few climate scientists who disagree (with the other 97%) to go up against someone like Kevin Trenberth, or NASA’s Gavin Schmidt or Penn. State’s Michael Mann, but they chose a false balance instead. They could have gotten some political leaders on their program to talk about what we do about it, because that is a valid political question. The reality of climate change is not decided by politicians or even public opinion. It’s decided by the scientific facts published in peer-reviewed journals.
Meet the Press is already being heavily criticized for their program, and they deserve it. If you want some real truth, then CBS and ABC will have it with Dr. Cullen and Dr. Shepherd. If the politicians (and that tiny faction of scientists have a problem with it), they should submit a paper showing what they found wrong in all those papers (Funny, how they never seem to do that). Bill Nye, is a great science communicator, but he needs to learn something that a lot of my fellow meteorologists have learned; it’s fruitless to argue science with someone who will refuse to believe it, no matter how many scientific facts they are shown.
Oh, and NASA announced yesterday that January 2014 was the 4th warmest on record globally, and 3rd warmest in the Northern Hemisphere.
Dear Mr. Satterfield:
You obviously missed part of the point of what Bill Nye was attempting to accomplish. I’m sure he had no illusions about convincing Rep. Blackburn. The intended audience is not the “opponent” in the “debate,” but the audience watching. And, from what I gather of the proceedings, even host David Gregory corrected her when she repeated the tripe about no “scientific consensus” on climate change.
I happen to be a scientist — a geographer who understands climate and the radiation balance of the atmosphere (and an AGU member, by the way). But I am also a journalist who understands better than most scientists the art of communication.
I am well aware of the problem of false balance. I am well aware of how the media can create significant doubt about an issue when nor room for said doubt actually exists.
But you are dead wrong when you suggest that “Meet the Press” presented “false balance” by including the congresswoman in the discussion. You can only make the “false balance” claim by ignoring significant evidence as to the existence of a major divide over policy in this country. (Ignoring evidence is not good science.)
As long as you treat the problem of climate change as purely a scientific question, the “balance” introduced in this discussion is false.
But how we respond to the problem of climate change encompasses concepts of environmental ethics, economics and policy. When you step into those realms, particularly economics and policy, you will find — as revealed in poll after poll of the American electorate — that there is a significant division over the need to address climate change.
As long as there remains such division, the deniers of reality must be confronted at every opportunity. The necessary responses — and more important, support to implement those responses — will not be devised within the Ivory Tower. Scientists have an obligation to the society that supports their research to sully themselves by engagement in the debate.
I know not every scientist has the skills to debate effectively. I accept that. But those scientists should work all the more diligently to encourage and support those with the skills and inclination to engage the forces that promote disastrous inaction — an ultimately to engage the public that will have to make the sacrifices required to stave off catastrophe.
Sure, it may be “fruitless to argue science with someone who will refuse to believe it,” but what we all need to do is win supporters from that far greater number of people who have no rigid beliefs, but who are now under the others’ sway.
We’re not going to do that by confining discussion to other members of the choir.
“The reality of climate change is not decided by politicians or even public opinion. It’s decided by the scientific facts published in peer-reviewed journals.”
Ahh… no. It’s measured and debated by scientist, but ultimately it’s decided by reality. I am not saying science is in anyway invalid, but any given hypothesis may be, no matter how popular.
And reality says, global warming is real, and it is caused by human activity. Specifically, the release of ~27 million tons of stored carbon per day, through combustion of fossil fuels.