Monday, 25 January 2010

The Wrong Foot? Media coverage of a new denialist talking point

Here's another sad story of hasty journalism feeding the denial machine, with a belated twist of "balance."

A new attack on climate science is now echoing around the intertubes, thanks to CanWest writer Richard Foot. His Jan. 21 piece headlined 'Scientists using selective temperature data, skeptics say' simply regurgitates a scurrilous attack by Joseph D'Aleo (non-scientist, non-professor) and E. Michael Smith ('a computer programmer') posted on the website of the "Science and Public Policy Institute".

Foot openly admits "Both the authors, and the institute, are well-known in climate-change circles for their skepticism about the threat of global warming." Yet he makes virtually no effort to counter-balance their extreme ideological position. His whole article is just parroting their inflammatory attacks on science.

Two days later, Foot issued a much more sensible and balanced account of this flap, "Fewer temperature reports could mean warming underestimated: scientist" (Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 23) getting quotes from an Environment Canada spokesperson pointing out that fewer stations is just as likely to lead to an underestimate of warming, and finishing off with a forceful rejoinder from Gavin Schmidt calling D'Aleo's charges "appallingly defamatory and ignorant" (!) You go, Gavin! Being a wire service story, after it ran in the Citizen the story was picked up in many smaller papers across Canada and online news sites.

Here are links to the two original news stories at newspaper sites, followed by links to a Google query designed to find repetitions of each story anywhere online. As of 8:30 am Jan. 25th, hits are running A=325, B=36 (but A has a two-day head-start)

A) Scientists using selective temperature data, skeptics say

B) Fewer temperature reports could mean warming underestimated: scientist

A) google for 'just one thermometer' 'everything north of latitude 65 degrees'

B) google for 'appallingly defamatory and ignorant'

No points to Foot for starting off on the 'wrong foot' (Oooh, alternate title idea!) with a denial-only piece, then coming back two days later with the "balance."

Kudos to Gavin Schmidt for picking up on and strongly responding to this latest smear. Let's watch how the wire stories make their way around the web.


Unknown said...

Updated hit counts (A=the smear; B=Gavin's smackdown reply)

2010 19h30 EST: A=459, b=71

Ken said...

You attack someone who questions GW because they're a programmer, however, you are a system administrator. Hardley qualifies you more than the programmer. Not sharing models, preselecting data, preventing publication of studies counter to your preconceived ideas are not science. It at the very least calls to questions the conclusions. More open-literature study is needed before jumping to any conclusion not based on so-called facts not reproduced by other scientist.

Unknown said...

Oh come on, Ken. I don't attack him because he is a programmer. I'm attacking the journalist for giving undue weight to an attack on scientists for relying on a programmer instead of other scientists.

Anyway, another data point this a.m.:

2010 11h00 EST: A=524 B=117

Unknown said...

Update hit counts:

2010-02-01 07h30 EST: A=1440 B=224

In six days, hits for the smear are up 175%; for the response by an actual scientist, up 90%. The echo chamber has double the propagation rate of the reality response.

Unknown said...

On reviewing my comments I see the dates of the hit count updates were not filled in properly, though you can see them from the date of the posting. Here they are for the record:

2010-01-25 19h30 EST: A=459, b=71
2010-01-26 11h00 EST: A=524 B=117
2010-02-01 07h30 EST: A=1440 B=224

The percent gains in the last post are comparing 01-26 and 02-01. Here is one more new update:

2010-05-14 13h30 EDT: A=434 B=3340

Very interesting - the count for Foot's journalistic botch went down substantially since then. My best guess on why: many hits were copies of the story in online editions of smaller market newspapers, and many such papers keep current news online only for a limited time such as one month.

Gavin's response, not being a wire story, continued to gain coverage, including my own blog about it (ranked fourth at least on my own computer.) The three above mine are all from climate denial websites, one from climatechangefraud and two from climategate (dot coms), all three reporting/repeating the same story, "So sue me, Gavin, I triple dog dare you."
Oooo, triple dog dare! Now Gavin's really cornered, eh?