Naked Intolerance in the Media

April 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Why does the climate debate elicit so much partisan sneering from the media?

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Yesterday a Canadian newspaper ran an opinion piece titled Climate Change denial should be a deal breaker. It declared:

anyone aspiring to public office should be asked to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific data that climate change is real and man-made. If they don’t, then in my view they’re not intellectually fit to serve and should be disqualified… [backup link]

The article was written by a journalist named Andrew Mitrovica. He tells us he has a brother who’s “a genius,” a “world-renowned geophysicist at Harvard” who has made “important discoveries during his long scientific career” and “won many prestigious awards.” He then explains:

when my brother assures me, my children and the rest of world that the vast preponderance of scientific evidence supports the finding that climate change is real and a man-made phenomenon, I believe him. I believe him not because he is my brother, but because I know first-hand how hard he and his colleagues around the globe have worked to reach that evidence-backed conclusion.

My brother is not a zealot. He is a careful, judicious scientist.

Mitrovica then goes on to compare his brother to Danielle Smith, the leader of a political party that lost a provincial election here in Canada this week. He begins by demeaning her, by trying to make her seem insignificant in comparison.

Salvo #1 is hilarious. In an opinion piece intended for publication in a newspaper, Mitrovica suggests that Smith shouldn’t be taken seriously because she’s a “former newspaper columnist.”

Salvo #2 consists of him telling us that Smith once worked as a researcher for the Fraser Institute. I’ve had some personal dealings with that organization recently that left me, frankly, appalled (another story for another day). But Mitrovica wants us to think less of Smith because he considers the institute to be “notoriously partisan.”

This is code for its analysis of the world differs from my own left-leaning analysis – so no one should pay it any mind. If mainstream journalists routinely described the David Suzuki Foundation and Greenpeace as “notoriously partisan” there’d be no problem. But that never happens.

And then there’s Salvo #3. Mitrovica writes:

Reportedly, Stephen Harper’s former adviser and political scientist, Tom Flanagan, remembered Smith as a “brilliant student.”

How’s that for damning? A former adviser to our current (conservative) Prime Minister apparently thought Smith, during her university days, was one smart cookie. What more reason do we need to close our eyes and block our ears whenever she appears on the telly?

Honestly. Only someone who starts from the intolerant premise that conservative thought is, by definition, illegitimate could possibly say something so silly.

Mitrovica then moves on to the meat of the matter:

The so-called “think-tank” researcher turned politician recently declared that she isn’t convinced that climate change is real. “We’ve been watching the debate in the scientific community, and there is still a debate,” Smith said during a leaders’ debate. “I will continue to watch the debate in the scientific community, but that’s not an excuse not to act.”

Notice the gratuitous insult. In Mitrovica’s universe, in order to be considered a real think tank you need to lean left. Those that lean right are “so-called” think tanks.

Notice, also, that Mitrovica equates Smith’s statement that she is watching the debate to a rejection of the very idea of climate change. I’ve been researching this subject for three years and I haven’t encountered anyone who thinks that the climate doesn’t change. It does so constantly. Otherwise, Canada would still be 97% covered by ice – the way it was 20,000 years ago. The crucial question is whether recent changes are natural – or the fault of human beings.

Mitrovica insists:

There is no “debate” about climate change…

It seems he’s never heard of climatologist Judith Curry, who’s Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Curry is by no stretch of the imagination a climate skeptic. And yet two weeks ago she authored a blog post titled The ongoing debate….

On the same day that Smith lost her bid to become the new premier of Alberta, Curry wrote another blog post titled Ignorance: the true engine of science. It talked about how climate science has gone “off the rails.” It also contained this quote (taken from the description of a new book):

Most of us have a false impression of science as a surefire, deliberate, step-by-step method for finding things out and getting things done. In fact…more often than not, science is like looking for a black cat in a dark room, and there may not be a cat in the room. The process is more hit-or-miss than you might imagine…

In other words, much of the “overwhelming scientific data” that supposedly proves that humans are causing climate change actually amounts to judgment calls, made by those groping in the dark for something that might not even exist.

Mitrovica evidently also missed the US Supreme Court ruling last year that refused to takes sides in the climate debate – and invited people to consider the opinions of the renowned physicist (and climate change skeptic) Freeman Dyson.

Nor, apparently, did Mitrovica see the open letter signed two weeks ago by 49 former employees of NASA – including seven Apollo astronauts and two former directors of the Johnson Space Center. According to this letter, claims that

man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts…it is clear that the science is NOT settled.

I have no doubt that Mitrovica’s brother is every bit as brilliant as he says he is. The problem is that there are lots of smart people in the world – and many of them remain unconvinced that the case for human-caused climate change has been made.

No amount of sneering about Smith’s “pandering to wilful ignorance” alters this fact.
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