This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
The fairy tale about Nobel laureate climate experts demonstrates that just because you hear it on the BBC or read it in The New York Times doesn’t mean it’s true.
The term ‘Fake News’ is everywhere these days. But no clear demarcation line exists to help us with this problem. Large, well-established, mainstream media outlets aren’t necessarily reliable. Independent, upstart, web-based news sources aren’t necessarily untrustworthy.
My 2013 book about the world’s most important climate body begins by explaining how the mainstream media has spent years incorrectly describing scientists associated with that body as Nobel laureates. In 2007, Al Gore (a politician) shared the Nobel Peace Prize with a UN entity known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This wasn’t a scientific prize, but a recognition of their role in raising public awareness about global warming (the Nobel organization worries that climate change may trigger international conflicts, hence the Peace Prize).
Al Gore received a fat cheque from the Nobel organization. The IPCC received another fat cheque. Individual scientists associated with the IPCC (of which there are an estimated 9,000 distributed over a 25-year period) did not.
In 2012, the IPCC declared unequivocally that:
The prize was awarded to the IPCC as an organization, and not to any individual associated with the IPCC. Thus it is incorrect to refer to any IPCC official, or scientist who worked on IPCC reports, as a Nobel laureate or Nobel Prize winner.
Even without this official statement, determining whether a scientist is a bona fide Nobel laureate isn’t hard. At the official NobelPrize.org website you type a surname into the search box in the top right corner. If no results are returned, it’s 100% factually wrong to describe that person as a Nobel laureate.
But that hasn’t stopped mainstream news sources from misinforming the public. Canada’s award-winning magazine, The Walrus, incorrectly called IPCC-affiliated professor Mark Jaccard a “Nobel economist” on its cover in March 2013. The Calgary Herald newspaper called him a “Nobel winner” on its front page a few weeks later. (Jaccard was one of 50 people who, in the early 1990s, helped write two out of 47 chapters of a single IPCC report.)
The New York Times has falsely called Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC’s former chairman, a Nobel laureate. So has The Times of India. The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation has falsely called him a Nobel “Prize winner” – as has the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
In late 2009, the cover of the New York Academy of Sciences Magazine falsely told the world Pachauri was a “nobelist” while the article inside mistakenly called him a “Nobel Laureate” (see the image at the top of this post). Germany’s weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, has made this error. As have the Japan Times and the Vancouver Sun.
I’ve described this fairy tale as ‘The Nobel Lie That Just Won’t Die. It is now so widespread, and so entrenched on the Internet, the average person has almost no hope of hearing the unvarnished truth.
The mainstream media outlets on whom we’re supposed to rely for non-fake news have peddled this misinformation for a decade. They have no interest in setting the record straight, partly because they themselves would end up looking rather foolish.
Journalists have told us we should believe in a climate crisis because thousands of Nobel-winning scientists agree. But those scientists haven’t actually done Nobel-quality scientific work. They’re merely associated with a UN body that was awarded a Peace Prize. That these people have nevertheless allowed themselves to be described as Nobel laureates tells us two things. First, many scientists are OK with exaggeration. Second, they don’t think the public that pays their salary is entitled to the real goods.
Moral of the story? Just because you’ve heard it on the BBC, seen it on the Australian Broadcasting Corp, or read it in The New York Times doesn’t mean it isn’t fake news. Skepticism is essential. Everywhere and always.
The 20th Anniversary edition of my first book – a critique of intolerance and extremism in the women’s movement – is now available from Amazon as an e-book and a 338-page paperback. Please support independent journalism. Buy a copy for yourself, a friend, or your public library. [Amazon.com] [Amazon UK] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon Australia]