Why I’m so hacked off with journalists

Following on from my previous post – and elaborating upon the research described on my About page – what follows is a summary of why non-scientific journalists are now a threat to the long-term survival of human beings (in anything like current numbers)… Strictly speaking, Andrew Montford is not a journalist, although he is a published author and is the creator of the sceptical Bishop Hill blog. With regard to his Hockey Stick Illusion book, however, it should be noted that: — He wrote this after being directed (via Tim Worstall’s blog) to Stephen McIntyre’s Climate Audit blog; and — Whereas neither Montford nor Worstall is a scientist, Canadian mining consultant McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick are two of the key players in the denialist campaign. Therefore, although sceptical journalists rarely identify them, this is indicative of the likely sources of their misinformation. In a wide-ranging assessment of both conventional and new media, political science academics Neil Gavin and Tom Marshall report research findings that, leaving aside the output of individual sceptics, suggest editors have come under pressure since “Climategate” to give sceptics more exposure. However, referring to that scandal, they concluded that the leaked emails “…did not suggest the scientific consensus was fatally flawed, peer-review undermined, or IPCC reports worthy of dismissal. Consequently, if the broadcasters continue to give climate sceptics significant coverage, they will be doing the public a serious disservice, especially in the run-up to the next IPCC report around 2012–2013” (2011: 8 – Abstract viewable here). Unfortunately, there is as yet no sign that many journalists are either willing or able put a stop to the nonsense of giving discredited minority views equal exposure. On the contrary, as I highlighted yesterday, the Conservative Think Tanks (CTTs) are trying harder than ever to get their voice heard; and non-scientific journalists are just blindly repeating the propaganda. This is why the empirical research first published by Peter Jacques et al in 2008 is so important; it provides detailed evidence to back up the claims made by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in Merchants of Doubt implicating US- and UK-based CTTs in a deliberate misinformation campaign. In prefacing their research, Jacques et al. observed that: “Since environmentalism is unique among social movements in its heavy reliance on scientific evidence to support its claims… it is not surprising that CTTs would launch a direct assault on environmental science by promoting environmental scepticism… (2008: 353). Furthermore, based on their findings, they concluded that: “Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement. Promoting scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement co-ordinated by CTTs…” (ibid: 364). Jacques has also highlighted the central aim of CTTs as being to cause confusion and doubt amongst the general public, in order to prevent the creation of a popular mandate for change (i.e. achieved by using a tactic developed by the tobacco industry of countering supposedly “junk” science with their “sound” science), which he refers to as the “science trap” (2009: 148). Based on the findings of the research published in 2008, Jacques therefore also concluded that environmental scepticism is a social counter-movement that uses CTTs to provide “political insulation for industry and ideology from public scrutiny”; and that this deliberate obfuscation stems from a realisation that “anti-environmentalism is an attitude that most citizens would consider a violation of the public interest” (2009: 169). However, Jacques does not blame the CTTs for the ecological crisis he feels we face, as they have merely exploited a dominant social paradigm; “because neoliberal globalism and its logic are protected from critique” (ibid: 119). Protected from critique or not, I believe the current financial crisis is just the latest in a series of wake-up calls (of which AGW is the loudest) that would, apart from human pride and irrationality, make us change our ways… ————————– References: Gavin, N. & Marshall, T. (2011), ‘Mediated climate change in Britain: Scepticism on the web and on television around Copenhagen’, Global Environmental Change 21(3), pp.1035-44. Jacques, P. et al. (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, Environmental Politics, 17(3), pp.349-385. Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Farnham: Ashgate.

About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Economics, Environment, Financial Crisis, Hockey Stick Illusion, Limits to Growth, Maketplace of Ideas, Merchants of Doubt, Politics, Pseudo science, Scepticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Why I’m so hacked off with journalists

  1. Tim Worstall says:

    If you’re doing an MA in the politics of climate change then it might help you if you were aware of a few background points. For example, myself: I’m not a “denialist” by whatever definition you want to use. I have stated, in writing, numerous times, that I’m just fine with the science of the IPCC. Climate change is happening, it’s a problem, it’s anthropogenic and we ought to do something about it. My arguments are always about that last: what, exactly, should we be doing about it? Perhaps not the Greenpeace, FoE, Green Party nonsenses: perhaps we should take the advice of the various economists who have worked on such problems seriously. All the way from Pigou through to Stern if you like? Please also note about your “conservative think tanks” pushing a denialist line. I’m a Fellow at the ASI and as an organisation we take very much my line (for good reason). What we do from here is the thing that needs to be debated. Perhaps a straight carbon tax would be better (we certainly think so) than what is being done? Denialists we simply are not.


    • Rick_Altman says:

      Dear Tim, Thank you for taking the time to comment; and for your polite words of clarification of your position (which are indeed very welcome). I am sorry if you feel I have labelled you as a “denialist” because, from what I have written here, you would merely appear to have been an unwitting conduit for Montford’s book. I am very pleased to hear that you do not dismiss the Stern Review as flawed by the use of low discount rates (as per William Nordhaus and, more-recently, the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Ian Byatt (2008)). Thank you also for your clarification of the Adam Smith Institute’s position. Having now completed my MA, it is too late for me to make changes to my dissertation prior to submission but, set out below is what I have said about you and the ASI respectively. You According to Wikipedia, Tim Worstall is an English writer and blogger, who writes about a variety of topics, but particularly about economics. He describes himself as an “Englishman who has failed at many things…” who has turned to writing as “…the last refuge of many who could make a living no other way” (Worstall 2007). In 2010, he published Chasing Rainbows: Economic Myths, Environmental Facts, which examines what we should be doing “to avoid, curtail or adapt to global warming” (Independent Minds 2010). This implies that Worstall believes that AGW is happening but that most prescriptions as to what we should do about it are economically misguided. As such, Worstall is certainly ideologically opposed to market intervention, and may also not actually believe the “IPCC’s science”.[*] However, even assuming that he does believe it, because the status quo is not good enough (i.e. we need more globalisation and freer markets), he is an active Promethean rather than a passive Economic Rationalist. * I would now admit that this appears to be a phrase often used by Montford rather than you (although, to be fair, I have not actually attributed it to you). ASI The ASI styles itself as “…the UK’s leading libertarian think tank”; and says that it “…engineers policies to increase Britain’s economic competitiveness, inject choice into public services, and create a freer, more prosperous society.” However, addressing the Limits to Growth argument directly, its President, Dr Masden Pirie (if not the ASI itself) is very clearly Promethean (Pirie 2009): Pirie’s essential argument is summed up in the subheading to this article, which was “Technological advances, not ‘live more simply’ environmentalism, will deliver a greener planet”. However, not only is the logic of Stern’s suggestion that we should all become vegetarians (because it is more efficient way of obtaining energy from food) not contested, this is a very straightforward statement of belief in human ingenuity as the means by which the problem of finite resources – if not AGW – may be solved. In other words, this is Prometheanism rather than Cornucopianism (i.e. the means of salvation rests with humanity rather than in nature). Therefore, despite my careful admission of uncertainty, if you feel that the above is not accurate, I should be delighted to consider your amendments prior to (any) further circulation of the text. Kind regards, Rick. ——————— References: ASI (2011), ‘About’ [online], ASI. Available at http://www.adamsmith.org/introducing-the-adam-smith-institute [accessed 01/06/2011]. Byatt, I. (2008), ‘Weighing the present against the future: the choice, and use, of rates of discount in the analysis of climate change’, in Robinson C. (ed), Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists. London: IEA, pp.92-113. Independent Minds (2010), ‘Chasing Rainbows by Tim Worstall’ [online], Stacey International. Available at http://www.stacey-international.co.uk/v1/site/product_rpt.asp?Catid=365&catname= [accessed 15/07/2011]. Pirie, M. (2009), ‘Lord Stern is wrong: giving up meat is no way to save the planet’ [online], ASI. Available at http://www.adamsmith.org/think-piece/environment/lord-stern-is-wrong%3a-giving-up-meat-is-no-way-to-save-the-planet [accessed 01/06/2011]. Worstall, T. (2007), ‘About’ [online], Tim Worstall. Available at http://timworstall.com/about/ [accessed 13/06/2011].


  2. Tim Worstall says:

    As such, Worstall is certainly ideologically opposed to market intervention” Well, actually, the book goes on to point out the intervention we need. Essentially, work with markets, not trying to ban them. I end up recommending a straight carbon tax, very much as Stern does. I thinking that that would be sufficient, Stern obviously thinking that it would not be. But I explain the economic reasons why I think as I do. Straight old Pigou Taxes as a solution to externalities: there’s nothing odd or out of the mainstream about that (as I go on about at length in the book). “not actually believe the ‘IPCC’s science’.[*] However, even assuming that he does believe it, because the status quo is not good enough (i.e. we need more globalisation and freer markets)” Another part of the book is pointing at the IPCC’s own economic models (the SRES) which shows that we do in fact need globalisation and those markets. Too complex to put into a comment box but essentially, the IPCC’s own economic models show greater human well being and lower emissions in a globalised, market based, world. “he is an active Promethean rather than a passive Economic Rationalist.” As to this I’m not sure what you mean. I would use “Promethian” to mean “powered by fossil fuel growth” from Deepak Lal. Malthusian growth, Smithian growth, Promethian. Perhaps you mean something different? I do discuss, for example, Daly’s steady state economy and have no real problem with it. Rather, I have a serious problem with most people’s misinterpretation of his argument. He doesn’t say “no growth” he says that we can have GDP growth just fine, just not greater resource use. So growth will be constrained by the advance of technology.


  3. Rick_Altman says:

    Thanks Tim. Clearly, it is a matter of regret that I did not have time to actually read your book and get your position absolutely nailed-down. With regard to my use of Greek mythology (see Wikipedia if desperate), this is based on John Dryzek in The Politics of the Earth (2005), although even he does not fully differentiate between the two as I have done, i.e. “this is Prometheanism rather than Cornucopianism (i.e. [our] means of salvation rests with [the ingenuity of] humanity rather than in [the abundance of] nature)“. As for Herman Daly, I think he does rule out quantitative growth [see the latest edition of Ecological Economics (2011)] on the grounds that, no matter how small, any percentage growth is still exponential. Given that we are already using the resouces of 1.333 planets on an annual basis, I think we will have to confront this issue soon. However, I admit that I find it hard to see how stockmarkets could function when we have no more room for increased market-share; and no new markets to sell into… If you have an answer to that one, I would genuinely like to hear it (although, as you say, this may not be the appropriate forum).


  4. Tim Worstall says:

    As for Herman Daly, I think he does rule out quantitative growth” Indeed: but basic economics for a moment. GDP is the value of goods and services produced. Quantitative growth is an increase in the volume of goods and services produced. Qualitative growth (which Daly does allow) is an increase in the value not the volume. Daly’s not really saying anything terribly new here. It’s very similar to the idea of total factor productivity (TFP). New technologies make us more efficient at using those resources available to us. So, as the technology progresses, we can either use fewer of our scarce resources to make something, thus freeing up resources to make other things, or we can make more of those things that now require fewer resources. This is how I understand his steady state economy: we can have growth in the value added part of GDP, just not in the resource consumption. And, as conventional economists will point out (Solow, Baumol), the vast majority of growth in market economies comes from that TFP improvement. It’s the planned economies (notably the USSR) which only grew through more resource use.


  5. Tim Worstall says:

    i.e. if improvements in unit efficiency decline expionentially, so must growth in unit production if perpetual growth in resource consumption is to be avoided” Not really: we’d still need energy of course but there’s plenty of that around from the Sun. Umm, think of the steel industry. No one is ever going to build a new blast furnace in an advanced nation (this is a general assumption in hte industry). Because we’ve got enough iron and steel. We can now carry on simply recycling it. We have a large enough “stock” of steel not to need the “flow” of new iron being abstracted from the environment. Note that this is only true of the advanced economies, not the developing ones as yet. And that’s the sort of thing I mean. Energy aside (and that’s possible from solar etc at the limit) then we are getting to hte point, with some things, that total use isn’t growing and that recylcing of the stock works just fine. If we didn’t use gold in central banks for example, then every gold mine would have closed 30 years ago. We’ve plenty above ground already for industrial uses. Please note, this is only an example, I don’t claim that everything will be like this next week.


    • Rick_Altman says:

      I would like to say that I admire your optimism, but I don’t. Neither, of course, do I share it. As I have repeatedly said (on this blog and elsewhere), just because we can do something does not mean that we should; and if we know that doing something is causing bad things to happen we definitely should not do it. I think you know what I mean but, if in doubt, come back tomorrow (i.e. new post is scheduled for publication in early hours of morning GMT).


  6. pendantry says:

    Mr. Worstall, I find I must take particular issue with your “Perhaps not the Greenpeace, FoE, Green Party nonsenses”. In what way is it ‘nonsensical,’ for instance, to campaign against the lunacy of deep-water drilling in the Arctic for a substance (oil) from which we must wean our society for its energy needs if it is to survive? Clearly, we have learnt nothing at all from events such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster if it is a ‘nonsense’ to campaign against the possibility of recurrences, and ‘sense’ to continue allowing businesses to drill in alien landscapes that are so hard to reach in the event of an emergency that, effectively, they may as well be on another planet — all because ‘the market’ allows this. You may claim not to be a ‘denialist’; from where I sit, however, that label fits. Colin Reynolds


  7. Donald says:

    So what do I read here? 😦 The blackening of names of men of science, the attempt to perhaps focus more on the reputation, political leanings or any possible, comment, blog, story or even trivia that might be used to lower the reputation and standing of a member of the scientific community ….. all in the name of what? AGW? …. rubbish. Not much science here, just a lot of commercial, economic and social baloney, Some one make me an appointment with a monkey, I’ll get more reason out of it 😦


    • Rick_Altman says:

      With respect, Donald, I do not think you took much time to read what has been said here. I think it is fair to say that Tim Worstall is highly-respected as an eco-political commentator here in the UK; and we (he and I at least) have had a well-reasoned discussion here today. As usual, I am afraid, you chose to be contraversial and provocative, rather than actually engage with any of the issues raised. Did you perhaps read the first few paragraphs of my blog and then skip to the very last comment?


  8. Donald says:

    Please don’t ban me ……I’m only stirring 🙂 Tit for tat ….. chuckle 🙂


    • Rick_Altman says:

      Ban you? What are you talking about! I am just frustrated by your failure to engage in rational debate. (It’s pretty typical of the blogosphere though, it must be said.) 🙂


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