Bad Science Bait & Switch Climate Change Media Non-Science The Data

Horrible Headlines

Last year I complained to Roger Harrabin of the BBC by electronic mail regarding what I considered to be an unhelpful headline to an online article concerned with Global Warming. I also criticised the way that part of the article was written, as it had the potential to be misinterpreted.

Some of the people who read this web log who are in personal communication with me will know what happened next, but I’m not going to go over it again at this juncture, suffice it to say that a person or persons unknown reported the electronic mail exchange to a group of people who self-style as “Climate Change sceptics”, after which I found myself curiously infamous, and found it best to lie low for a while.

Even after this furore, why do we continue to see horrible headlines ?

The Climate Change “sceptics”, who some call “denialists” or “deniers” and I call “obstructors”, seem to want to get in the way of the general public knowing the truth about Global Warming.

They set themselves up as having some kind of pedigree on the subject of Climate Change, and try to mark out their positions as trusted commentators.

However, their arguments are easy to refute, even if you know only the very basic science about Global Warming.

The Climate Change “sceptics” use turns of phrase and linguistic gymnastics to direct people away from seeing the big picture.

The “sceptics” look for any signs in the Media that writers might be unsure, or seeking to maintain some kind of “balance of public opinion”.

When they see anyone wavering, they home in on them, like birds of prey, and sometimes stalk them, or subject them to a barrage of critical electronic mail.

They claim that certain journalists agree entirely with their position. They “collect scalps” in this way, and rock boats.

Just recently they have claimed journalists like Richard Black as their own.

And so it is that Richard Black finds he is under strict orders to be “unbiased” :-

BBC BLOGS – Richard Black’s Earth Watch

Biases, U-turns, and the BBC’s climate coverage

Richard Black | 16:00 UK time, Tuesday, 13 October 2009

I get a lot of correspondence accusing the BBC of bias in its climate change coverage.

While these readers agree that the BBC is biased; what they don’t agree about is in which direction it’s biased.

Too much “scepticism”, or not enough? In the pay of the oil barons, or told what to think by “Europe”? Too scary, or not scary enough?

All these accusations turn up as regularly in my mailbox as they do for my colleagues and in the comments section of this blog and others.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve tried to steer discussion away from “BBC bias” in months gone by, mainly because I think what’s happening “out there” matters more than what’s happening “in here”.

Whether the Greenland icecap is disintegrating, why biodiversity loss is not being curbed, why industrial fishing is not more efficiently regulated – these are surely bigger questions to ask and more interesting topics for an environment forum than endless debates about BBC reporting.

So you might ask why I’m raising the issue now.

…What are we accused of? Here’s an example:

A few weeks ago, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that this year’s summer ice minimum had not fallen below those of the last two years, but that the overall longer-term trend was still downwards.

Given the constraint that our news headlines have to be between 31 and 33 characters long, I thought “Pause in Arctic’s melting trend” was a pretty decent effort, encapsulating both the immediate finding and how it sat in the longer-term picture.

Not a bit of it. It attracted complaints of bias both because “there is no long-term melting trend” and because “it isn’t a pause or any such thing”: perfect symmetry.

A headline can’t be biased in both directions at once. Any bias here has to be in the eye of the beholder.

So here’s the nub. In the run-up to Copenhagen, you’re not all going to agree with everything the BBC writes or broadcasts – that’s impossible. And let’s be honest – journalists are not infallible, in the BBC or anywhere else.

But biases and party lines? I don’t think so – but please feel free to disagree. So let’s have that discussion here, and now…

The problem here, again, is the horrible headline.

There is a current Climate Change “sceptic” myth, or “urban legend” being built recently around the idea “Global Warming takes a break”.

It is like a viral meme, this idea, yet it has no concrete foundation. It has seeded itself in the Sceptic-o-sphere practically worldwide.

So, for Richard Black to replicate this idea in even his headline is a “sceptic” magnet.

Either he is unaware of the effect his headline will have, or he is fully aware.

If he is aware of the effect it will have, but unaware of why the myth is scientifically mistaken, then he needs to consult more.

Richard Black is probably bound by his editors at the BBC to place equal weight on the views of Climate Change “sceptics” and Climate Change activists.

This is a ridiculous scenario. Opinions don’t have the same weight as facts, and yet Richard Black appears to be forced to play along with the sceptical views.

Is Richard Black able to evaluate the evidence of Global Warming that Science has laid before him ? Does he know the trends ? Has he seen the data ? Has he spoken with people who can decipher the information for him ?

Why is he still open to the discredited arguments of the deniers ?

The self-styled “sceptics” behave like zombies, “undead” commentators who continue to think that their arguments still live and breathe; people who seem to have no original thoughts of their own and try to eat the brains of the living.

There is nothing in the data on Global Warming that indicates that Global Warming is taking a pause.

There is however evidence to suggest that cyclic changes in the Earth system will slow the pace of warming for a while, but that is not certain, only projection.

While the pace may be slowed, that doesn’t halt the warming.

What is now clear is that Global Warming has taken hold.

The trend is clear, and the trend is upwards.

There is natural variation in the state of the atmospheric and surface ocean temperatures. This is to be expected. It does not mean that “Global Warming stopped in 1998”.

Richard Black : start listening to the people who know what they’re talking about and stop cowering before the zombies. They may look frightening, but they can’t kill you.

And for the Earth’s sake, start reading the science, so you can learn to distinguish the facts from regurgitated myth.

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