Watch Skeptic No Longer Doubts Human Role in Global Warming on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
A couple of weeks ago, Willard Watts (you may call him Tony) appeared on a US Public Broadcasting System nightly news, in a segment, hosted by Spencer Michels. There was a massive reaction. Eli, being, as usual late to the party, is going to ignore both the interview and the reaction to it but rather point to the response to the ensuing storm by PBS Ombudsman, Michael Getler.
Getler says at the beginning of his long piece, the longest he says he has ever written:
It was not the PBS NewsHour's finest 10 minutes. In my view, and that of hundreds, even thousands of others, the program stumbled badly. On the other hand, it was not the end of the world, so to speak.and he explains where he is coming from
But first, I want to lay out my views. In the interests of full disclosure, I'm a layman with no particular expertise in science or climate matters. My views and observations are formed mostly from the dreaded mainstream media and my own reading and observations. So I am engaged with the news and issues of our time but pretty much as an average citizen and viewer.The hook for the report was the announcement by Richard Muller, who the news media took as someone who did not believe that humans are causing climate change, that, indeed, we are. This is news, but the selection of Watts as the yang to Muller's yin put the lie to the proposition that no one cares about climate change
I think of myself as open-minded and believe strongly in hearing opposing views. But I do believe in the assessment by the vast majority of climate scientists and U.S. and international scientific organizations that the threat to our planet and future generations from global warming and the human contribution to it is real and needs to be addressed.
But almost from the moment it ended, email began pouring into my mailbox, hundreds of them. A representative sampling is posted below. Some are quite long. At the same time, several analytical and opinion pieces attacking or supporting the segment were posted online — almost certainly driving more email traffic — by liberal and conservative commentators, and man-made climate change supporters and critics here, here and here.
Later in the week, a petition arrived listing 15,000 names associated with "Forecast The Facts," a group demanding an investigation into "how and why PBS NewsHour promoted falsehoods about climate change and slander against climate scientists." They focused on the broadcast segment and an accompanying blog post by Michels involving a more extended interview with another guest on the program, Anthony Watts, who the "Facts" group described as a "climate change denier and conspiracy theorist." I will come back to him as well.What really got the Ombudsman was that Watts was chosen as the respondent rather than a scientist (this of course raises the issue of whom the could have gotten, perhaps, the inimitable David Deming).
Although global warming strikes me as one of those issues where there is no real balance and it is wrong to create an artificial or false equivalence, there is no harm and some possibility of benefit in inviting skeptics about the human contribution and other factors to speak, but in a setting in which the context of the vast majority of scientific evidence and speakers is also made clear.
What was stunning to me as I watched this program is that the NewsHour and Michels had picked Watts — who is a meteorologist and commentator — rather than a university-accredited scientist to provide "balance." I had never heard of Watts before this program and I'm sure most viewers don't, as part of their routines, read global warming blogs on either side of the issue.
I'm not being judgmental about Watts or anything he said. He undoubtedly is an effective spokesperson. But it seems to me that if you decide you are going to give airtime to the other side of this crucial and hot-button issue, you need to have a scientist.So where did Spencer Michaels get his lead to Willard Watts, why through the Heartland Institute. Unfortunately, the Ombudsman did not appear to ask why Michels had gone there for a lead, rather, than say to the National Research Council.
Michels (Spencer) also engaged in some questionable framing
Throughout the interview, Michels referred to scientists who warn against global warming and its man-made component as "climate change believers," a description that offends many and frames the issue, as one viewer wrote, as though this were "faith-based rather than fact-based."and a minor drive by
Judith Curry, professor of earth sciences at Georgia Tech, who suspects natural variability accounts for climate change — not human-produced CO2 — said Muller's analysis is 'way oversimplistic and not at all convincing . . .' Curry wrote to us earlier today to say that she believes we didn't characterize her position fully and said she was 'appalled' with what we said.This was big news, Watts' appearance generated a statement from NOAA to the NewsHour
"Here's what Curry told us: 'It is correct that I found Muller's analysis 'way oversimplistic and not at all convincing', but the statement implies that that I don't think human-produced CO2 accounts for any of the climate change we have been seeing. This is absolutely incorrect. . . . .I estimated that about half the decline could be attributed to human induced CO2, which is in line with the latest analyses from the CMIP5 climate models.'
"The American public can be confident in NOAA's long-standing surface temperature record, one of the world's most comprehensive, accurate and trusted data sets. This record has been constructed through many innovative methods to test the robustness of the climate data record developed and made openly available for all to inspect by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Numerous peer-reviewed studies conclusively show that U.S. temperatures have risen and continue to rise with recent widespread record-setting temperatures in the USA. There is no doubt that NOAA's temperature record is scientifically sound and reliable. To ensure accuracy of the record, scientists use peer-reviewed methods to account for all potential inaccuracies in the temperature readings such as changes in station location, instrumentation and replacement and urban heat effects.
"Specifically, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center published a scientific peer-reviewed paper (Menne, et al., 2010) that compared trends from stations that were considered well-sited and stations that received lower ratings on siting conditions, which found that the U.S. average temperature trend is not inflated by poor station siting. A subsequent research study led by university and private sector scientists reached the same conclusion (Fall et al. 2011). Additionally, the Department of Commerce Inspector General reviewed the US Historical Climatology Network dataset in July 2010 and concluded that 'the respondents to our inquiries about the use of and adjustments to the USHCN data generally expressed confidence in the [USHCN] Version 2 dataset."which is being spun by the spinners as, if the were not guilty they would have said nothing.
Eli's take away is bitch early and often when the churnalists start the spin cycle. Working the refs is important.