The Bias in Environmental Reporting

By Keith Kloor | June 7, 2012 2:28 am

When reports are issued by environmental advocacy groups, they are invariably taken at face value by environmental journalists. Oftentimes the report’s methodology and claims aren’t subject to any critical examination. What usually results are one-sided stories that treat the advocacy group’s report as gospel.

A glaring example I’ve pointed to in the past is this article by the Guardian’s environment editor. It’s a textbook case of biased reporting.

Last week, similar sub-standard journalism was on display after the Union of Concerned Scientists released this analysis that concluded “many U.S. companies” were using their influence to cast “unwarranted doubt on [climate] science, adding confusion to the policy discussion, and holding back or slowing down action on solutions.”

Again the Guardian (along with others) was content to merely parrot highlights and talking points from the report. Ron Bailey at Reason, however, did some digging and found the analysis to have “severe shortcomings that do not inspire much confidence in the overall accuracy” of its claims. Now I’m not holding up Reason magazine as a neutral, disinterested party, but go ahead and read Bailey’s piece and decide for yourself whether he’s made the case for those “severe shortcomings.”

He also notes that

the Union of Concerned Scientists asserts in this study that a hallmark of misrepresenting science is “emphasizing unknowns” while simultaneously “ignoring what is known.” Yet this seems to be precisely the strategy that the UCS [Union of Concerned Scientists] pursues in its campaign against biotech crops.

Ah yes, that double standard on the science when it comes to genetically modified crops. I think groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists are going to have to eventually sort that out.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change
  • Barry Woods

    The only explanation for the UCS piece I can think of is ‘activism’..I’ve not comeacross Reason before, but facts seem to be the facts, and the UCS and Guardian (as usual) look foolish.  The Guardain as a wholoe is a paper I read, But Guardian Eco, seems to be  a club for activists, with a newspaper on the side.Keith, what are your thoughts on Gleick being ‘cleared’ by a non transparent, ‘independant’ body.  The Guardian write up about it should be fascinating.ple keep giving the Guardian ‘journalists’ tips on how to be journalists, not glorified eco press officers. 

  • Jarmo

     What do you expect, Keith? They are advocacy groups. Means that they report whatever favors their cause and leave the inconvenient facts out. Or am I being cynical?

  • tlitb1

    “Now I’m not holding up Reason magazine as a neutral, disinterested party…”That’s big of you. Of course most sources of information are normally neutral and disinterested aren’t they?I will be bolder and say Reason are clearly not a disinterested party since they pick up on the fact that donations to themselves are flagged as being examples of “what the UCS might regard as climate disinformation campaigns”This is based on a couple of hundred dollars donated by GE to them over two years which it turns is merely something done automatically by GE as part of their matching funds program. Something that I see is easy to find on GE website:”The GE Foundation Matching Gifts Program supports GE employees and retirees in their personal philanthropy and fundraising efforts. This involves matching individual contributions of $25 or more to social services, disease research, environmental organizations, hospitals, museums, public and private schools, colleges and universities, and more.”Enviro jounalism is a joke. Not something with slight rough edges or biases that need the faithful to critique it now and then to help make themselves feel a bit more clean and honest. It’s a joke.The fact that this become the root of a headlines in the Graun like this almost makes you wonder if active freedoms are being sought to be curtailed. You know? Shame GE from even matching what their employees donate – to screen out humanity with a fine tooth brush. It seems that even if a couple hundred bucks make it through this is considered too much! Humanity must be monolithic! Creeps. It’s a sick joke.

  • Jarmo

    Now why was the rest left out? Anyway, to continue…The Guardian is biased as are many other MSM. Doing the same thing as Marc Morano is doing on the other side, just being a bit more subtle about it.

  • Steven Sullivan

    “Now I’m not holding up Reason magazine as a neutral, disinterested party,”Well, that;’s a relief, , since Reason has a pretty clear record of ‘skepticism’ as regards climate science, and policy related to it. Reason is an ideological organ devoted to promoting free-market libertarianism, and if science gets in the way, well, too bad for science.   

  • Steven Sullivan

    #4. “Now why was the rest left out? Anyway, to continue”¦The Guardian is
    biased as are many other MSM. Doing the same thing as Marc Morano is
    doing on the other side, just being a bit more subtle about it.”The same Guardian that trumped up the ‘Climategate’ ‘scandal’. The paper that publishes Monbiot, who has taken on some environmentalist shibboleths in a way KK can be proud of.Does Marc Morano mix up his usual virulently skeptical aggregation   schtick with thumbs up accolades for mainstream climate science?  Don’t think so.  You’re positing a false equivalence.

  • BBD

    Hansen calls them the ‘Union of Concerned Lobbyists’ ;-)

    See why here.

    [extract from letter:] I’ve emboldened the juicy and surprising bit…

    Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)The UCS sent to its members an “Information Update” discussing our paper, providing me with a copy the day before it went out. The essence of their discussion seems to be that our paper is controversial, potentially harmful to the Kyoto Protocol, and not a helpful contribution to the climate change discussion as it “may fuel confusion about global warming among the public”. They describe “first reactions from within the scientific community”, which perhaps are accurate but they seem a bit like commissioned criticisms.

    Wow. You just cannot please some people no matter how hard you try.

  • hunter

    Why should the UCS change anything at all? The UCS is a political group, not a science group. They lobby leftist political points and are relying on deceiving people by their name into thinking they are actually a scientific organization.

  • BBD

    They lobby leftist political points and are relying on deceiving people by their name into thinking they are actually a scientific organization.

    Isn’t that what many ‘sceptics’ claim Hansen and the IPCC are doing?

    :-)

  • Mary

    That’s a pretty compelling story over at Reason. I know it’s been my feeling about the UCS reports–and based on what I know about the GMO data, but it’s interesting to see some data on another front. That’s not an accident, then–that’s a pattern.

  • Jarmo

    #6,

    Like I said, the Guardian is more subtle than Morano, they try to create an impression of neutrality. Oh yes, they publish an occasional piece by e.g. Monbiot about nuclear and GMO’s…. and many more scare stories about nuclear and GMO’s loaded with unfounded claims.

    If you are looking for scare stories, the Guardian is a good source:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/feb/26/why-climate-change-shake-earth?INTCMP=SRCH

  • http://www.martinhill.me.uk Martin

    “I think groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists are going to have to eventually sort that out.”

    Hmm doubt it. As folks above have said, they are an advocacy group. They only have the word ‘Scientist’ in their title to make them sound – and possibly feel – all sciency. They will, I am sure, remain partisan while selling their nightmares with a veneer of scienciness to sound convincing, to themselves as well as others

  • http://www.mcfc.co.uk Jeremy Poynton

    Anthony Watts dog is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Anyone can join. As long as you pay. 

  • jeffn

    The Reason gang showed what journalism is- asking questions and actually looking at the documents.
    That said, even while thoroughly debunking the UCS “report” about GE, Reason missed a pretty big fact. During the period 2008-2009, GE owned MSNBC – a cable news group that trumpets its liberal bona-fides and could be relied on to parrot anything Joe Romm said.
    Do you think anyone examining Rupert Murdoch’s activism would ignore his ownership of Fox News?
    The problem for news groups is that they have “environment reporters” instead of a science beat. Only one type of person wants to be assigned to cover Greenpeace and the UCS 24/7/365 and that person isn’t going to be the type that pisses them off. Even if they’re smart and skeptical, who wants to spend all day explaining to their editor why it is that activists are calling him all day to complain about the coverage.

  • huxley

    Reason has a pretty clear record of ‘skepticism’ as regards climate science, and policy related to it. Reason is an ideological organ devoted to promoting free-market libertarianism, and if science gets in the way, well, too bad for science.

    Steven Sullivan @ 5: And apparently, if facts get in the way of your ideological animus towards those on your right, too bad for facts.

    Ron Bailey of Reason has repeatedly raised warning signals about global warming. Based in part on his counsel, Megan MacArdle, a libertarian who formerly blogged as “Jane Galt,” also supports action on global warming (see here), and gave space in her Atlantic blog to the Jonathan Adler article which Keith showcased a few days ago.

    If you were interested in generating support for the climate agenda, you could look across the aisle to Ron Bailey and Reason for potential allies. But that does not seem to be your outcome.

  • huxley

    On comment formatting: I’ve switched to using a web editor for my comments. I then add <br> for each newline, then paste the result into the “View source code” mode of the Collide-a-scape comment editor.

    Works well, though it is an indictment of the “Denver Web Developers” who manage this website.

  • Tom Scharf

    In other news the end is near…

    http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/08/us/record-warmth/index.html?hpt=hp_c1&nbsp;

    “sudden and unpredictable effects on the global ecosystem”

    “collapse of food supplies”

    “”widespread social unrest, economic instability and loss of human life”

    “every bit as dramatic as major geological events”

    “Nations are at a crossroads”

    My goodness, that is really…(yawn),,,alarming and we definitely…(yawn)…need to listen to the…(yawn)…experts and…(snore)…. 

  • kdk33

    We must act now.  Hurry.  If we wait to be sure, it will be too late.

  • MarkB

    #5 – the very definition of ad hominem. Does it not occur to you taht if all you’ve got is ‘look at the source’ then you’ve got nothing? The link went to a long, detailed article. Did you actually read it?

  • Barry Woods

    The Guardian has written about this being corrected. what do you make of it.. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/14/general-electric-donations-climate-science

  • Steven Sullivan

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/business/how-broccoli-became-a-symbol-in-the-health-care-debate.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all 

    “The exchange caught the attention of Austin Bragg, 33, a producer for Reason TV. He proposed a video to his editor, Nick Gillespie. Reason TV and its magazine and Internet outlets are subsidiaries of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian research organization whose largest donors are the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation ($1,522,212) and the Sarah Scaife Foundation ($2,016,000), according to its most recent disclosures. Both finance conservative and libertarian causes.

    “Part of the idea for Reason is we’re ideological and we’re trying to articulate and popularize our worldview and have some influence,” Mr. Gillespie said.”

  • http://www.telusplanet.net/public/stonedan Doug Pederson AKA SpectateSwamp

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uuap-Lc85LUThis 2 min 2 sec video explains how our 2 old line parties sold out Canada to Monsanto and Crop Life.Never trust Scientists. They are bought and paid for just like the politicians. The People just don’t buy their B.S.

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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