Category: Media and Science

A Questionable Paper Published, an Editor Resigns…What Else is New?

By Chris Mooney | September 6, 2011 11:38 am

My latest DeSmogBlog piece is about the flap over the Roy Spencer paper in Remote Sensing, which was covered by conservatives as if it was a paradigm shift overturning all of climate science, but turned out to be substantially less than that…and now an editor has resigned over it being published at all.

The thing is, this kind of stuff happens now and again–regularly enough that we ought to expect it. It has happened before on climate, it has happened on “intelligent design,” and it outright caused the whole vaccine-autism flap.

Here’s what I have to say over there:

The real problem here, for the most part, is not the journals or the scientists. They police themselves adequately, albeit rather slowly. The real problem are the media.

Any well trained science journalist knows that one study proves nothing—precisely because of motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and so on. If there aren’t a bunch of studies out there, by a bunch of different authors, all converging on a point—or if there isn’t a meta-analysis, a consensus assessment report, and so on—you had better be very careful. Humans are too prone to biases—even scientists—to treat any single study as a new truth.

It’s just looking for trouble.

But who cares about science journalists these days, and the skills they’ve learned over those long careers? The media is shedding them like dandruff. And then there’s Fox News, where they cover the climate issue as if every day is scientific opposite day. (Thereby, of course, playing to the biases and self-serving motivations of their viewers.)

You can read the full item here.

Washington Examiner Defends Light Bulb Misinformation… with More Misinformation

By The Intersection | July 22, 2011 10:00 pm

by Jon WinsorLight Bulbs

The Washington Examiner’s Ron Arnold is a bit perturbed that anyone is calling out the misinformation campaign about the “incandescent light bulb ban.” So he’s trying to turn the tables:

Time claims: “Philips and other manufacturers are already making more efficient incandescent bulbs.” That’s short of an outright lie but it’s way beyond hogwash. What Philips is making is halogen lamps, which are incandescent alright, but complex electronic circuit devices about as close to an ordinary incandescent lamp as a third-degree burn, which you can efficiently obtain from a halogen lamp.

To all appearances it works just like an ordinary incandescent bulb, and looks almost the same (see upper right). If there are any weird, “complex electronic circuit devices” (CECDs), you can’t tell by looking at it.

Arnold continues:

Philips’ 36-page “product information” manual, shows on page 23 that their “Clickline” halogen lamp operates at temperatures as high as 480 degrees Fahrenheit (on the contacts), and 1,650 degrees F. (on the bulb). All aren’t that hot, but not by much. By the way, aluminum melts at 1,220.58 degrees Fahrenheit.

1,650 degrees F on the bulb? Melts Aluminum? Now you’ve got me scared. Only, not:

MORE ABOUT: Light Bulbs

"Am I a Science Journalist?": Opening Remarks

By Chris Mooney | June 28, 2011 9:45 am

Here is how I kicked off our panel today in Doha at 9:30 am local time, 7 hours ahead of U.S. East coast time:

Hi, I’m Chris Mooney and I’m a…what am I? Am I a science journalist?

I have to say, prepping for this session has really only increased my uncertainty (and my anxiety) about how to answer that question.

Let me first ask the room: How many of you often, or at least occasionally, refer to yourselves as “science journalists”? [less than half the hands went up.]

Now: How many of you make all or most of your income from science journalism? [surprisingly, more hands went up, rather than less.]

And how many of you refer to yourselves as “science bloggers”? [relatively few hands went up.]

And how many of you make most of your income from science blogging? [even fewer hands up.]

So clearly, we have a bit of a conundrum here. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Media and Science

Al Gore and the Enlightenment Ethic

By Chris Mooney | June 23, 2011 1:18 pm

Everybody is talking, and rightly so, about the big Al Gore piece in Rolling Stone on science, reason, and the climate crisis. And it is, indeed, quite a tour de force. Gore is not only a charismatic leader (now that he’s not running for president), he’s a great writer.

Nevertheless, I’m afraid to say that Gore is operating, big time, in liberal Enlightenment mode–precisely what I critiqued in The American Prospect. Let’s give some examples of Gore’s Enlightenment rhetoric:

Admittedly, the contest over global warming is a challenge for the referee because it’s a tag-team match, a real free-for-all. In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In the other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.


We haven’t gone nuts — but the “conversation of democracy” has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired. Throughout American history, we relied on the vibrancy of our public square — and the quality of our democratic discourse — to make better decisions than most nations in the history of the world. But we are now routinely making really bad decisions that completely ignore the best available evidence of what is true and what is false. When the distinction between truth and falsehood is systematically attacked without shame or consequence — when a great nation makes crucially important decisions on the basis of completely false information that is no longer adequately filtered through the fact-checking function of a healthy and honest public discussion — the public interest is severely damaged.

I agree with one part of Gore’s message whole heartedly. We really have lost our grip on reality and this really is endangering our politics and our civilization. Without facts, we’re  screwed. We’re dysfunctional.

But I don’t agree with Gore’s account of why this happened. He blames the “powerful.” He blames the “Polluters.” He blames the media. But most of all, for him it’s special interests–money in politics, money in the fossil fuel industry, is blocking our progress and sowing misinformation.

Gore seems to assume that if these pernicious effects were vanquished–or controlled by better policy–then the “public interest” would triumph again and we would all rally around it–just as we would all embrace the same facts again. But that just isn’t true.

The truth is that we are psychologically programmed not to accept the facts; and moreover, we don’t all want the same things–liberals and conservatives, in particular, have different value systems and psychological needs. And liberals, in particular, need to think that society can be rational, and that science can fix our problems–and that if it isn’t working out that way, it must be due to some kind of wrongdoing or nefariousness.

But alas, while our state of dysfunction is very real, the cause is not some evil Machiavellian group of special interests (an argument that works less and less well, by the way, as more and more fossil fuel companies become supporters of climate action). No: the cause lies within ourselves, and our brains.

Am I a Science Journalist?

By Chris Mooney | June 23, 2011 10:10 am

It’s quite the question these days, for all of us. And it’s the subject of a panel I have organized for the World Conference of Science Journalists in Doha, which begins in just a few days now:

Am I a Science Journalist?

In the evolving world of science communication, how do we define a science journalist? This panel will discuss whether the venerable word “journalist” can or should be applied to some, all, or none of the new generation of science bloggers and educators who are remaking the field.


Chris Mooney, Discover; Point of Inquiry (USA)


Ed Yong, Not Exactly Rocket Science (UK)
Moheb Costandi, Neurophilosophy (UK)
Homayoun Kheyri, freelance; BBC World Service (Australia/Iran)
Cristine Russell, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing; Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (USA)

The panelists have to figure out the “answer” to the question more than I do, but it is certainly a conundrum, when almost nobody has a staff job at a publication any longer. Do all science bloggers count as science journalists? The thought gives me pause–I don’t think all of them practice the norms of journalism, though some clearly do.

I know and practice the norms, meanwhile, but many things that I do professionally–like science communication work and training–clearly aren’t journalism. Everybody is piecing it together in different ways. Maybe the problem is that the concept of “journalism” partly bears the stamp of an era that’s behind us.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Media and Science

When it Comes to Expertise, Even If You're Outnumbered You Can Always Fight a Guerilla War

By Chris Mooney | June 15, 2011 10:43 am

This is the third in a series of posts elaborating on my recent American Prospect magazine article entitled “The Reality Gap: Now more than Ever, Republicans and Democrats are separated by expertise–and by facts.”

In my last two posts about my American Prospect piece, I showed how the Democratic Party today has become the chosen party of experts and “empirical professionals,” but also that conservatives have plenty of experts of their own and, indeed, have made a conscious attempt to cultivate them, while also bashing liberal experts for bias. Thus, both sides have many more allied thinkers than they did in the 1970s.

Now, in the third post–this time, the bulk of it is at DeSmogBlog–I explain the psychological consequences of this dynamic. The upshot is when it comes to expertise, you can always fight a guerilla war. Why? Brief excerpt: Read More

My New Feature Story in the American Prospect: "The Reality Gap"

By Chris Mooney | June 13, 2011 12:46 pm

How do you explain the current factual and scientific divide that separates the two U.S. political parties today? In the latest American Prospect, I’ve taken a stab.

The explanation isn’t simple–there are many moving parts–but also some key fundamentals: 1) Democrats have vastly more Ph.D.s and experts, and seem to be more factually correct about contested issues; 2) Republicans nevertheless have enough of their own experts and aren’t giving up; 3) neither Democrats nor Republicans are inherently anti-science or anti-expertise, but they rely on these for very different reasons, and do not both share the “Enlightenment ethic” of using science and reason to forge a better society; 4) all this is set against a rightward shifting political backdrop since about 1970; 5) all of the foregoing, in combination with psychology and media, leave us with a “postmodern” discourse that helps nobody.  Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” writ large.

Anyway, that’s the very, very brief rundown. Here’s how the piece opens:

In March, it was Kerry Emanuel’s turn to do what so many of his colleagues have done before: defend their knowledge and expertise against congressional Republicans. Read More

Fox's Media Bias and Climate Change

By Chris Mooney | June 7, 2011 12:27 pm

We already know that Fox News viewers are much more likely to be misinformed about the science of climate change. Now, a new study from Media Matters (h/t Kate Sheppard) provides some numbers about the kind of biased coverage that produces this type of result.

Media Matters didn’t look directly at scientific statements–instead they looked at the number of guests, across TV news, who were either for or against EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. Still, presuming that the anti-regulation guests also made misleading scientific statements (no big assumption, given the way this debate tends to go), the result is closely related. And even if they did not, the strong bias with respect to policy vies hints at the likely bias with respect to science:

Media Matters analyzed television news guests who discussed the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from December 2009 through April 2011. Driven largely by Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, results show that in 76 percent of those appearances, the guest was opposed to EPA regulations while 18 percent were in favor.

Drilling down on Fox in particular:

81% Of Fox Guests And 83% of Fox Business Guests Opposed GHG Regulation. Fox News hosted 52 guests who criticized the EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases. In that same period they featured only 10 supporters and two guests who took a neutral stance. Fox Business hosted opponents 65 times, compared to seven appearances by supporters. MSNBC hosted four times more supporters of EPA’s action than opponents, but had far fewer guests commenting on the issue than did Fox.

Fox swayed the total so much because the other channels studied were less likely to feature opinionated guests.

Full study here.

Tornadoes, or Not Tornadoes? Or, How The Media Mis-Covers Climate

By Chris Mooney | June 6, 2011 9:48 am

Sometimes, it is important to critique one’s allies. A case in point is this piece, by Sharon Begley, which I understand was both at Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

On the latter site it starts off like this:

In a world of climate change, freak storms are the new normal. Newsweek’s Sharon Begley on why we’re unprepared for the harrowing future, and how adapting to the inevitable might be our only option.

Joplin, Missouri, was prepared. The tornado warning system gave residents 24 minutes’ notice that a twister was bearing down on them. Doctors and nurses at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, who had practiced tornado drills for years, moved fast, getting patients away from windows, closing blinds, and activating emergency generators. And yet more than 130 people died in Joplin, including four people at St. John’s, where the tornado sucked up the roof and left the building in ruins, like much of the shattered city.

Even those who deny the existence of global climate change are having trouble dismissing the evidence of the last year. In the U.S. alone, nearly 1,000 tornadoes have ripped across the heartland, killing more than 500 people and inflicting $9 billion in damage. The Midwest suffered the wettest April in 116 years, forcing the Mississippi to flood thousands of square miles, even as drought-plagued Texas suffered the driest month in a century. Worldwide, the litany of weather’s extremes has reached biblical proportions. The 2010 heat wave in Russia killed an estimated 15,000 people. Floods in Australia and Pakistan killed 2,000 and left large swaths of each country under water. A months-long drought in China has devastated millions of acres of farmland. And the temperature keeps rising: 2010 was the hottest year on earth since weather records began.

And yet further down in the story, we read this: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Global Warming, Media and Science

Is There Any More Research Out There on Fox and the Facts?

By Chris Mooney | May 20, 2011 12:41 pm

On Wednesday I did a post that I knew would draw a lot of comment, listing five studies showing that people who watch Fox News are more likely to be misinformed about an array of issues–the Iraq Warglobal warminghealth care, the Ground Zero mosque, and the 2010 election. This research was all out there in the ether; I just pulled it together.

To this synthesis, there were many replies–but none of the comments that I’ve seen have pointed out that my rundown of studies was incomplete in some way. I find this kind of surprising. One of the studies I cited was from 2003; all the rest were from the last year or so. It would be odd if nothing were lying in between.

This post, then, is just to ask again whether anyone has come across other research pertinent to this subject–Fox, and the facts. If so, post it in the comments.


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