When Newspapers Con the Public

By Keith Kloor | March 20, 2013 11:37 am

British newspaper journalism is an odd creature. The Daily Mail, as I discussed here, is a freakish beast that continues to willfully (how else to explain it?) mangle climate science and misrepresent climate scientists. Myles Allen is the latest victim of David Rose’s crazy-ass reporting on climate change. And yet what to make of Allen’s rationale for Rose’s latest hatchet job:

I am perfectly prepared to believe David sent in an accurate article that was then hacked to pieces in the newsroom.

I would like to know if Allen wrote that with his tongue firmly planted in cheek, or whether he’s just deluding himself? For by now any scientist who talks to David Rose surely knows that what Rose puts in his stories bear little resemblance to what x or y climate scientist said to him over a pint of beer or over the phone. That’s the one fact you can bank on in any David Rose story on climate change.

Now let’s turn to the Guardian, and this video on genetically modified crops it recently posted on its website. The piece is as slanted and error-ridden as they come, made all the more obvious for its reliance on a notoriously discredited study by a French researcher with a weird history who has long been an anti-GMO opponent.

But what I found most odd about the video is that I couldn’t tell who reported and produced it. But there it was on the Guardian website, looking and sounding very much like a work of journalism (despite the factually incorrect content). Because I’m informed about this particular subject, it sounded like a slick piece of advocacy masquerading as journalism.

Lo and behold, as Robert Wilson tells us on his Carbon Counter blog (see bottom of this post):

It turns out that the source of the above video is in fact Friends of the Earth. With seemingly no regard for journalistic integrity, the Guardian republished a Friends of the Earth anti-GM video with zero attribution. The original video is GM_Edit_v2_CLEAN here.

So much for journalistic transparency, which is a cornerstone of the profession.

The majority of news consumers who have chanced on this Guardian video or the Daily Mail’s latest distorted climate change coverage by David Rose probably have no idea they have been misled. The two British newspapers are very different in terms of content, style, and quality (I’m personally a fan of the Guardian) but both have one thing in common in each of these cases: They have conned the public.

UPDATE: The Guardian’s Leo Hickman informs me that the producers of the video have now been identified. At the bottom of the page, where it used to say ITN productions, it now reads “Stop the Crop.”  I’m sure that makes all the difference.

 

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, GMOs, Journalism, select
  • Buddy199

    All the news that’s fit to print, that supports your agenda. Good thing our media is different.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Oh, yes. But all the weather-is-climate stuff is just “the new normal”. Funny, that.

    All newspapers distort. But you only tend to notice it when it conflicts with your own beliefs. Rose is no more distorting on climate change than the Guardian, or the New York Times, etc. He just comes at it from the other direction.

    Conned? Yep.

    • kkloor

      Actually, Rose takes it to another level. (In addition to putting climate science through a blender, he consistently misrepresents what climate scientists say.) Of course, you conveniently ignore all the times I’ve called out his progressive counterparts, for which I get loads of valentines.

      Unlike you (and nearly all climate skeptics), you only see the distortions by those you disagree with.

      • Nullius in Verba

        In most cases, he picks out bits of what climate scientists say, and uses them as steps in arguments to conclusions the climate scientists don’t agree with. You can certainly see why they would be annoyed about that, but their complaints are to be expected from advocate scientists. When journalists take the same cautious statements and use them as steps in arguments for unjustified alarm, they all just shrug.

        It’s the same behaviour – only the reaction to it is different. And do you think sceptics don’t get edited and quoted out of context to make them look bad?

        You deserve kudos on those occasions when you do the calling out, but the rest of the time you likely get judged by the arguments you use at the time. (Although personally I don’t think ‘calling out’ is all that helpful, whoever it is directed at. It’s far better to provide something better, and leave the mud-slinging to others.)

        I didn’t follow your last paragraph. Typo?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ena.valikov Ena Valikov

    I am not going to touch the back and forth and point out the logical fallacies: ad hominem (easy to do because it allows escaping a discussion of the substance–science) , appeals to fear ( we must feed the world and GMOs are the only way to do it!!! ) etc etc.

    What I will say, however, is : there is a scientific basis for teratogenicity ( birth defects associated with glyphosate, reported in the pigs in the video)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20695457

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22266476

    Does anyone know if Mike Ludwig is a good reporter?
    http://archive.truthout.org/war-over-genetically-modified-crops-gets-ugly-birth-defects-superweeds-and-science-intimidation64915

  • Matt B

    There was a fine example of journocrapola just a week or two ago with dispatches from NBC News Cub Reporter Kerry Sanders in Antarctica, with full metal gravitas support from Brian “New Normal” Williams. A couple gems:

    http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/51140448#51140448

    “In the last 50 years average winter temperatures here have risen 10.7 degrees.” Really? Hey 10.7 degrees is a pretty steep rise in temperature, I don’t care if it’s celsius or kelvin……..

    “The national snow and ice data center measured the lowest sea ice cover ever in Antarctica just 6 months ago”. Wow that is some breaking news, no one but NBC is reporting that!

    So….at least on the sea ice claim he gives a source of data, the NSIDC……..except it’s completely wrong for Antarctica. On the temperature rise Lord only knows where he pulled that from. So where does intelligent progress get made, with big microphone dopes like Sanders and Williams play-acting as intrepid journalists?

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Thanks very much for calling this out. The problem in these topics really isn’t the individual nutbags in comment sections–although we’ve seen data that suggest that does affect perceptions. It’s with the folks who have a larger platform and misuse that. It’s very hard to combat as an individual or a research team.

    How could a Dutch lab working on potato blight, let’s say, really get the resources together to do a real production like the NGOs can do with their budgets, which are primarily for that kind of thing?

    In fact, in the US “outreach” is considered rather unclean and research money can’t go to that. Or it would be frowned upon.

  • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

    I honestly can’t believe Hickman defends the Guardian video, even with attribution. If a business group put out a video giving a one-sided view of a controversial topic — say, a biotech business alliance doing a video about how there are absolutely no problems with GM crops or how they are used — then they wouldn’t have posted it, attribution or not. They wouldn’t want to be seen as supporting or vetting such a one-sided view. I’m not sure why it being a non-profit makes it any different. It’s still one-sided and a casual visitor might not realize it didn’t come from the Guardian and wasn’t fact-checked by them.

    • http://theprogessivecontrarian.wordpress.com/ Bernie Mooney

      Actually this is more common than you think, especially in the U.S.They’re called VNRs, Video news Releases, which are produced by companies and given free to local TV stations who are free to use their reporters to do wrap arounds to make it seem as if the station produced the piece.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewadams99 Andrew Adams

    My understanding is that the video was provided to the Guardian by ITN and its provenance was not initially clear. Therefore I don’t think there was any deliberate attempt by the Guardian to mislead its readers, which I don’t think can be said for Rose.
    Having said that, once they had established that the video was produced by an advocacy group it would be right to apply a bit more diligence regarding its contents and if it is seriously misleading they should take it down. Of course one could make similar criticism of ITN.

  • David Young

    Actually, the thread over on James’ Empty Blog is pretty good on this. I gave my opinion there. Basically, Nulius is right, it cuts both ways. Rose should correct what little there is to correct. But the press coverage of the recent hockey stick paper of Marcott et al is much worse. Basically, it has no basis in science and is just nonsense. And one of the authors gave an interview in which he misrepresented the paper. Basically, talk of relative rates of warming is nonsense when you compare a reconstruction with a temporal resolution of 300 years with the modern thermometer record with a resolution of under a day. Lets see that’s 5 orders of magnitude difference. And the hockey blade of the reconstruction is a total statistical artifact.

    The real problem is the way climate science has been politicized. Climate scientists are front and center in this effort. Their constant attempts to destroy dissenters, their establishment of their own party line blog, and a million other things are clear evidence. Some skeptics have been little better. And there are activists on the left who are just protecting the purity of their prescious bodily fluids and activists on the right who fear government power.

    In medicine there is a similar problem. That field has dealt with it in a more adult way. The literature is more open, there is a strong recognition of the problem of positive results bias, the motive of money and/or activism, and even outright fraud. It’s getting more common and to take action you must admit you have a problem. Climate science in the past has been too arrogant to do that, even though there has been progress in the last year with even Myles Allen decrying attacks on Richard Lindzen and gradually becoming more open to low climate sensitivity estimates. He even refused to join the slanderous attack on David Rose, which shows he is more a man than the norm.

    • BBD

      Basically, it has no basis in science and is just nonsense.

      As usual, you haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about.

      • David Young

        Blah Blah Duh, generalissimo and propaganda minister who instructs people to be “as clear as possible especially at Bishop Hill” has violated his own rule as dictatorial types often do. I must be perfectly clear just for you.

        As an example of badly flawed coverage I cite a blog here by Tom Yulsman called Art of the Anthropocene, the Scythe. Yulsman received some email from Marcott telling him he was wrong about the rate of warming being unprecendented and Yulsman being a real man actually corrected his blog. Here’s an example of a redacted paragraph.

        The graph above, based on new research showing how global temperatures have changed since the last Ice Age, has gotten some attention in recent days. —REDACTED{{because it shows how the warming of the last hundred years has been unprecedented in its abruptness, and almost so in its degree.}}

        Here’s Marcott’s email:

        We cannot say whether this change is unique across the entire Holocene because of the resolution (i.e., the sampling of temperature per unit time) of the entire dataset is about 120 years, and the nature of the Monte Carlo simulations smooth everything out to less than about 300 years.

        [So] it would be incorrect to say the rate is greater than anything else seen in the past 11,000 years. When looking at our reconstruction of temperature it appears this way. [But] it is, in fact, just a resolution issue related to this dataset.

        Shakum also has a response which is much worse and just wrong. He mumbles about ice core proxies not showing rapid spikes in the Holocene which is just flat out wrong for the Greenland cores. The spikes are quite large and just as large and in some cases a lot larger than the recent one. But it was Shakun’s interview with NYT that set off the press misrepresentation in the first place.

        There are of course much worse examples in other press outlets.

        So much for the press coverage. The paper itself has a number of problems such as its claims about “warmer than 74% of the Holocene” which seem to be unwarranted based on temporal resolution issues. One must ask why the paper has the spurious spike while Marcott’s thesis does not. I will be generous and assume that they “improved” the data without knowing that it would generate a spurious hockey stick. Steve McIntyre has shown how it worked, and it seems not easily justified. Amazing how coincidental it is that the erroneous spike seemed to agree with Nobel Peace Prize winner Michael Mann famous original cut and paste job.

        Are we clear now, Blah Blah Duh?

        By the way, David M. Young is not a US coal lobbyist, he was a famous mathematician who analyzed solution of discretizations of partial differential equations, the method used in all climate models. I wish I were him, but I’m not. Talk about not knowing what you are talking about. :-)

        • BBD

          The fake controversy about the uptick is irrelevant.The instrumental record shows the modern warming. M13 gives us the best reconstruction of Holocene temperature we have had so far and provides context for the instrumental record.

          This is awkward for contrarians, and the usual misdirection campaign is well under way. But it changes nothing. Modern temperatures are at Holocene Optimum levels but without the precessional forcing.

          How strange.

          • David Young

            Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Where did you get that lame statement? Al Gore has a new effort to provide sound bites for you to paste on blogs like this one. Their quotes will be misrepresentations but might be more interesting.

            The real bottom line on Marcott et al is that what is correct is not new and what is new is not correct. So why all the flawed press coverage and Shankun’s seeming ignorance of the ice core record? It is all rather pathetic and shabby. It would never be allowed in a top flight medical or engineering journal.

            Better be careful to “be as clear as humanly possible” so the generalissimo and self appointed “denialist” identifier expert is not angered.

          • BBD

            ‘David Young’

            The real bottom line on Marcott et al is that what is correct is not new and what is new is not correct.

            Where would the ill-informed and credulous be without something to parrot?

            :-)

            This, from M13 (first page! Middle column! How could you have missed it?!):

            In addition to the previously mentioned averaging schemes, we also implemented the RegEM
            algorithm (11) to statistically infill data gaps in records not spanning the entire Holocene, which
            is particularly important over the past several centuries (Fig. 1G).Without filling data gaps, our Standard 5×5 reconstruction (Fig. 1A) exhibits 0.6 °C greater warming over the past ~60 yr B.P. (1890 to 1950 CE) than our equivalent infilled 5° × 5° area-weighted mean stack (Fig. 1, C and D). However, considering the temporal resolution of our data set and the small number of records that cover this interval (Fig. 1G), this difference is probably not robust. Before this interval, the gap-filled and unfilled methods of calculating the stacks are nearly identical (Fig. 1D).

            So what’s “wrong” in M13? Do tell.

            This, too is from M13 (from the abstract! How could you have missed it?!):

            Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

            And from the paper itself:

            Our results indicate that global mean temperature for the decade 2000–2009 (34) has not yet exceeded the warmest temperatures of the early Holocene (5000 to 10,000 yr B.P.). These temperatures are, however, warmer than 82% of the Holocene distribution as represented by the Standard5×5 stack, or 72% after making plausible corrections for inherent smoothing of the high frequencies in the stack (6) (Fig. 3). In contrast, the decadal mean global temperature of the early 20th century (1900–1909) was cooler than >95% of the Holocene distribution under both the Standard5×5 and high-frequency corrected scenarios. Global temperature, therefore, has risen from near the coldest to the warmest levels of the Holocene within the past century, reversing the long-term cooling trend that began ~5000 yr B.P. Climate models project that temperatures are likely to exceed the full distribution of Holocene warmth by 2100 for all versions of the temperature stack (35) (Fig. 3), regardless of the greenhouse gas emission scenario considered (excluding the year 2000 constant composition scenario, which has already been exceeded). By 2100, global average temperatures will probably be 5 to 12 standard deviations above the Holocene temperature mean
            for the A1B scenario (35) based on our Standard5×5 plus high-frequency addition stack (Fig. 3).

            What is “wrong” in M13? I really would like to know. :-)

            This is me, above:

            The fake controversy about the uptick is irrelevant.The instrumental record shows the modern warming. M13 gives us the best reconstruction of Holocene temperature we have had so far and provides context for the instrumental record.

            This is awkward for contrarians, and the usual misdirection campaign is well under way. But it changes nothing. Modern temperatures are at Holocene Optimum levels but without the precessional forcing.

            How strange.

            Clearly, this bears repeating since you either did not understand it the first time around or did not read it. Certainly you make no substantive response in your comment above.

            Remember ‘David Young’, being unpleasant and credulous and ill-informed and mouthy is no substitute for *being correct*.

            :-)

          • David Young

            “after making plausible corrections for inherent smoothing” is enough said. Look at Greenland ice cores. There are pretty large variations. Inherent smoothing would mask many spikes similar to today’s which is not that unusual al in all. Any record which cannot distinguish anything shorter than 300 years would miss all those changes in the Greenland ice core and give a totally incorrect impression of past climate.

            And then there is the issue of statistical significance of paleoclimate data as reviewed in Annals of Statistics.

            Blah Blah Duh, you are wasting my time. The only reason I engaged you was because of the humorous interactions at Judith’s between you and the Chief in which he almost always bested you. But you are a waste of time and seem to have nothing original to say. Chief actually has shown me some references on uncertainty in dynamical systems that are rigorous and have helped me in my professional life. Another person you could learn something from is Gerry Browning, who actually proves things rigorously. Quite a good habit, that.

            In addition, I don’t generally engage with unpleasant people unless I know who they are. I am using my real name. It’s a pity you are not able to figure it out. Others have had little trouble. But it takes all kinds.

          • BBD

            Go on then. Prove something rigorously. Starting with your much-touted but never defined bona fides!

          • David Young

            No response necessary to this as it has not real content.

          • BBD

            You are a bluffer, ‘David Young’!

            ;-)

        • BBD

          ‘David Young’

          On names:

          By the way, David M. Young is not a US coal lobbyist, he was a famous mathematician who analyzed solution of discretizations of partial differential equations, the method used in all climate models. I wish I were him, but I’m not.

          My reading of this is that you are using a pseudonym.

          If so, there’s a problem, ‘David Young’. In our previous chat, you said this:

          [You, BBD] are quite good at hiding behind your tag.

          But you appear to be hiding behind a tag. So this was an unfortunate pretence on your part, wasn’t it?

          You also said this:

          My credentials are easy to look up for someone of your undoubtedly superior intelligence. I have rigorous reasons for what I have been saying and a track record of rigorous mathematical modeling. I would normally blush to say this, but with you truth is more important than modesty.

          And then this, when I suggested that you might be the loathsome coal funded denier and smear artist David M. Young:

          Your bigotry is showing, Blah Blah Duh. Of course that is not me. Hint: real publication record of relevance to climate. You not only have a short memory but are terrible at research. The only reason you might think it was me is your tin foil hat conspiracy theories and your total ignorance. You are beneath contempt. Good bye and good riddance to the most slimy person I’ve ever dealt with on the web.

          Can you see the problem ‘David Young’? You bray about your easy to look up credentials and ‘real publication record of relevance to climate’ but Google Scholar knows you not. In fact all I did come up with when trying – at your goading – to locate your easy to look up credentials and ‘real publication record of relevance to climate’ was David M. Young, loathsome coal funded denier and smear artist!

          It’s all a bit of a mess, isn’t it, ‘David Young’? And I could take the view that you are a serial liar. You do see that, don’t you?

          • David Young

            Strange to say, others at REal Climate and even James Annan have seemed to have no trouble. I can’t help you if you are not willing to take the hints offered. If I considered you to be someone of substance, I would have no trouble helping you solve your problem, but I’m not sure I want someone like you to be able to libel me. British libel law I understand can provide a significant income as Winston Churchill proved.

          • BBD

            Chill out. Have a drink!

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Collide-a-Scape

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, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and 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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