Inhofe's media bias claim innacurate, bordering outright falsehood

In his climate-change ain't happening State of the Union speech of Sept. 25th, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) makes the claim that climate change “skeptic” scientists do not get a fair share of media coverage.

Inhofe states:

“Scientists like MIT's Richard Lindzen, former Colarado State Climatologist Roger Pielke, the University of Alabama's Roy Spencer, and John Christy, Virginia State Climatologist Patrick Michaels, Colorado State University's William Grey, atmospehric physicist Fred Singer, Willie Soon, Oregon State Climatologist George Taylor [and] astrophysicist Sallie Baliuna, just to name a few. But you never hear of them.The media never talks about these well-established scientists.”

We won't get into the fact in this post that many of the “well established” scientists Inhofe rattles off are “well established” in the oil and coal industry.

Instead, we tested Inhofe's claim that the scientists he lists are never  talked about in the media. Unfortunately, Inhofe's claim of media bias is way off the mark.

A quick infomart media search of major  North American newspaper shows over 350 mentions of Fred Singer, Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas, William Grey, Roger Pielke, Richard Linzen and Patrick Michaels. In other words, the most notorious climate change “skeptics” in the US have been mentioned, on average, once every 5 days in North American major print outlets alone.


Let me step up and start by saying I hate James Inhofe. Any man who will go before he US Senate and reccommend that a Michael Chricton novel be required reading for thoughts on how to make climate policy is a moron. No two ways about it.

That said, tallying media mentions of Singer, Pielke, Lindzen and all the rest do not account for possibly negative connotations surrounding those mentions, and that should be corrected. I know the saying goes ‘there’s no such thing as bad press,’ but Terrell Owens might quibble with that. James Frey I’m sure is a huge supporter.

But I digress. 

 As a new-comer to covering climate change, I’m surprised by how willing people like Pielke are to embellish uncertainty. I’ve written a story due out next week in New Scientist that investigates recent cooling in the upper ocean.

The researchers are clear in saying that while it’s true the oceans have cooled over the past two years, they will continue to warm as they have for the last fifty. But I found a reference on Pielke’s blog citing that paper andwaving it about as evidence for how little we know about global warming. 

It’s true that we can’t accurately model every peak in trough we see in climate  but overall we undersand the system. Pielke should get a media mention that shames him for distorting these findings.

You’re right that our very quick poke at the data is neither scientific nor conclusive. We were just trying to point out the obvious idiocy of Inhofe’s position - that the deniers get no attention. Relative to their contribution to the science, they get nothing BUT attention.
Once again, though, the best and most statistically reliable view of media balance can be found here in the Boykoff and Boykoff paper. I think every reporter on the continent would do well by reading that, as well as this, an extremely well-researched and well-reasoned article on Mixing Politics and Science in Testing the Hypothesis That Greenhouse Warming Is Causing a Global Increase in Hurricane Intensity  (you can tell by the length of the title alone that this is a scholarly piece, but it’s really worth the read).
If you are going to be writing for New Scientist, you also should read this example of how shamelessly the worst deniers will twist your coverage, misrepresenting science in any sleazy way possible to mislead the public.

You should have accepted the criticism more gracefully. The fellow above only suggests the numbers can’t be compared because the mentions might be negative. I’ll go further and say that even if you ignore the nature of the mention, the numbers are so different it’s absurd to argue with Inhofe’s point. Using Factiva, I searched for all of the deniers Inhofe mentioned along with either the term “climate” or “global warming” in a range of US newspapers (LA Times, Chicago Sun Times, NY Times, Washington Post) for the past year. I threw in Roy Spencer and John Christy for good measure. There were 8 citations, 4 of which were event listings–this for nine people. When I did the same thing for James Hansen, I got 13 citations, 12 of them solid articles and one a letter–for just one man.

And you can’t say, “Relative to their contribution to the science, they get nothing BUT attention.” That’s just nonsense. Roger Pielke?
Roy Spencer and John Christy?
They do important work and no one hears their names unless they follow this stuff closely.