National Post Ducks Correction; Repeats “Slander”

Tue, 2007-02-13 06:57Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

National Post Ducks Correction; Repeats “Slander”

Per an earlier post, the National Post recently defamed the renowned astrophysicist Dr. Nigel Weiss with an article lumping him in with a group of climate change “deniers.”

In response to this – an error that caused him a good deal of embarrassment among serious scientists – Dr. Weiss wrote this Letter to the Editor:

SOLAR ACTIVITY AND GLOBAL WARMING
The article by Lawrence Solomon, which portrays me as a denier of global warming, is a slanderous fabrication. I have always maintained that the current episode of warming that we are experiencing is caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, and that global temperatures will rise much further unless steps are taken to halt the burning of fossil fuel. Compared to these effects, the influence of variations in solar magnetic activity is unimportant, however interesting it may be to astrophysicists like me.
For further details see the Press Release on the University of Cambridge website
Nigel Weiss


If you thought that a responsible newspaper would offer a quick correction and apology, you would have missed your bet with the National Post. Instead of running Dr. Weiss’s complaint on the letters page, “the editor” gave it to writer Lawrence Solomon, who instead challenged Dr. Weiss with this email:

Dear Dr Weiss,
I am writing in response to your letter to the editor of the National Post, in which you take issue with my characterization of you as a “denier.” I can understand your objection to having a negative term assigned to you, although my use of this term is meant to be ironic – it is clear that I am not hostile to those I describe. I use the term “denier” to describe scientists who do not believe that the “science is settled.”
I do not understand, however, what other objections you may have to my column. Have I misrepresented your statements, for example, or attributed beliefs to you that you do not hold? If I have, I would very much like to understand how I have done so.
….
Sincerely
Larry Solomon

As Mr. Solomon is well able to string together apparently intelligent paragraphs, it would appear that his impenetrability on this issue is intentional. It was abundantly clearly that Dr. Weiss was not complaining about the “epithet” denier because he finds it distasteful. He’s complaining because it is pointedly not true.

Dr. Weiss says, “I have always maintained that the current episode of warming that we are experiencing is caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases,” and “compared to these effects, the influence of variations in solar magnetic activity is unimportant.” And yet, having written a whole column describing Weiss as a believer in the sunspot theory of global warming, Solomon wonders, “Have I misrepresented your statements, for example, or attributed beliefs to you that you do not hold?”

Larry, Larry, Larry. What do you think Dr. Weiss meant by “slanderous fabrication”?

More amazing than this rude riposte – this argumentative, ungracious and insensible retreat into “irony” – was Solomon’s next column: Even with Dr. Weiss’s correction in hand, Solomon followed, on Friday, Feb. 9, with this article , in which he again characterizes Dr. Weiss as someone who denies that greenhouse gases are the principal cause of climate change. Solomon then concludes with a disingenuous plea “to drop the term denier from the scientific lexicon.”

Once again (and slowly, for the benefit of the National Post) Dr. Weiss is not saying that he would rather be called a “skeptic ” than a “denier” - he's neither. He is saying he would rather that Larry Solomon tell the truth.

According to another National Post story, a new Compas poll shows that Canadian business executives are still divided over whether to believe that the science behind climate change is settled. Small wonder if they are depending upon the National Post for the “facts” on which they must base their opinions.

Previous Comments

Although craftily written, Solomon is engaging in the old trick of obfuscation. He deliberately and deftly switches the concept “nuance” with “skepticism”.

He implies that if you have a nuanced take on AGW, then you must be skeptical about its existence and the need to act. In his world there are clearly only two camps: the “true believers”, and the “skeptics”. Whether or not the term “denier” is used ironically, he is 100% clear that all nuance means “skepticism”, and that means one thing: there is no cause for action.

Far from introducing shades of grey, he shoehorns opinion into ond of the two camps: black and white.

I think Weiss is very clear that he is neither skeptical of human-induced global warming, nor is he “skeptical.” He states: “I have always maintained that the current episode of warming that we are experiencing is caused by anthropogenic [human induced] greenhouse gases, and that global temperatures will rise much further unless steps are taken to halt the burning of fossil fuel. Neither is this “nuanced.” Solomon is clearly so blinded by ideology. By the way, what is this Energy Probe Research Foundation Larry works for? Is it an industry front group?? http://www.probeinternational.org/eprf/speakers.html

By “nuanced”, I meant a picture of climate change that includes natural drivers as well as anthropogenic ones. It’s quite simple.

Solomon is clearly pushing the position that, for all parctical purposes (ie, taking action) you can’t have both. But many people on the other side of the debate do the same, giving people like Solomon an in for their “true believer” claims.

And by the way you’re right: “…global temperatures will rise much further unless steps are taken to halt the burning of fossil fuel.” is not a “nuanced” statement, meaning that while it may be correct, it’s also of very little use: it tells us nothing about how to halt the burning of fossil fuel, what will be the consequences of not doing, and how we should approach the trade-offs we will obviously be forced to confront. These are the (laregely unspoken) questions burning away behind the “yes or no” AGW debate–and ones which we’ll probably need a nuanced picture of the science to tackle.

Don't know much about them. The last available information shows the Globe's Margaret Wente and Andrew Coyne on the Energy Probe Board of Directors; that makes is a fairly strange “environmental” organization, at best.

The organization seems to have taken some reasonable positions over time (eg., against the Three Gorges dam), but seem more eager to hector the Chinese than to avocate for an innovative and responsible enviro-agenda at home.

Here’s a 1997 article by Thomas Walkom about it; it’s on the Energy Probe website, which is to their credit, I guess, because I am appalled by much of the article, and by Solomon’s other organizations.

“…Where most Canadian public-interest groups support a greater role for government in solving environmental problems, Energy Probe calls for less.

Its solution to the problems of the environment - indeed, of most social problems - focuses on free markets, privatization, selective deregulation and other policies usually described as right wing.

It holds up former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher as the world’s model environmentalist… ”

And
“…”They so often operate in counterpoint to efforts of other environmentalists that the effect is to undermine other organizations,” says Steven Schrybman, formerly a Toronto activist who now heads Vancouver’s West Coast Environmental Law Association….” Here is the link.

There are some interesting connections there; I know Tom Flanagan contributed articles to Solomon’s Next City; including one co-authored with Stephen Harper: Here is a link to a partial copy of that article. They article also mentions the Donner Foundation; and I know Flanagan received a prize from the Donner Foundation for his repulsive book about First Nations.

Also, the blog Le Revue Gauche describes Energy Probe as anti-nuke but pro-coal. The blog post has some links which may be useful. Here is that link.

Good stuff, do you know about our DeSmog detective program? Check it out here if you haven't . I will see tomorrow if you're signed up already. If you are than I would like to let you know that this great bit of preliminary research just won you a $50 iTune DeSmog detective award.

Kevin@desmogblog.com

Great, thanks. Yes, I did sign up.

I was just going to add that the last link stresses that Energy Probe is pushing for private property rights; this is something Harper, Flanagan, the Fraser Institute and others of their ilk promote; and it could be disastrous for environmental regulations.

TILMA will be disastrous too if people let Alberta and BC get away with signing the agreement. It may spread like a virus.

In the National Post articles did Solomon appear to have interviewed anybody?

After seeing Naomi Weiss’s post to the earlier article here, I googled her name and found this article where she commented near the bottom: “…Mr Solomon got his facts wrong, which is unsurprising as he didn’t even interview Professor Weiss himself…”
At this link.

The commenter below her linked to Dr Shaviv’s blog, and he also objected to Solomon’s description of his beliefs:

“…On junkscience.com, I found an interesting link, it was to an article by the National Post, which has so many quotes of me, it looked as if I was interviewed without noticing it!

So, to set things straight, I was never interviewed by Lawrence Solomon. I am quite sure that if he would have interviewed me (and all that would have been required of him is send me a few questions by e-mail), he would have obtained original shaviv quotes. I presume that the writer just surfed my website, picked whatever he liked, glued it together and voilà, got an original article. I presume it is legitimate, and it even saves a long distance phone call.

Second, if he would have sent me that article before publishing, I would have pointed out various inaccuracies in it. Here are some details in the article:…”

Note at the bottom, he had a response from Solomon. So Solomon again used the “ironic” defense!

A more direct link to Dr. Shaviv's counterpoint can be found here. Shaviv seems to agree that Lawrence Solomon is a sloppy and manipulative writer (unable, for example, to spell Shaviv's name correctly), but like Richard Tol, also seems happy to forgive.
Send me your details at kevin@desmogblog.com and I will get thoseiTunes out to you VJ.

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Newspaper boxes in Calgary

Postmedia has struck a $316 million deal to buy 175 of Quebecor’s English-language newspapers, specialty publications and digital properties, including the Sun chain of papers, according to a report in the Globe and Mail this morning.

If it passes regulatory hurdles, the deal will mark a step further down the path of media concentration in Canada.

What does this mean for Canadians in practical terms?

In Calgary, for instance, the...

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