National Post Defames Scientist as "Denier"

Tue, 2007-02-06 15:51Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

National Post Defames Scientist as "Denier"

For the third time, at least, the National Post has painted a respected international academic as a climate change “denier,” regardless that the scientist is no such thing.

In the most recent instance - part of a 10-part series called “The Deniers” - writer Lawrence Solomon (left) justifiably lauds the work of that “Nigel Weiss, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, past President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and a scientist as honoured as they come.”

But Solomon then steps way over the line of accurate journalism. He says that Weiss believes “The science is anything but settled … except for one virtual certainty: The world is about to enter a cooling period.”

Weiss was so offended by this mischaracterization that he issued a news release, saying “Professor Nigel Weiss, an expert in solar magnetic fields, has rebutted claims that a fall in solar activity could somehow compensate for the man-made causes of global warming.”

“Although solar activity has an effect on the climate, these changes are small compared to those associated with global warming,” Weiss said in the news release. “Any global cooling associated with a fall in solar activity would not significantly affect the global warming caused by greenhouse gases.”

The Post has not yet seen fit to acknowledge Dr. Weiss' position with a correction.

Which is not so surprising when you look back in the series. The first story in “The Deniers” series featured Dr. Edward Wegman, a professor at the Center for Computational Statistics at George Mason University. Dr. Wegman had testified before a Senate committee last year, criticizing the use of statistics in the now-famous graph known as the “Mann hockey stick.” But Wegman told the committee that he and his fellow statisticians “were not asked to assess the reality of global warming and indeed this is not an area of our expertise. We do not assume any position with respect to global warming except to note in our report that the instrumented record of global average temperature has risen since 1850 according to the MBH 99 chart by about 1.2º centigrade.” He's no denier.

The Post's second story featured Dr. Richard S.Tol, and claimed that Tol believes climate change, if it is occurring, will be beneficial. Per this earlier post , however, Tol also acknowledges the human causation of climate change and supports action to stop it. Again, no denier.

There are other questionable stories in this series. For example, Solomon quotes the research of Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National Space Center, as proof that cosmic rays are affecting the earth's temperature. But while Solomon implies that the sun is therefore the principal cause of climate change, Svensmark says clearly in this paper that that his work “does not imply that other factors can not affect clouds or climate.”

The most committed denier in this series appears to be no scientist, but rather the writer, Lawrence Solomon.

Comments

I’m glad someone with a little authority, in view of all the politiking regarding Global Warming, is taking a stand and fighting against so-called “unbiased” journalists that only see things one way.

Personally, I think it’s possible that Global Warming is caused directly by humans, but I also think it’s possible that it might not be. Global Cooling in the 70’s anyone?

If everyone was smart, we’d focus on who’s trying to kill us, rather than whether or not Global Warming is man made, but what do I know? I’m just a Software Engineer, and I’d barely be able to get into Mensa if I tried!

I’m subscribing to your blog today. Just make sure you give me both sides, and I’ll be happy.

DOWN WITH BIASED, AGENDA-BASED, SO-CALLED JOURNALISM!!
Global Cooling in the 70’s anyone?

Oi! The myth that won’t die

There was never a consensus on Global Cooling.

Real climate has a great piece on global cooling. You can read the history here:


 http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=94
Global Cooling in the 70’s anyone?

Oi! The myth that won’t die

There was never a consensus on Global Cooling.

Real climate has a great piece on global cooling. You can read the history here:


 http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=94
This is absolutely libelous on the part of the National Post. This is a scientist that is being completely misrepresented in his views on global warming.

If Solomon has any shroud of ethics he would issue a full apology and print it with the same prominence as his original incorrect article.

Anything less will put the National Post in serious position of slander and liability.

The National Post will be lucky of this guy doesn’t sue.
There are many ways the media can abuse its trust in society, including misquoting or mischaracterizing scientific opinions. As institutions become more and more monopolized, we have seen society’s historical remedies come up short. Civil actions are extremely limited in correcting abuse of monopoly power, as well as correcting newspapers that misquote or misdescribe scientific opinion. Civil actions are limited to a very small number of recognized legal wrongs (torts), nearly all of which must cause direct harm to the party, either physical or economic. If no direct harm, then no civil remedy. Our society used to have corrective measures which would tend to punish a news organzation which erred. For example, we used to have lots of competition. With competition comes choice and a bad company will begin to reap its own reward. With less competition comes less choice. Hence bad performance goes uncorrected and often, increases sales. We also used to have government institutions which sought to protect the public good. That is significantly on the wane. While many individuals are turning to our judicial system to seek remedies, it is not designed to address this kind of institutional problem. While new torts are slowly developed in the US, we are slower to do so in Canada. Even if that trend changes, you can just hear the howling that would arise from the Financial Post and other neoconservative organs about “judicial activism” and “judocracies”. Thus, it is unlikely that our scientists will seek a remedy for libel, absent financial loss. At the present time, Canadians are more powerless than they’ve ever been. Its very unfortunate.

interesting

Richard Littlemore rushes to my defence against Lawrence Solomon’s writings in the National Post. I read Solomon’s article, and was not in the least offended. The Press likes to create the illusion that there are two sides to the climate debate. One side denies that there is a problem. The other side argues that catastrophe is imminent and emissions need to cut drastically and immediately. I disagree with both sides. I think that climate change is a real problem, and that Al Gore’s movie is alarmist propaganda. I think that emissions should be cut, and that the Kyoto Protocol is fatally flawed. Having studied climate change and climate policy for 15 years, my opinion is nuanced. For that, I have been called an alarmist, and I have been called a skeptic – drawing fire from both sides is a sign of balance. Solomon admirably tries to bring these shades of grey into the public debate on climate change. The unfortunate label of “denier” is a minor infraction. Solomon may have been wrong on Nigel Weiss, but that makes his story 90% correct – much higher than most articles in the newspapers. Solomon did get my affiliation wrong, and Littlemore copied that without checking the facts. More worryingly, Littlemore’s article reads as an attempt to limit the public debate to black and white. Richard S.J. Tol Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, Ireland

Don't you think? 90% of the information in Mr Solomon's article may be technically correct, but his thesis, insofar as he has one (and he does), is 100% wrong. It's a classic case of manipulating the data.

Mr Solomon spends most of his time discussing Dr Weiss' work concernign solar activity. Fine. He does briefly state that Dr. Weiss believes that man-made greenhouse gases have recently had a role in warming the earth, although the extent of that role, he says, cannot yet be known. Again, correct, but starting to be misleading. It's the beginning of the suggestion that Dr Weiss dismisses greenhouse gases as a significant factor relative to sun activity. As we all know, that's the opposite of the truth.

The article then goes on to discuss Dr Weiss theories in a way that clearly suggests he believes a global cooling is imminent: the line No one knows precisely when a crash will occur but some expect it soon deliberately conflates the concepts of a sunspot "crash" and a temperature crash.

He then does the responsible and even-handed thing by putting these ideas into context, right? Actually no he doesn't. The honest thing at this point would be to let Weiss put his own theories in context, but he doesn't. We just get a summation, in a conclusive sort of way, of the views of "some" scientists. None of this information is backed up, or weighted. To slip from one man's theories to another's conclusions is misleading. To finish up a well-researched article with a few unrelated, unsupported claims, is misleading.

Solomon finishes up with a few more remarks about the imminent crash, and of course the Denier's CV.

This article is in the popular press. It is not an attempt to clear the air, but a manipulative propaganda piece. Mr Solomon is very clever. Much of he says is indeed true accurate, and he appears to be give the other side its due. But he leads people to a conclusion that is false, and that's the problem. In science, the ommission of a single point of data can invalidate the entire thesis.

Let's remind ourselves Dr Weiss's own take on the situation:
While there have been reports that Professor Weiss backs this view, he stressed today that this was untrue and that the man-made causes of global warming were of grave and far greater concern.

This is a series on AGW. If Solomon were being honest, he would have included Dr. Weiss' opinion on AGW.

Dr Tol, you've been had. And that is a very good endorsement of desmogblog.

Dear Dr Tol Could you please expand on your comments that: “that Al Gore’s movie is alarmist propaganda” and “that the Kyoto Protocol is fatally flawed” I would be especially interested on your thoughts as to how to develop a better international agreement to address GHG emissions. kind regards Doug Clover
Yet another strawman attempt to characterize the consensus science as ‘alarmist’ Oh what a giveaway!
Dr. Tol, I haven’t read the Post’s series, and I can’t remember Gore’s movie very well, so I can’t ask very precise questions. I’m hoping that you can answer two imprecise questions for me:
1. What constitutes alarmist propaganda in your opinion?
2. What do you think about the fourth assessment? I would suggest that’s more important than what you think about a movie.
P.S. I like to think that I’m neither left nor right, but out in front (like EarthFirst! used to say), so I understand the iconoclast’s attraction to independence. However, drawing fire from both sides isn’t always a good sign.
Mr Tol’s correction of Mr Littlemore’s rant is hilarious indeed. Science deniers like Mr Littlemore deserves to be made fun of.

While Mr Tol's comment was flawed, it centred around the need for more clarity and better communication around the climate issue.

Now, Johan, do you really think this outburst is doing anything to improve the communication between our two groups? Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Dew writes, "Now, Johan, do you really think this outburst is doing anything to improve the communication between our two groups? Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?"

Very astute - and an idea that has wider implications. We have "experts" who sign letters to the PM stating that "climate models are wrong", yet while they are all "expert" enough to expound this "fact", none have any contribution to make as to why the models are "wrong", nor how they can be improved so that they become "correct". This certainly makes me suspect their sincerity.

would be to objectively evaluate the merits of all applicable science and related observations, to make all data and calculations available to all, and then make political and policy recommendations based on a solid basis (if necessary). The current agenda driven, herecy seeking, models based, and anti-science (i.e. so called consensus science) approach is fundamentally flawed, not to mention despicable.

"The solution would be to objectively evaluate the merits of all applicable science and related observations, to make all data and calculations available to all..."

which is exactly what the IPCC does.

"...and then make political and policy recommendations based on a solid basis (if necessary)..."

Which is what responsible competent politicians are doing, unlike the dimwitted rightwing amateur fratboys who are running the Government of Canada right now and trying to pretend they have some idea of what they are doing. Why is Jon Baird consulting industry when he should be consulting scientists?

I’m not a big fan of right wing versus left wing talk, but I like your point about Baird. He’s the Environment minister. He should understand that. There are lots of ministers who are supposed to consult business/industry primarily. Baird should eventually meet with industry but his primary focus should be on understanding what the problem means for Canada’s environment. Has he met with many climatologists, ecologists, etc?

Steve, the last time I received a letter from a politician it was to ask for a donation to his election fund (he was a cabinet minister). I did not even live in his constituency but my company was involved in his mandate (science and innovation ; Provincial level).

The only reason I opened the letter was it was on his department's letterhead! I thought about getting my cheque book out but dismissed the idea and threw the letter in the garbage. He was defeated during the next election.

I don't know; presumably he will have talked to scientists in Environment Canada. A CTV Calgary report at this link says Baird, Lunn and Prentice met yesterday with the oil patch and environment groups in Calgary; the the oil patch said it was productive and the environment groups were disappointed with the gov't plans. So what does that tell you?

Al Gore's movie is alarmist propaganda. Why is burden of proof on me? Al Gore's fortune was made in tobacco, he was vice-president for Bill Clinton. I never trust any politician, but Al Gore has an impressive history of distortion for his profession.

Seriously, the movie “An inconvenient truth” contains a few minor things that are simply wrong. One example is that, allegedly, Al Gore slept through Roger Revelle's course. That's not the main problem. The main issue is the many statements that are factually correct but easily misinterpreted. For instance, Gore shows the Vostok record, but forgets to add that temperature leads CO2 and not vice versa.

He talks about drastic sea level rise, but forgets to mentions probabilities and time-scale. He shows flooding, but the animation overlooks even existing dikes. He likes Katrina/New Orleans to climate change, rather than to the disastrous planning. And so on. The worst part is the end. If we all put on a sweater, the problem will go away.

The Kyoto Protocol is fatally flawed for a number of reasons. It has strict targets but lax enforcement, creating a culture of virtual abatement, rather than the real sort. It has targets that are similar at the surface, but very unequal in reality. It let developing countries off the hook, perpetually. It created three permit markets, rather than one. It ignored technological development and diffusion. It presumes a transfer of sovereignty to the UN. And so on.

Seriously. Whatever else it may be, Al Gore's movie is by far the most factual and even-handed source of information about climate change that most people have seen. That's not so much an endorsement of Al Gore, but an indictment of the discussion thus far. But that's the reality we have to deal with.

No retelling of the climate issue is going to be flawless, and none is going to avoid oversimplication. The best we've got is the IPCC report and people aren't going to read that. Can we trust our governments to tackle the issue without our input? Can we turn it over to scientists with an apperciation of the complexity and they will somehow make everything better? Or should we just do nothing? No: we need the public discussion, and we need a well-informed consensus on how to proceed.

And that's where Al Gore comes in: An Inconvenient Truth may be far from perfect, but the fact is that it massively improved the state of debate on the subject. It hit closer to the mark, and presented much more nuance than anything else in the popular press. And that's how the public (and any) discourse works: not as a series of revealed truths but in stages. Al Gore got people thinking. Now it's time for someone with an even more nuanced take to step up and raise the bar even further. That's how things work.

Richard Tol, with all due respect, the climate change denier tag is not about Kyoto or movie reviews**, it’s about the science. I am curious to know what you think of the fourth assessment. Is it alarmist propaganda, are there enough caveats, etc?

[It’s relatively pointless to defend the movie, but you say there should have been more emphasis on planning re Katrina – planning for something that MIGHT happen – which is what the movie is about in a way. Also, you call the movie alarmist propaganda but then turn around and say that the worst part is the message that we’ll be okay if we wear sweaters – seems not so alarmist. But this is silly … I hope you give your opinion regarding the 4AR.]
 Thanks.
Please advise. Thanks.
Well, JIK, we could quibble all day about the imprecision of what I wrote. However if, as the denialists’ (or false skeptics or whatever these people should be called) talking points suggest, the facts are being fitted to the policy, then it should make no difference whether we talk about the 4AR or the the Summary for Policy Makers.

Does anyone else find it ironic when Richard defends Tol and supports the view that he may not be an AGW skeptic then Tol wades in and tries his best to prove that he really is a skeptic?

"Weiss was so offended by this mischaracterization that he issued a news release, saying "Professor Nigel Weiss, an expert in solar magnetic fields, has rebutted claims that a fall in solar activity could somehow compensate for the man-made causes of global warming."

You mean he was so offended that the university issued a statement. Unless Nigel Weiss is in the habit of referring to himself in the 3rd person.

He seems so incensed that apparantly his children are scouring the internet and defending him whilst he's on holidays (according to his 'daughter' Naomi) in the middle of a school term? This can be found on various blog sites.

Since your in the business of speculation, I wonder if things went like this. He made his statements, got in trouble from the University as seems to be the norm in today politically correct climate and had to retract his statements or else.

how unfortunate that you did not think to google his name. You would have found, at the first hit, his very own web page with a similar statement in the first person. Right here.

"...I have always maintained that any temperature changes caused by variations in solar activity -- while interesting in themselves -- are not significant compared to the global warming that we are already experiencing, and very small compared to what will happen if we continue to burn fossil fuel at the present rate."

how unfortunate that you did not think to google his name. You would have found, at the first hit, his very own web page with a similar statement in the first person. Right here.

"...I have always maintained that any temperature changes caused by variations in solar activity -- while interesting in themselves -- are not significant compared to the global warming that we are already experiencing, and very small compared to what will happen if we continue to burn fossil fuel at the present rate."

I’m sorry that my statements have made this whole issue spiral out of control and turn into an attempt to find some sort of conspiracy theory going on. My father no longer teaches as he’s retired - hence being able to take a holiday at this time of year (and one which had been planned long before this fiasco). He’s very angry at what’s been said about him but has focussed his attention on the relevant newspapers concerned rather than the blogs, most of which he hasn’t read anyway as he’s not accustomed to surfing the web much (and doesn’t have much internet access at the moment). Maybe my brother and I shouldn’t have spoken out on his behalf, but we felt so indignant that all these spurious things were being said about him that we felt we had to do something. It’s standard procedure for the University to put statements in the third person, and the one made regarding Professor Weiss is verified by his own website (written in the first person!). See http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/now/. Naomi Weiss

Naomi, I don't believe you have anything to apologize for; the climate change deniers have the habit of twisting people's words for dishonest purposes. It was obvious to me that Dave was doing this in his post.

There have been a lot of heated debates over global warming in the blogosphere, and if the deniers cannot come up with one of their idiotic arguments, they just attack anyone who tries to explain the science to them. Don't expect logic from them. Some of them reject the scientific consensus because it clashes with their religious beliefs; and they will turn around and argue that science is really just a religion; because they have no idea how scientists work or how the consensus on global warming developed.

I hope your dad enjoys his holiday; I'm sure he'll be proud to have you speaking up for him.

this is why even my cat rejects the national post and we can only use the paper to wrap up fish n chips!!!

My opinion on AR4 is simple: It has to be published still, and parts of it are yet to written. The only thing that is out is the SPM of WG1. It is not for me to judge, as I’m not an expert, with the exception of “detection and attribution”. There, I think that the probability that humans caused most of the observed warming is greater than 99%, not smaller than 99% as the IPCC claims. I guess that makes me a skeptic.

Dr. Tol, you say “that the probability that humans caused most of the observed warming is greater than 99%, not smaller than 99% as the IPCC claims.” And you say that Larry Solomon presentng you to the readers of the National Post as a “Denier” is a “minor infraction.”

That's not a nuance. That's a contradictions, no?

I’d like to thank Richard Tol for his concise opinion on the SPM. That’s great that you’re a skeptic, as all scientists should be. I think your stance is clearly not that of an AGW denier, though, and that’s what I think is important in this public relations skirmish within the media.
I do not deny that climate change is real and caused by humans, but I do deny that disaster is imminent, and I also deny that immediate, drastic emission reduction is justified. That makes me a two-thirds denier, I guess, and Solomon just rounded me up to unity.
Problematically this brings up the subjective definition of disaster and drastic. I mean, if Al Gore said that wearing sweaters will solve everything, that’s not very drastic, so he’s 1/3 denier. For me, even the extinction of just one species by my hand is a disaster and I’m trying hard to avoid it…. But I’m glad for this opportunity to hear what you have to say directly rather than get it after others filter it through their ideological prisms.