Selective Journalism

Thu, 2010-02-18 13:12Emily Murgatroyd
Emily Murgatroyd's picture

Selective Journalism

The echo chamber is alive and well and currently bouncing Phil Jones’ bastardized quote all over the global media. Recap - Phil Jones speaks to the BBC about climate change. The Daily Mail selects part of his response, stripping it of its context and using that selection to argue that Prof. Jones is backtracking on the likelihood of global warming.

Then every half-wit, oil company shill and agenda-driven journalist in the world picks up the Mail’s manipulation and uses it as if it’s real.

Here is the ACTUAL exchange:

BBC: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present, there has been no statstically-significant global warming”

Prof Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995-2009. This trend (0.12 per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods and much less likely for shorter periods.

And here’s how the accuracy-challenged press is using the quote:

“… in a weekend BBC interview, he (Jones) dropped a bombshell. He acknowledged there’s been no statistically significant warming since 1995.

“Hello? When other people say that, they’re called deniers.”

Phil Jones’ actual answer and the answer that is being trumpeted by the media are dramatically different. Jones, with patience and exactitude, described the condition that would justify the term “statistically significant” (95% certainty) and explained that - on an issue like climate - such certainty is not appropriately sought from short time spans. He went out of his way to ensure accuracy. The Mail, and it’s cheering section, seem to be going out of their way to obscure accuracy.

This is an outrage. It’s wreaks of shoddy trickery - backstopped with just enough conditional language to absolve the offending journalists of responsibility for straying from factual, fair and un-biased reporting. It reaches into the realm of intentional misinformation.

It would be fine if Prof. Jones had uttered his quote without a carefully considered context. It might even be fine if people like Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente understood what “statistically significant” means in this context. (She either missed that month in First Year Statistics - or she just doesn’t care.)

A five year old knows that anything taken out of context can be contrived to support a point - and this point is painfully, purposefully and unforgiveably contrived.

I’m not posting this to argue about the science; I’m here to point the finger at journalists and ask them at what point did they decide to check their conscience at the door. At what point, Ms. Wente, is it okay to ignore the responsibility to ensure that what you write accurately reflects what your subjects intended to say?

 

Previous Comments

Well, DUH!!! You just realized this? Skeptics have been complaining about journalists for decades. And now when they don’t toe the party line your upset? Now that’s rich.

I’ve seen journalists work entirely in the same manner to propogate the AGW theory. Headline banners that speak to doom and gloom from one isolated scientific study after another, or simply a journalist’s response to an opinion can generate hysterical headlines.

Here, for example, we see comments such as “could” and “if” used in the body, but the headline projects a more definite conclusion. And the picture, completely unrelated conveys a sense of dramatic immediacy:
http://www.canada.com/technology/Melting+icecaps+damage+major+port+cities/2256410/story.html

Here, Polar Bears are going to start eating each other (!):
http://hubpages.com/hub/Polar-Bears-Endangered

And here, suddenly, every weather event happening simultaneously, is reason enough to head for the hills:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1176980,00.html

I bring these up simply to provide levity to the situation. Yes, I am skeptical of the disasterous claims made by AGW advocates, but I am more concerned with the way in which science is covered by the press and how misreporting always seems to make one side or the other look good or bad.

This piece by Margaret Wente is perfectly typical for her– trumpeting the latest denialist trope and ignoring everything else. Pure disinformation masquerading as informed discussion. See http://rexandmargaretmustgo.blogspot.com/for a response– though I couldn’t address every fallacy and distortion in that column…

I set up a petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/clim4tr/petition.html to support the right of climate scientists to work without harassment – and misquoting them in this sort of stupid way is part of a general pattern of attacking science. By all means, attack the theory by finding flaws, or proposing a better theory. But this sort of dishonesty does not advance the cause. It only delays the day when we have to do something.

The purpose of the petition? At very least, let’s show people like Phil Jones that they have community support, even if we don’t cut through to papers like the Daily Fail.

If you agree, sign the petition and tell others. Post to Twitter, and invite others to retweet. Post it on mailing lists, Facebook, etc.

Lorne Gunter has also jumped on the “no significant warming since 1995” bandwagon. What a surprise - but it gets worse - check out all his other lies:

http://deepclimate.org/2010/02/22/lorne-gunter-again-and-again/

An interesting question is where did Wente and Gunter get their alternate version of reality? The Daily Mail? Marc Morano? WattsUpWithThat? It’s a sure bet that neither actually bothered to read the original interview. http://deepclimate.org/2010/02/16/morano-sends-lies-from-uk-times-and-daily-mail-around-the-world/

Either Jones knows nothing about statistics or he is trying to mislead. You can easily have statistical significance with little data just as you can easily have no statistical significance with large amounts of data.

The volume of data does nothing to improve significance if the data itself is not correlated well with the condition being observed.

His statement is WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Deep Climate has some further thoughts about where the question about warming since 1995 came from.

http://deepclimate.org/2010/03/02/round-and-round-we-go-with-lindzen-motl-and-jones/

So it seems possible to me that a specific trap was deliberately laid for Phil Jones.

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