Truth and the Oped Pages

Thank goodness for John Abraham—because he does so well what no one should have to do.

That’s my reaction after reading this recent exchange in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in which Abraham—a co-founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response team and a professor at the University of St. Thomas—dismantles an array of misleading claims about climate science from one Jason Lewis, a syndicated radio talk show host.

Lewis repeats the “hide the decline” line from “Climategate” and thoroughly misrepresents what it means. He incorrectly asserts  that global warming concerns are based on “computer models” rather than data. He claims that following 1998, temperatures “may actually be cooling,” and so forth.

These claims are wrong—as is the general impression left by the column that the Earth isn’t warming, and climate scientists don’t know what they’re doing–and it isn’t simply a matter of opinion. Abraham scores all the intellectual points in this exchange, but I can’t help thinking, this is not how it’s supposed to go.

A few posts back I highlighted new research suggesting that “on the one hand, on the other hand” coverage of fact-based political divides leaves citizens in a postmodern funk, uncertain what the truth is and whether they are capable of discerning it. It’s yet another reason why journalists have a responsibility to serve as arbiters of factual disputes—rather than thinking their job is done if they let one side say the sky is pink, but then provide a counter-quote from an expert saying that in fact it’s blue.

What goes for journalists ought to go for op-ed pages. While it might be more difficult to design a study to test the effect on readers of an exchange like that in the Star Tribune, I would guess it is the same—making them feel helpless about discerning where the truth lies.

But it’s not just that: Oped pages, too, have a journalistic responsibility not to print misinformation, as they have done by running Lewis’s column. And just providing a contrary “opinion” to counter that misinformation isn’t enough.

Lewis’s column should, at minimum, be officially corrected—and across the board, oped pages should put in place mechanisms to rigorously fact check pieces making contrarian scientific claims in politically contested areas, like the climate debate.

In a range of ways, the norms of journalism simply have not kept up with the kind of misinformation that circulates today–or with realities of human psychology. Journalists have abdicated, for too long, their responsibility to tell it like it is, and only like it is–in all parts of the paper. They’ve forgotten that most basic of distinctions: Between fact and opinion.


chris, you are no different than Lewis. the problem today is both sides (all 97% of yours and 3% of mine-hopefully you got that)do the same thing. Lewis evidently got the hide the decline thing wrong. does Abraham say what it was in reference to? no, just that Lewis got it wrong. Disengenuous at best but there is a good chance he doesnt know. there is NO chance you dont but do you see reason to explain what the divergence problem is? no, you make it like he got it wrong and there is no issue. dishonest at best. the kettle calling the pot black. and on and on and on. is it getting warmer? you know what lewis was referring to yet just claim that it is wrong. perhaps he was talking about that we havent seen any warming in the past….pick a time…years and not the general trend. was 1998 the warmest year on record? you know the real answer yet you just do what everyone else does. the funny thing is you write about how bad it is to do it yet continue to do the same.

so chris still waiting to hear…..btw, when you decide to answer what the ‘hide the decline’ issue is about make sure you mention that it now looks like they forgot, or the dog ate that part of the graph or they didnt have room on their computers to keep all of those records, anyhow…forgot to put in the measurements prior to 1550. they should have been plotted to 1400. was it a ‘he said she said’ kind of thing? or maybe it just was more proof that tree ring data just doesn’t jive. so remember: “There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” (desmogblog)

If you had bothered to read the 186 (and counting) comments on Abraham’s rebuttal, you wouldn’t be so congratularly. A short rebuttal needs to grab the most egregious lie in referenced article and thoroughly ring its neck. Saying “No he is wrong” just doesn’t cut it. To 301,800,000 Americans Abraham is no more of a figure of authority than Jake next door and no more believable. I would put the effectiveness of the rebuttal at o the same as the number of minds he changed. Not ONE freaking reference to a study or scientist or number!!!