Climate Scientists Canceling Their New York Times Subscription Over Hiring of Climate Denialist Bret Stephens

A New York Times defense of its hiring of a climate science denialist as a leading columnist is pushing high-profile climate scientists to cancel their subscriptions.

Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research in Germany, is the latest scientist to write publicly to the New York Times detailing his reasons for cancelling his subscription. 

The NYT has hired former Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens as a writer and deputy editorial page editor.

Stephens wrote several columns while at the WSJ disparaging climate science and climate scientists, which he has collectively described as a “religion” while claiming rising temperatures may be natural.

The NYT has been defending its decision publicly, saying that “millions of people” agree with Stephens on climate science and just because their readers don’t like his opinions, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heard.

But the NYT defense has angered scientists.

In his letter, published in full below, Rahmstorf accused the NYT of “unbearable hypocrisy” for its hiring of Stephens while running a marketing campaign based on “truth.” Rahmstorf has said he will be giving his money to ClimateFeedback, an online project where climate scientists check and rate the scientific credibility of media articles.

Wrote Rahmstorf: “The Times has denounced the critics of its decision as “left-leaning”. This is an insult to me and was the final straw to cancel my subscription. There is no left-leaning or right-leaning climate science, just as there is no republican or democrat theory of gravity. I have several good climate scientist friends who have been lifelong republicans. Their understanding of climate change does not differ from mine, because it is informed by the evidence.”

Rahmstorf said Stephens was guilty of repeating falsehoods spread by fossil fuel–funded groups.

Stephens has also been defending his position, telling Vox that he was “not a climate denier” but he still had doubts about whether a warming trend would continue.

After learning of the hiring of Stephens, climate scientist Professor Michael Mann, of Penn State University, had initially given the New York Times some breathing space.

But he later took to Twitter to say that the NYT’s subsequent defense of the controversial hire had pushed him to cancel his subscription.

The @NYTimes hiring of climate denier didn't lead me to cancel subscription. Public editor's offensive response did,” wrote Mann.

Professor Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institute for Science, was one of the first to publicly cancel his NYT subscription, saying it was a “sad day for the Gray Lady” when it decided to give away valuable column inches to a writer who had shown a “wanton disregard for the truth.”

Others have been using a Twitter hashtag #showyourcancellation to show they have pulled their subscription money from the NYT, although the newspaper has claimed only a few people had actually cancelled.

An online petition calling for the NYT to rescind its offer to hire Stephens has now gained almost 25,000 signatures in the last seven days.

Please join us in calling on The New York Times to rescind its offer to Bret Stephens and in his place hire a columnist committed to advancing his political position without using lies to support his argument,” says the petition.

Read Professor Stefan Rahmstorf’s letter to the New York Times.

To the executive editor, The New York Times

27 April 2017, via email

Dear editor,

I am a climate researcher, professor for physics of the oceans and have worked for eight years as advisor to the German government on global change issues. I regret to have to tell you that hereby I cancel my subscription to the New York Times in the wake of you hiring columnist Bret Stephens. Let me explain my reasons.

When Stephens was hired I wrote to you in protest about his spreading of untruths about climate change, saying “I enjoy reading different opinions from my own, but this is not a matter of different opinions.” I did not cancel then but decided to wait and see.

However, the subsequent public defense by the New York Times of the hiring of Stephens has convinced me that the problem at the Times goes much deeper than a single error of judgement. It concerns its attitude towards seeking the truth.

The Times argued that “millions agree with Stephens.” It made me wonder what’s next – when are you hiring a columnist claiming that the sun and the stars revolve around the Earth, because millions agree with that?

My heroes are Copernicus, Galilei and Kepler, who sought the scientific truth based on observational evidence and defended it against the powerful authority of the church in Rome, at great personal cost.

Had the New York Times existed then – would you have seen it as part of your mission to insult and denigrate these scientists, as Stephens has done with climate scientists?

The Times has denounced the critics of its decision as “left-leaning”. This is an insult to me and was the final straw to cancel my subscription. There is no left-leaning or right-leaning climate science, just as there is no republican or democrat theory of gravity. I have several good climate scientist friends who have been lifelong republicans. Their understanding of climate change does not differ from mine, because it is informed by the evidence.

Quite unlike Stephens’ views on climate change, which run counter to all evidence. He is simply repeating falsehoods spread by various “think tanks” funded by the fossil fuel industry.

In December 2015, Stephens called global warming “imperceptible” and the Paris climate summit a “meeting to combat a notional enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage”. My colleagues and I have analysed 150,000 temperature time series from around the world, finding that monthly heat records occur five times more often now as a result of global warming than in an unchanging climate (Coumou et al, published in Climatic Change 2013).

One of those record-hot months was August 2003 in western Europe. 70,000 people died due to this heat wave. Was global warming “imperceptible” to these people and the ones they left behind? On 15 August 2003, the New York Times reported: “So many bodies were delivered in recent weeks to the Paris morgue that refrigerated tents had to be erected outside the city to accommodate them all.” Was that just a “notional” problem?

Stephens doubts that global warming will continue, claiming that in hundred years “temperatures will be about the same”. That is a shockingly ignorant statement, ignoring over a century of climate science. Our emissions increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, it is higher now than in at least 3 million years. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, as demonstrated first in the year 1859 by physicist John Tyndall. CO2 traps heat – more CO2 means a warmer climate. That is basic physics, borne out by the history of climate. Denying these well-established facts is about as smart as claiming the Earth is flat, and best left to cranks, ideologues and fossil fuel lobbyists.

Stephens has claimed that “in the 1970s we were supposed to believe in global cooling.” That’s an age-old climate denier myth. It would have cost Stephens just 60 seconds with Google to find out it is wrong. (Try and google “Did scientists predict an ice age in the 1970s”.) But Stephens is clearly not interested in evidence or seeking the truth about matters.

Last Friday, you sent me an email with the subject: “The truth is more important now than ever.” It made me cringe seeing this in my inbox. It said “thank you for supporting news without fear or favor.” The hypocrisy of that is unbearable, and I will support your newspaper no more. Instead, I will give the money to ClimateFeedback.org, a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. It is much better invested there.

Best regards,

Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf

Main image: The office of the New York Times. Credit: Flickr/Scott Beale (CC BY-SA 2.0)