DeSmog and University of BC Panel Discussion on Global Warming in the media

Hey all you Vancouver DeSmog fans, come join us for what will be a great panel discussion on global warming and the state of the media in North America.

Special out-of-town guests include Ross Gelbspan, DeSmog writer and author of The Boiling Point and Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and the soon to be released Storm World.

Other panelists include eSmogBlog co-founder Jim Hoggan, Hadi Dowlatabadi, UBC Professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and Kirk LaPointe, Managing editor of the Vancouver Sun .

Here's the details of this FREE event that is open to the public:

Date: Tuesday, March 5, 2007

Time: 6pm to 8pm

Location: UBC Robson Square Theatre, 800 Robson Street, Vancouver

If anyone needs any further information, call me at 778-773-0281


Yes, definitely you should upload a podcast for those of us not in Van.

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There is an overwhelming bias today in the media regarding the issue of global warming. In the past two years, this bias has bloomed into an irrational hysteria. Every natural disaster that occurs is now linked with global warming, no matter how tenuous or impossible the connection. As a result, the public has become vastly misinformed.” ( Assignment ) and ( Essay Writing )

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Not much of a “discussion” when all the panelists agree with each other.

Instead of calling it a “panel discussion”, why not call it what it really is – a good ol’ fashioned circle-jerk.

Anonymous: Why would you expect the guy from the Vancouver Sun to agree with people who dislike the media coverage?

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Keep the vulgarity out or I'll drop your ISP. We enjoy the dissenting views, in fact they keep us quite amused, but low-brow garbage will not be tolerated.

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In case anyone else was at all confused, the discussion is tonight (march 6).

I wish I could have got my question out in fewer sentences. I didn’t think Mooney’s answer was very good. But overall I was very impressed. I’m thinking of providing a short summary in this space (hopefully I’m better writing than speaking).
In case anyone agreed with Anon. above that this would be an agreement-fest, you may be surprised to know that Hadi Dowlatibadi receives about $100k from Exxon-Mobil. But the discussion got beyond contradiction and there were some valuable (and novel?) observations made. I think that’s something that some who visit here (who seem to think conflict is the only way to progress) might find surprising.

It was really well-attended with lots of great dialogue. Thanks to everyone that attended and aired their views!

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I just thought I’d give a quick review of what I think happened at this event, but I won’t go into the questions that were asked after the presentations. It’s only the short presentations that were given by each of the panelists that I will summarise here.

Jim Hoggan went first and had some technical problems. He spoke a little bit about this blog and George Monbiot’s “Heat.” He talked about lies masquerading as science and PR front groups masquerading as real grass roots groups. He laid out the example of the lie that some large proportion of glaciers in the world were growing rather than melting, and how Monbiot (I guess) traced the lie back to Fred Singer’s website where an “overzealous employee” (Singer’s wife) cited the journal Science as a source for the lie. There was no such article but Singer left the lie on his website for 1.5 years after admitting that the info was wrong. Probably the most important thing Hoggan did was show Naomi Oreskes’ results in contrast to results in the “prestige press” – no scientific articles challenging the consensus in the Oreskes study of peer-reviewed scientific journals, but a high proportion of print to dissenting opinions in the study of popular media. Good start; would have been better if the computer/slide projector worked properly. Jim also put up something on the FrameWorks Institute, which I didn’t get.

Next was Ross Gelbspan. He had a lot to say, and no slides. He said he was not an environmentalist, but a journalist. As such, he could see how environmental/science reporters could fail to “follow the money” and see PR for what it was. I guess that was early on, because he then went on to say that the false “balance” portrayed in the popular media more recently was more a product of laziness. Extreme weather events and money to cover those events have increased, but quite early on when the media attempted to link these events to global warming, they were threatened with lost advertising dollars. He said the press should be our early warning system. He also said that this issue should pervade many areas of reportage (not be “ghetto-ized” as an aside). He lamented that we see more self-help, celebrity crap and less news as marketing takes over the popular media. You’ll have to listen for yourself to see if I got that right.

Hadi Dowlatibadi started by saying he receives ~100k (or 10%) of his funding from Exxon. He implied that some of his work had been treated as invalid because of that funding, but he made the point that he receives a lot more funding from government that also has done diddly squat on the issue, so really that should be the main reason (facetiously) for disregarding his work. He made the common point that there isn’t really such a thing as objectivity and that science, like selling newspapers, is a business. And then he cited an interesting example: scientists who release their research to the press prior to peer-review are more successful. No citation there, unfortunately. He mentioned that Al Gore had some US gov’t researcher fired because he made a figure showing how Dengue (tropical disease) was very common in the border states of Mexico but not in Texas (despite more mosquitos in Texas), and despite the lack of climatological difference between the two locations. Again, not much evidence except for the figure presented. (Who was the researcher? Why are there more mosquitos in Texas if the climate is the same?) Finally he mentioned that it’s hard to publish against the consensus. Example: satellites when they seemed to refute AGW weren’t in the peer-reviewed media very much. I thought he did a good job but I wish he provided more evidence.

Chris Mooney started with some funny stuff that won’t be obvious on audio. He showed a figure explaining how political events shape the coverage of global warming in the popular press, not the actual global warming or science of it. An interesting example was stories about hurricanes and global warming in 2005 and 2006 – there were more stories in New York Times and Washington Post in 2006 despite far fewer hurricanes in the US. He talked about the phony balance a bit, and attributed it a bias toward conflict and sensationalism for the purpose of increasing sales.

Finally there was Kirk Lapointe from the Vancouver Sun, and he was impressive. I say that because I went there thinking that the Sun gave too much print to dissenting voices and overblew the economic consequences of reducing CO2 emissions. At the end I thought more highly of the paper (and several other panelists indicated that from what they heard that they might subscribe). I also say it because he touched on topics that haven’t been discussed much (in what I read). Let’s see, he said extreme weather put AGW into the media’s lap; he said that Stephane Dion and Rona Ambrose (Canadian politics) elevated the issue in Canadian media (didn’t mention Elizabeth May from the Green Party, though he should have); and he said that the popular media are in the middle of popular opinion (and that’s where he says it should be expected to be) rather than leading it. He thinks the media are getting better on this issue, but he also has some worries. First, he says that TV was instrumental in getting AGW into the popular consciousness because of the visuals, but with everyone getting on-side now (less conflict), interest is bound to decrease. Second, and related, covering the science of climate change is difficult enough, now as we move into policy and implications (economic, geopolitical, social, etc), it’s going to be more perplexing, further ensuring that the issue won’t be well covered on TV. He seemed to indicate that surviving print media are going to have to target a more sophisticated audience in the future in order to cover this story (and I took from this statement that regular Joes will probably be left out ‘in the cold’).

That’s it for my summary. I hope it’s fairly accurate and that someone can find it useful.

If I can figure out how to weigh in here… I was in Vancouver and attended that panel discussion. Yes, it was good. Hoggan’s talk was particularly excellent. But I felt that there were some unexplained claims, almost red herrings. Hadi Dowlatibadi’s implication that there was some kind of conspiracy among scientists or science editors to prevent publication of perceived (at the time) counter-evidence from satellites was not supported by the evidence or the history of the actual events. If you really talk to science editors, they don’t suppress papers that are counter to current perceptions, if they are well-founded - it is obviously to their benefit to take good counter-claims when they can get them. The claim that science was a business to get grants also seemed counter to the evidence, because a large proportion of high quality scientific findings come from little or no funding, and resulted in no further funding. Non-scientists either are not aware of that, or forget it, so we need to be clear. The claim that scientists who talk to the media before putting a bit of information in a peer-reviewed journal article is naive. Much of science that benefits society (and there is no other reason for or value of science, than benefit to human society) never ends up in peer-reviewed papers, and some is incremental and can be discussed along the way. I’ve had around 300 media interviews or articles of all kinds, and many like me have. We don’t hold back information until there is enough to interest an editor in the highly competitive world of journals, although the odd hot item or shocking outcome in medicine or other issue is usually held back. But it is not a rule of science ethics, by any means.

I also felt that Kirk Lapointe’s comment that more and more scientists are becoming “shameless self-promoters” to be a mysterious epithet that doesn’t seem to be related to an actual trend. Maybe I don’t understand what he means by “shameless”, or maybe scientists seem unique by discussing their own findings, or attaching their names to something they write.

There is a related article here that is interesting:

See the section entitled: “A Tale of Two Medias: The Strand of the Denial Industry”

Dan (Johnson) (since there are so many Dan’s, Dano’s, etc., posting)

Bad eyes. I meant

The claim that scientists who talk to the media before putting a bit of information in a peer-reviewed journal article ARE UNETHICAL, is naive.

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This is the second time I have heard Kirk Lapointe speak publicly. In both instances he has referred to the science community in derogatorie and conspiracy theory type terms. He does not provide relevant examples, references or context. I believe that this concerning bias also shows in his sophmoric coverage on subjects of weight in the Vancouver Sun.

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Having forums like this with regards to global warming would be a great help in producing a progressive green world. It really annoying to know that many studies is foretelling the effect of this climate for us into the near future. The events that are happening even right now are really scary! Mike Mayo is known for ruffling feathers wherever he goes. He takes a strictly conservative stance on finance and banking. Now the stock market slowing and lenders in need of payday loans is being blamed on Mike Mayo and his harsh criticism of some of the world’s largest banks.  He has slapped an under performing tag on banks like JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, BB&T Corp, KeyCorp, and Bancorp and he has advised any investors to sell their shares immediately.

Interesting way to look at; for the most part, I agree with you. It would be great if got more post like this. I appreciate it.

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That’s a great info. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to see the future discussion on these points.

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