Monday, August 13, 2007

How to report on science: "Its not that hard".

Sharon Begley, the lead reporter on the mostly excellent Newsweek article on the global warming denial industry had an online chat last Wednesday. In it she not only showed a good grasp of the issues but had a good answer for the question of how reporters report on global warming:
White Stone, Va.: How can the responsible media best meet their "fairness/accuracy/'balance'" responsibilities in dealing with climate change deniers?

Sharon Begley: We haven't figured that out, have we? In my case, whether it's climate change or the latest fossil find, I believe that only those who do research in the given field are qualified to comment. Further, I don't think science is like political or social issues, where all views are of equal weight. To the contrary: in science, there really is a 'right' answer, tho it may take time to emerge, and journalists have a duty to tell readers what that answer is likely to be. Me, I don't do he said/she said, but delve into the arguments and see which has empirical merit. It's not that hard.

The question was an odd one, how to fairly deal with deniers (?), but the answer was a very good one on how to report science. Indeed it is not that hard. The deniers, even the few legitimate scientists like Lindzen, don't have the facts on their side. So you don't have to give equal column inches to their "view". I'm not familiar with Ms. Begley's work so I don't know if she's always been this good in reporting on global warming. But why did her fellow reporters do so badly until recently?

The best example of how to deal with deniers is the Newsweek article itself. Ignore them on stories about global warming, since they only lie about it, and instead write articles on their motives for and history of lying. I'm sure there's more great stories there. As Gavin Schmidt recently speculated in a post on Realclimate:
However, there is clearly a latent and deeply felt wish in some sectors for the whole problem of global warming to be reduced to a statistical quirk or a mistake.

Yeah. Why is that? C'mon reporters! Dig!

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