Should Fairfax — or other media publishers — give a platform for climate change denialist opinion pieces?
The most recent example is Fairfax publishing a piece by John McLean, a member of the International Climate Science Coalition.
In the opinion piece, McLean repeats various lines designed to create uncertainty about the recent report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and to impute a sinister motive on IPCC members of political and scientific deception.
He states that the IPCC “still hasn’t produced credible evidence to support that claim” that “anthropogenic emissions of CO2 were causing significant and dangerous climate change”, and that reports are “modified” to better align it with the thinking of a “hard core group of IPCC supporters” and governments.
McLean even brings up the discredited bogeyman of “Climategate” as evidence that a “clique of scientists has in the past sought to control the material cited by these reports.”
What is the International Climate Science Coalition?
It’s website claims that it aims to “move debate away from “implementation of costly and ineffectual ‘climate control’ measures” and “publicising the repercussions of misguided plans to ‘solve the climate crisis’. This includes, but is not be limited to, the dangerous impacts of attempts to replace conventional energy sources with wind turbines, solar power, biofuels and other ineffective and expensive energy sources.”
Heading the ICSC is a former Canadian energy company public relations consultant, and the ICSC earlier this year released a report attacking the United Nations climate report alongside ultra-conservative climate denialist group Heartland Institute.
Amongst its policy advisory board sits Christopher Monckton, international climate crank, and other scientists involved have a chequered history with tobacco apologist groups.
The piece by McLean is part of a long and highly successful attempt by denialist groups to create confusion and doubt.
These groups, like the ICSC that McLean represents, have links to fossil fuel industry backed institutes and foundations. The role that the ICSC plays as part of the climate denialist machine is explained in this DeSmog Blog article from earlier in 2013.
It is now widely documented that fossil fuel corporations have followed in the footsteps of the tobacco industry in creating faux-scientific organisations to attack the mounting scientific evidence pointing to fossil fuels’ principal contribution to global warming.
The question as to whether news publishers should publish climate denialist views was recently canvassed after the Reddit /r/science forum banned content that promoted climate change denialism.
The reason for this, according to Reddit science moderator Nathan Allen, is that climate change denialists:
could not or would not improve their demeanor. These problematic users were not the common “internet trolls” looking to have a little fun upsetting people. Such users are practically the norm on reddit. These people were true believers, blind to the fact that their arguments were hopelessly flawed, the result of cherry-picked data and conspiratorial thinking. They had no idea that the smart-sounding talking points from their preferred climate blog were, even to a casual climate science observer, plainly wrong. They were completely enamored by the emotionally charged and rhetoric-based arguments of pundits on talk radio and Fox News.
As a scientist myself, it became clear to me that the contrarians were not capable of providing the science to support their “skepticism” on climate change. The evidence simply does not exist to justify continued denial that climate change is caused by humans and will be bad. There is always legitimate debate around the cutting edge of research, something we see regularly. But with climate change, science that has been established, constantly tested, and reaffirmed for decades was routinely called into question.
Over and over, solid peer-reviewed science was insulted as corrupt, while blog posts from fossil-fuel-funded groups were cited as objective fact. Worst of all, they didn’t even get the irony of quoting oil-funded blogs that called university scientists biased.
The Fairfax piece by John McLean unfortunately fits the description given by Allen.
The byline given for McLean is “author of three peer reviewed papers on climate” and as “an expert reviewer for the latest IPCC report”.
The fantastic thing about peer reviewed papers is that when they contain errors or questionable findings, expert peers note them. This is the case with McLean’s “peered reviewed papers”. However, McLean apparently is unwilling to admit mistakes:
McLean has followed the example of fellow fake skeptic Patrick Michaels, who we recently saw has been unwilling to admit his obvious and indisputable errors in distorting the research of James Hansen and colleagues.
His byline, written in such a way, it gives McLean a credibility he simply does not possess.
While I was in Canada recently, I was interviewed on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation alongside Ken Green from the conservative Fraser Institute. Ken Green was introduced as a reviewer of the IPCC report as well. Ken is not a climate scientist, so has not special expertise in this field.
While “reviewer” gives the impression that the person was involved in the process of writing or checking the report, in fact, it just means that the person read the IPCC report.
John McLean had no role in reviewing the IPCC report, other than as someone who read it, and then subsequently commented on it.
Should Fairfax have published McLean’s opinion piece?
When Fairfax saw mining billionaire Gina Rinehart buy a large stake in the company, the chairman Roger Corbett upheld the board’s support for the charter of editorial independence. This was opposed at the time by Rinehart, although Rinehart board appointee Jack Cowin signed it.
Coincidentally, Rinehart is a big supporter of ICSC policy advisor Christopher Monckton and in a 2011 interview expressed her disbelief that “a small amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere” could lead to global warming.
The Rinehart shareholding controversy even saw Fairfax mastheads launch a new slogan “Independent. Always.”
A part of the charter is that editors behave according to the Australian Journalist Association’s code of ethics, the first standard being that journalists:
Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis.
At the same time that Reddit /r/science decided to ban climate denialism, the L.A. Times also decided to introduce an editorial policy for its letters pages. Editor Paul Thornton wrote:
I’m no expert when it comes to our planet’s complex climate processes or any scientific field. Consequently, when deciding which letters should run among hundreds on such weighty matters as climate change, I must rely on the experts — in other words, those scientists with advanced degrees who undertake tedious research and rigorous peer review.
And those scientists have provided ample evidence that human activity is indeed linked to climate change. Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists — said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn’t whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us.
Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.
One of the arguments that I have seen against the notion that climate denialists should be given a media platform is that without it, there would be no “balance” in reports on climate change.
However, surely newspapers should aim for objectivity rather than balance, especially if one “side” is just plain inaccurate.
After all, what appears on newspaper opinion pages is a decision made by editors. Newspaper editors decide every day what merits inclusion in those pages; completely fanciful views are effectively banned through the decision not to publish rubbish.
Is the responsibility of major media publishers on honesty, accuracy and objectivity?
That seems to be the view of the L.A. Times, and of Reddit.
Does Fairfax have the same responsibility? Should it have published the McLean opinion piece?
What do you think?
Why is the Guardian always on the defence? Why are they continuously attempting to stifle the voice of tens of thousands of Scientists who have a different viewpoint.
This particular Guardian hit-piece was in response to…
Alex, your article is riddled with mistakes about us. I have written a letter to the editor to correct your mistakes and suggest that, before attacking us, you should have simply contacted me to ask if what you read on DeSmogBlog was actually true. Let’s hope they have the integrity to actually publish the letter.
Tom Harris, B. Eng., M. Eng. (Mech.) Executive Director, International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) Ottawa, Ontario Canada.
Is the Guardian trying to stifle contrary opinions from being published?
What the Guardian doesn’t want you to know: January 1st, 2014 – IPP Silently Slashes it’s Global Warming Predictions in the AR5 Final Draft:
They’re being published anyway – sorry Guardian “News” – you’re not the police of the globe – at least not yet!
FYI: The Guardian newspaper prides itself on having their retirement in Green and Global Warming stocks.