Let’s see the Met Office fall over themselves to link to this piece by Steve Connor in the Independent. Or do they only do that when he writes puff pieces for them when they’re under pressure? They should be pleased because Connor is firmly on message and gives them another mention in this article.
Titled ‘Letters to a heretic: An email conversation with climate change sceptic Professor Freeman Dyson‘, Connor’s piece could just as easily be a piece by Prof Dyson called ‘Responses to a scientific illiterate: An object lesson in biased media and ignorance‘. For despite being a science editor Connor seems remarkably one dimensional and out of his depth.
The best Connor can summon up is the appeal to authority, and he does so right off the bat in his by-line as he refers to Dyson as one of the few true intellectuals to be so dismissive of the global-warming consensus. From the outset Dyson set out his very high level rationale for AGW scepticism when explained (paragraph bulleted for ease of reading):
- First, the computer models are very good at solving the equations of fluid dynamics but very bad at describing the real world. The real world is full of things like clouds and vegetation and soil and dust which the models describe very poorly.
- Second, we do not know whether the recent changes in climate are on balance doing more harm than good. The strongest warming is in cold places like Greenland. More people die from cold in winter than die from heat in summer.
- Third, there are many other causes of climate change besides human activities, as we know from studying the past.
- Fourth, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is strongly coupled with other carbon reservoirs in the biosphere, vegetation and top-soil, which are as large or larger. It is misleading to consider only the atmosphere and ocean, as the climate models do, and ignore the other reservoirs.
- Fifth, the biological effects of CO2 in the atmosphere are beneficial, both to food crops and to natural vegetation. The biological effects are better known and probably more important than the climatic effects.
- Sixth, summing up the other five reasons, the climate of the earth is an immensely complicated system and nobody is close to understanding it.
But despite this explanation, Connor persists with what Dyson labels as the ‘party line’ focusing on what he sees as narrow technical issues, the premise of which he doesn’t accept. So Connor, lost for an angle of attack to discredit Dyson, returns to his appeal to authority when he churns out:
So I guess my question would be, what if you are wrong? What if all the other scientists connected with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UK Met Office, NASA, NOAA, the World Meteorological Organisation, and just about every reputable university and institute doing research on climate science, happen to be right? Isn’t it a bit risky for me and the rest of the general public to dismiss this vast canon of climate science as just “fuss” about global warming when all I’ve got to go on is a minority opinion?
This was written despite earlier references in the email exchange to Alfred Wegener (theory of continental drift) with Dyson having already pointed out that there was even a consensus against Wegener among a small group of experts. Connor clearly cannot square with the notion of a small number of outstanding scientists disagreeing with the pack. When will Connor ever ask himself and readers, what if the consensus he is so desperate to endorse happen to be wrong? History is littered with examples of consensus opinion and ‘evidence’ being undermined by actualite.
In Dyson’s response to Connor, he reasonably writes the following:
Of course I am not expecting you to agree with me. The most I expect is that you might listen to what I am saying. I am saying that all predictions concerning climate are highly uncertain. On the other hand, the remedies proposed by the experts are enormously costly and damaging, especially to China and other developing countries. On a smaller scale, we have seen great harm done to poor people around the world by the conversion of maize from a food crop to an energy crop. This harm resulted directly from the political alliance between American farmers and global-warming politicians. Unfortunately the global warming hysteria, as I see it, is driven by politics more than by science. If it happens that I am wrong and the climate experts are right, it is still true that the remedies are far worse than the disease that they claim to cure.
Then follows the equivalent of the punch that Ali never gave Foreman…
I wish that The Independent would live up to its name and present a less one-sided view of the issues.
Connor indulges himself with another lengthy dose of pseudo-intellectual nonsense attacking what he believes to have been the varying arguments of the sceptics, before a clearly bored and unimpressed Dyson extracts himself from the exchange with this telling and penetrating summation that should give those who accept at face value all they read in the media pause for thought:
Your last message just repeats the same old party line that we have many good reasons to distrust. You complain that people who are sceptical about the party line do not agree about other things. Why should we agree? The whole point of science is to encourage disagreement and keep an open mind. That is why I blame The Independent for seriously misleading your readers. You give them the party line and discourage them from disagreeing.
With all due respect, I say good-bye and express the hope that you will one day join the sceptics. Scepticism is as important for a good journalist as it is for a good scientist.
Freeman Dyson has shown that Steve Connor is a case study in the modern media phenomenon that investigative journalist Nick Davies has apparently labelled ‘churnalism’ – which is when journalists are ‘reduced to passive processors of whatever material comes their way’ (referenced earlier by Ockham’s Razor). In other words we don’t have journalists rather we have churnalists, mere cut and paste merchants who spew out press releases as news without any attempt at critical examination and questioning of the content.
It is another example of why we cannot trust the modern news media and how the public is ill served by these over rated churnos.