Roughly, like this: Continue reading How to cancel your New York Times subscription
Honestly, it is hard to have an honest conversation about science with science obstructors or deniers. That is how you know you are conversing with a denier. You try to have the conversation, and it gets derailed by cherry picking, misdirection, faux misunderstanding, or lies.
I don’t care how far a person is from understanding a scientific concept or finding. I don’t care how complex and nuanced such a finding is. As long as the science is in an area that I comfortable with as a scientist, educator, and science communicator, I’ll take up the challenge of transforming scientific mumbo jumbo into normal descriptive language or an appropriate story, so the person gets from not having a clue to getting the basic idea. That’s for regular people having an honest conversation, which generally includes students.
But that is often not how it goes.
A common theme in the non-honest conversation is false balance. The fact that there is an opposing view, regardless of its merits or lack of merit, is sufficient to insist that that view be on the table and given a fair hearing. Someone recently said that global warming is not real because CO2 molecules are the same temperature as the other molecules in the atmosphere, an utterly irrelevant thing meant to confuse and misdirect. That statement is not a required part of an honest conversation, it is utterly non-honest, and should be ignored as nefarious yammering. But, we often see media giving equal weight to such yammering, ignoring the motives behind it.
You already know that the New York Times has hired an OpEd columnist who has a history of denial of science, including climate science. He also has a history of analyses of social or political things that has offended a lot of people.
When pressed to reconsider, by the scientific community widespread, the New York Times responded that lots of people agree with this columnist about climate change, therefore his hire is legit. Here, the New York Times is guilty of false balance, of giving credence to senseless yammering as though it was the same as real science.
I personally don’t like the idea of having a lot of far right wing (or even medium right wing) columnists in a publication that I pay for, so I don’t subscribe to such publications. But, major national media outlets are going to have a range of columnists and commenters, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. That is why I am happy to subscribe to the Washington Post even though there are a few right wing columnists there.
But here’s the thing. A columnist with a hard right viewpoint is one thing. An Editorial Staff that allows columnists, of any political stripe, to abuse reality and misstate facts about science in order to make a political point is incompetent.
Readers should expect editors to strictly enforce the concept that columnists are very much entitled to their own opinions, but in no way entitled to their own facts. The New York Times is making the mistake of confusing objections to this columnist with an attempt to silence a particular point of view. That is not what it is. Rather, the objections are to the New York Times editorial policy, on the OpEd page, supporting alt-facts.
The facts at risk of denigration and dismissal here are widely accepted and established, usually. In some cases, there are uncertainties that are dishonestly exploited and incorrectly characterized, which is pretty much the same thing as trying to have one’s opinions and one’s facts at the same time: not valid commentary and bad journalistic practice. This particular columnist has exploited the fact that there is variation in nature to assert that there is variation in scientific opinion. This is a misreading of both nature and science, coming from someone who knows little about either, and that misreading is being sanctioned by the people who run the New York Times.
I don’t care, and I think most don’t care, if he New York Times has a right winger like Bret Stephens on the OpEd staff. But if the editors of that section of this news outlet allow this individual or any columnist to misrepresent important aspects of reality, as he very much did in his very first column just out, then that editorial staff is acting unprofessionally and should probably look for a job at one of those entertainment outlets that disguises itself as “news.”
I’m pretty sure that at this time the editors at the New York Times do not understand this distinction. Keep your conservative columnist, Grey Lady, that’s up to you. Some will like that, some will not. But do know that you can’t keep being thought of as the paper of record if you allow frequent and unchecked abuse of facts and reality within that discourse. That is just a bad idea, beneath such a widely respected publication, and I and others expect it to stop soon.
The New York Times
Elizabeth Spayed, Public Editor
I am writing to express my concern for the addition of Bret Stephens to the NYT team as a columnist.
I don’t expect a columnist who seemingly writes about everything to be wrong about nothing. But the Gray Lady should, at the very least, expect a columnist to know something about something.
Stephens doesn’t simply express opinions that are not popular in certain, many, circles. He attempts to support his opinions with what we now seem to be calling alt-facts.
For example, his opinion about the importance of climate change is that we don’t know what climate change will really do, if it will really do anything, or when. He supports this idea by asserting that there is too much uncertainty in the science for us to know.
Elizabeth, you must know that science is nothing if it is not the study of variation in nature and its causes and properties. While the public face of many scientific findings is often the trend line showing the relationship between two variables, much of the science itself is about the uncertainty around that trend line; measuring, understanding the limits and extent of, and grappling with uncertainty is what scientists do.
As a scientist (not a climate scientist, though I’ve published in that area) and a science communicator, I can tell you that when Mr. Stephens makes the claim that there is too much uncertainty about anthropogenic climate change to say much about it, he is simply wrong. He does not know the science, he has made up this thing that looks like a fact, and he has used it to buttress absurd arguments, and you, the New York Times, is now set to be a vehicle for passing this misinformation on to the general public.
Many of my friends and colleagues have unsubscribed to the New York Times over this. I have not. Rather, I was just about to subscribe, as part of my overall effort to support good journalism in the Trump Era. In the past few weeks I’ve subscribed to my local paper, my regional paper, and one national paper (Washington Post) and I was just about to add the New York Times to that list. But now I can’t ethically do so, even though much of your other science coverage is pretty good, and even tough I grew up on the New York Times Science Section (remember that?).
But this probable drop in subscription is nothing to you, because trends in the business side of the NYT operation are much larger and more complex than many, if not most, of the world’s climate scientists dropping off your list over the addition of Bret Stephens to your staff. The bigger problem is this: The New York Times editorial staff has lost our respect.
I look forward to your prompt and decisive attention to this manner, and the quick repair of the mistake the NYT has made.
Greg Laden, PhD.
I’ve been meaning to write a letter to the New York Times I just wrote this letter to the New York Times about their very wrong decision to add a climate science denier to their editorial staff. When they were recently challenged about this idea, the response was, paraphrasing, “millions of people believe this man that climate change is not for real.”
Coming from the New York Times I find that deeply disturbing and overwhelmingly offensive.
Anyway, I haven’t written my letter yet, but my friend and colleague Stefan Rahmstorf, climate scientist, did, and he says it is OK to post it. So, here is Stefan’s letter:
To the executive editor
The New York Times
27 April 2017, via email
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.
Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf
The New York Times has a history of supporting a certain degree of climate change science denial, while at the same time supporting some very good journalism in this area. Just now, the Times jumped over one big giant shark by adding Bret Stephens to its opinion page staff.
Stephens comes to the Times from the Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch anti-science rag you are all familiar with.
In 2011, he wrote,
Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.
As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term “climate change” when thermometers don’t oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other “deniers.” And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit.
“OK,” you say, “That was like six years ago. Maybe he stopped being a jerk since then.”
Nope. According to Joe Romm,
…in 2015, he wrote that climate change?—?along with hunger in America, campus rape statistics, and institutionalized racism— are “imaginary enemies.”
“OK,” you say, “That guy is even more of a jerk now than he was then!”
Romm also quotes climate scientist Michael Mann on Stephens’ hiring.
“sadly, the New York Times itself seems to have fallen victim to this malady, hiring one one of the most notorious climate change deniers, Bret Stephens, to promote climate denial propaganda on the once-hallowed pages of the Grey Lady.”
Media Matters has assembled a number of examples in which Stephens mislead readers on a number of matters including climate science. For example:
So global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we’re going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place.
As for the United States, Gallup reports that global warming now ranks sixth on the list of Americans’ top 10 environmental concerns. My wager is that within a few years “climate change” will exercise global nerves about as much as overpopulation, toxic tampons, nuclear winters, ozone holes, killer bees, low sperm counts, genetically modified foods and mad cows do today.
Something is going to have to take its place.
The world is now several decades into the era of environmental panic. The subject of the panic changes every few years, but the basic ingredients tend to remain fairly constant. A trend, a hypothesis, an invention or a discovery disturbs the sense of global equilibrium. Often the agent of distress is undetectable to the senses, like a malign spirit. A villain—invariably corporate and right-wing—is identified. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/6/10; Media Matters, 4/6/10]
My friends at DeSmog Blog, a central clearing house for information on climate science deniers, will probably do something as well. I’ll link to it here should that happen.
First, Michele Obama’s full speech earlier today:
You know two news outlets have produced confirming evidence of actual sexual assault by Donald Trump. So, naturally, Trump intends to sue.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s threats to The New York Times for reporting allegations that he committed sexual assault are legally far-fetched and provide a troubling portrait of how a Trump administration would handle the press, according to experts interviewed by Media Matters.
Several experts tell Media Matters his latest threats of legal action against the Times are further evidence of what would likely be a problematic relationship between the press and Trump if he were to be elected president.
“It just confirms how difficult he would be with the press and how he would view the press as an enemy,” George Freeman, Media Law Resource Center executive director and former New York Times assistant legal counsel, said about the latest attack. “It would be a very contentious relationship in all probability, particularly in that his whole character is built on beating up anyone who attacks him.”
Freeman of the Media Law Resource Center called the legal claim “a pure loser.”
“I think it’s all bluster,” he said. “But it’s not surprising given that he is always threatening litigation. As a presidential candidate, he would have to prove actual malice. … It seems to me it would be virtually impossible for Trump to even come close to showing the Times had serious doubts about the claims of groping when the women seem so credible and it was confirmed and substantiated by many other people they had spoken to.”
Read more about that here.
The New York Times put the news of 2014 being the warmest year on their front page, in the precious space known as “Above The Fold.” But, the venerable paper of record continues to give credence to science denialists by calling them “skeptics,” and continues to imply that there really is a debate between consensus based science and politically motivated denial of science. To underscore this point I created the above graphic.
I would also like to congratulate the Washington Post for putting this piece by Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney on the front of section A1.
And, TIME has also placed the latest AGW news in a prominent place, and explicitly puts deniers in their place: A Bad Day for Climate Change Deniers … And the Planet. (Hat tip: Paul Douglas)
“Simply assuming that this is an interesting controversy that we should check in on occasionally is not correct. The survival of human civilization is at risk. The news media should be making this existential crisis the No. 1 topic they cover.”
That was Vice President Al Gore being quoted in a New York Times piece by the newspaper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan. Sullivan’s article, “After Changes, How Green Is The Times?” examines environmental reporting since the Times dismantled its environmental reporting facility last January. Sullivan’s analysis, which seems fair, actually shows the Times as not having entirely dropped the ball, but it is clear that coverage of environmental issues since the Time scrapped its special team (called, ironically, a “pod”) to have diminished in both quantity and depth. Environmental issues have become more numerous and more important nearly every month over the last few years, and as Vice President Gore notes, there is no longer any question that these issues are existential. Seeing a drop in environmental reporting at America’s Most Important Newspaper now would be analogous to seeing a drop in reporting of World War Two after the invasion of Normandy. It is impossible, in fact, to see the New York Times being relatively blasé about the environment as something other than bad management or sloppy journalism. Seeing this sort of thing sends one to Wikipedia to find out who owns the newspaper. So I did. I was surprised. Murdock and Big Oil don’t own them, they don’t own stakes in coal mines, nothing. The company that owns the Times seems to also own the Boston Red Sox. That doesn’t explain much.
Consider for a moment what some of the most influential or important news stories have been. Looking at “top ten stories” internet lists for just 2010-2012, here’s what people have listed as the most important stories (I’ve added the term at the beginning of the phrase to place them into categories):
- Environment: World flooding
- Environment: Deepwater Horizon
- Environment: Mass animal deaths
- Environment: Ajka Alumina Plant Accident
- Environment: Superstorm Sandy
- Nature: Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull
- Nature/Animals: Bedbugs take over
- Energy: Copiapo Mining Accident
- Leaks: Wikileaks
- Leaks: Snowden
- Sports: Death of Nodar Kumaritashvili
- Crime: Capture of the Grim Sleeper
- Crime: Sandy Hook
- Crime: Penn State, Jerry Sandusky
- Crime: Trayvon Martin Shot, Zimmerman Acquitted
- Crime: Aurora Shooting
- Politics: Obama Re-elected
- Politics: Obamacare Passed
- Social Justice: Gay Marriage Normalization
- Economy: Fiscal Cliff
- Economy: Us economy upswing
- World: Libya government turns over
- World: Syria
Eight of the 23 stories would be top headlines covered by the science and environment “pod” reporters. Two of the stories are cases of people doing things the New York Times should probably have done, like in the old days, but didn’t. Of the other stories, one or two, including Syria and possibly Libya, have strong environmental connections. This list does not include a lot of other environmental stores such as reaching 400ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, not because they are not important, but, possibly, because new agencies like the New York Times didn’t say they were important. And the New York Times isn’t even owned by Big Oil!
And there’s another problem at the New York Times. Michael Mann wrote about this just a few days before Margaret Sullivan’s piece came out (making me wonder if Mann’s article prompted Sullivan’s) in a piece at the Huffington Post called “Something Is Rotten at the New York Times.” Mann notes, “When it comes to the matter of human-caused climate change, the Grey Lady’s editorial page has skewed rather contrarian of late.” Mann goes on to document a particular case of a broader phenomenon we see at the Times and elsewhere: The “hones broker” phenomenon. This is where all the science tells us that A is true, but there is a bought and paid for (or sometimes, just cranky “get off my lawn” motivated) “viewpoint” that is utterly wrong claiming that B is true, and the “honest broker” tries to mediate between the two views as though simply throwing out “B” wasn’t the appropriate thing to do. Mann:
The New York Times does a disservice to its readers when it buys into the contrived narrative of the “honest broker”…Especially when that white knight is in fact sitting atop a Trojan Horse–a vehicle for the delivery of disinformation, denial, and systematic downplaying of what might very well be the greatest threat we have yet faced as a civilization, the threat of human-caused climate change.
So, with that, here’s my open letter to the New York Times:
Please try to do your jobs.
Thank you very much.