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Daily Howler: Is Easterbrook a bit of a nut? William Broad didn't want you to ask
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WHO ARE THESE GUYS? Is Easterbrook a bit of a nut? William Broad didn’t want you to ask: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2007

SPECTACULAR INCOMPREHENSION: We agree with Kevin Drum—this Post news report about No Child Left Behind was “infuriating” (for Kevin’s initial post, click here). But Sunday’s editorial was even worse, and we don’t think Kevin got anywhere near the heart of the problem with his various posts on this topic last week. Call it the curse of low-income education. We don’t think there’s any topic which smart liberals understand less.

What’s wrong with that painfully clueless editorial? We’ll offer several posts this week. Most likely, we’ll wait until Wednesday to start.

LOOK WHO THEY’RE FOOLING TOO: On Friday, we marveled at a Q-and-A between Keith Olbermann and Richard Wolffe (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/16/07). Who is the Bush Admin trying to fool, Keith asked, with its patently bogus claims about those fired U.S. attorneys? They’re trying to fool the voters, we said—and in many cases, despite their growing problems, they’re still succeeding quite nicely. Yesterday, Post ombudsman Deborah Howell helped us see who they’re fooling. She cited reader complaints about the way the Post has covered this story:
HOWELL (3/18/07): The story on the ouster-that-backfired of eight U.S. attorneys around the country kept getting deeper last week as media and congressional scrutiny continued.

Readers' complaints sounded generally like this one from Malcolm Tanigawa of Fairfax: "Regarding the front-page article 'Firings Had Genesis in White House,' I request that you look into why [reporters Dan] Eggen and [John] Solomon saw fit to avoid any mention of the firings of all U.S. attorneys by President Clinton. For the younger generation and people with short memories, the article would imply that such firings are a new thing."
Who is the White House trying to fool? They’re trying to fool the Malcolm Tanigawas—and in many cases, they’re still succeeding. Howell went on to explain, quite clearly, why Tanigawa’s challenge makes little sense. But it was quite amazing when Wolffe and Olbermann expressed their puzzlement over this matter. For at least the past fifteen years, people like Tanigawa have heard every type of crackpot claim from various conservative and mainstream sources—and they have believed almost all of these claims. Indeed, our politics has been driven by bogus tales over the course of the past fifteen years. On Wednesday evening, Woffe and Olbermann still didn’t seem to have heard.

Note: It isn’t enough to correct these misstatements, as Howell did in this case. At some point, liberals and mainstream press figures have to present the larger framework—the framework we have just offered. You’ve been played for fools, for the past fifteen years! This notion won’t occur to most voters until someone actually says it to them. Of course, this would involve describing the mainstream press corps’ behavior in recent years, and that’s something that highly-paid mainstream press employees simply don’t do.

Who is the White House trying to fool? They’re trying to fool Malcolm Tanigawa! They’ve succeeded brilliantly down through the years, often helped by the mainstream press corps. It’s stunning to see big mainstream press stars who still don’t seem to have heard.

THE STORY CONTINUES: Below, we offer our fourth post about last Tuesday’s report on Al Gore’s global warming critics. For Part 3, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/16/07. You’ll find links to Parts 1 and 2.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS: William Broad didn’t waste any time vouching for Al Gore’s warming critics. Here was the start of Tuesday’s report in the lofty “Science Times:”
BROAD (3/13/07): Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' which won an Academy Award for best documentary. So do many environmentalists, who praise him as a visionary, and many scientists, who laud him for raising public awareness of climate change.

But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.

''I don't want to pick on Al Gore,'' Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. ''But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.''
Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore—but Don J. Easterbrook has some real data! As Broad continues, he is soon vouching for the motives and good faith of Gore’s critics:
BROAD (continuing directly): Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made ''the most important and salient points'' about climate change, if not ''some nuances and distinctions'' scientists might want. ''The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,'' he said, adding, ''I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.''

Although Mr. Gore is not a scientist, he does rely heavily on the authority of science in ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' which is why scientists are sensitive to its details and claims.
Got that? Because they’re scientists, Gore’s critics are “sensitive to [the] details and claims” in Gore’s film. That’s a sweeping, blanket statement; it excludes other explanations for these critics’ pursuit of Gore. Gore’s critics can’t be advancing their claims because they’re jealous or angry or kooky or dumb—or because they’re industry-supported hacks, or because they have some sort of politics. Nor are advancing their claims because they’re just plain wrong, and Gore isn’t. Indeed, the good faith of Gore’s critics is even advanced in the headline atop this lengthy piece. Here’s the headline which appeared on page one of “Science Times” and inside, on page D6:
NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE (3/13/07): From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype.
The critics are “rapt”—they’re deeply attentive, not deluded—and they want Gore to tone down the “hype.” In short, by the time you’ve read that headline and those first five paragraphs, you’ve been exposed to some fine propaganda; Herr Broad has largely chosen a side. And in paragraph 6, he continues his tilt. Note how Easterbrook is described—and note what gets smuggled past readers:
BROAD (continuing directly): Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.
Don Easterbook? He’s just a “rank-and-file scientist,” Broad says—although we are told, very much in passing, that “a few” of Gore’s critics “see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases.” That means that these critics are far outside the current scientific consensus, although Broad doesn’t take the time to specify that basic fact.

Indeed, Broad forgets to say something else; he forgets to say Don J. Easterbrook is one of these outlier scientists! That’s right! Easterbrook may be “rank-and-file” (whatever that means), but he’s also one of those “few” Gore critics who don’t believe that global warming is being caused by CO2. Here’s David Roberts, in his angry review at The Huffington Post:
ROBERTS (3/13/07): Here's something else you never hear about Easterbrook in the piece: he doesn’t believe human GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions are causing current global warming. That's fine. More power to him. But it puts him way outside the scientific mainstream; the recent IPCC report put confidence in the culpability of human GHGs at between 90-99 percent. Does Easterbrook's ... idiosyncratic stance on the basic science of climate change not warrant a mention, since he is the critic most prominently featured? Apparently not.
Roberts links to this news release about Easterbrook’s presentation to the Geological Society of America last October (the presentation which Broad later quotes). But there’s no real doubt about Easterbook’s views; in the wake of Broad’s report, he voiced this same view on several cable programs. Here he is on Hannity & Colmes, expressing his outlier outlook:
EASTERBROOK (3/13/07): I don't agree with some of the inaccuracies that are both in the film and the book. And that some of the things that [Gore] alleges are incongruent with logical facts.

COLMES: You said on October 24, for example, when you gave a speech, you said that the theory that the global warming of the past century was caused by the human input of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere—you questioned that theory. Do you really not believe that human input of carbon dioxide has an atmospheric effect that is harmful to the planet?

EASTERBROOK: I wouldn't say that it doesn't have any effect. I would say it's not the cause of present global warming.
To Easterbrook, one of “the inaccuracies” in Gore’s film and book is the claim that global warming is being caused by humans! As Roberts notes, this places Easterbrook far outside the current scientific consensus. Indeed, how unusual are Easterbrook’s views? He predicts global cooling in this century, as we see in last fall’s news release:
WESTERN WASHINGTON NEWS RELEASE: Easterbrook predicts that temperatures should cool between 2065 until 2100, and that global temperatures at the end of the century should be less than 1 degree cooler than at present. This is in contrast to other theories that there will be a warming by as much as 10 degrees by 2100.
Easterbrook’s view “is in contrast to other theories,” his news release modestly said. In fact, his view stands in glaring contrast to the prevailing scientific consensus—a fact which Broad withheld from readers in the course of his lengthy report. Indeed, Broad did more than withhold this fact; he actively suggested that Easterbook wasn’t one of the “few” Gore critics who hold this decided minority view. Easterbook is “rank-and-file,” Broad said in paragraph 6; this clearly seemed to distinguish him from the “few” critics who “see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases.” Later in his piece, Broad identifies one Gore critic, Richard Lindzen, as a “vocal skeptic of global warming.” But he never tells readers that Easterbrook, his featured critic, fits in that category too. Nor does he identify Robert Carter, who is quoted challenging Gore, as another such warming skeptic. Broad quotes three outlier warming skeptics, but only identifies one.

Let’s be clear; the fact that Easterbrook holds a minority view doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s wrong. But Broad’s piece would take on a whole different aspect if we were told that his “rank-and-file” lead critic is, in fact, in a quite decided minority about the most basic issues of warming science. If Broad had been willing to tell readers the truth, this might have produced a better, more honest report—a report in which Broad evaluated the scientific reasons for the prevailing consensus about greenhouse gases. (More on that missed opportunity tomorrow.) But uh-oh! That would have made it harder to write the article Broad chose to write—an article in which (as always with the Times) Gore’s basic honesty is held up to question. Broad—baldly misleading his readers—tells us that his leading Gore-critic is just a modest “rank-and-file scientist.” If he had told his readers the truth, a possibility might have entered their heads; many readers would have wondered if Easterbrook is a just a big, f*cking nut. This would have undercut Broad’s novel, so Easterbook’s outlier status was withheld. In the process, New York Times readers got played once again—and Gore’s honesty was once again questioned.

In fact, David Roberts (and others) have challenged the status of other critics whom Broad cites. Because we aren’t scientists, these claims are hard for us to judge. But to savor the rank and blatant dishonesty which has typified Times reporting on Gore, let’s look at Broad’s groaning use of controversial “centrist” critic Bjorn Lomborg.

In Broad’s report, Lomborg is described as “a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming.” This is true—but it’s not quite enough, given Broad’s use of Lomborg. Again, here is the passage where Broad cites Lomborg. It’s the most gruesome part of Broad’s report—the part where he makes the groaning apples-to-oranges comparison we discussed in last Thursday’s post:
BROAD: Some of Mr. Gore's centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe's warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore's message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world's seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches—down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming, said in a syndicated article that the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, had refrained from scaremongering. ''Climate change is a real and serious problem'' that calls for careful analysis and sound policy, Dr. Lomborg said. ''The cacophony of screaming,'' he added, ''does not help.''
According to Broad, “[s]ome of Mr. Gore's centrist detractors” drew that apples-to-oranges comparison. (As you’ll recall, Gore was discussing what will happen if the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves break off. By contrast, the IPCC was discussing what will happen if these two shelves don’t break off.) Broad never names those centrist detractors—but one of them seems to be Lomborg. Indeed, here is the “syndicated article” to which Broad refers—and it’s just as gruesome as Broad’s overall piece. Indeed, Lomborg pimps that apples-to-oranges comparison; here’s what the Gore detractor says about the IPCC’s 23-inch prediction:
LOMBORG (2/7/07): This [prediction] is especially interesting since it fundamentally rejects one of the most harrowing scenes from Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." In graphic detail, Mr. Gore demonstrated how a 20-foot rise in the sea level would inundate much of Florida, Shanghai and Holland. The IPCC report makes it clear that exaggerations of this magnitude have no basis in science—though clearly they frightened people and perhaps will win Mr. Gore an Academy Award.
Maybe Lomborg’s just stupid—or perhaps he’s dishonest. For the record, here’s how Time’s Andrew Goldstein reviewed his controversial book, The Skeptical Environmentalist:
GOLDSTEIN (8/26/02): The book, which was published in English last year, became a best seller, and conservatives worldwide use its ideas to justify inaction on such issues as deforestation and global warming. "...

Some scientists say they initially hoped to ignore Lomborg but in the wake of his book's popularity have reacted with a fury rarely seen in academia. Peter Raven, chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, calls Lomborg "the prime example in our time of someone who distorts statistics and statements to meet his own political end." A dozen esteemed environmental scientists, including Raven and Harvard's Edward O. Wilson, are demanding that Lomborg's publisher cut him loose...

The problem is, Lomborg gets many of his facts right—and provides 2,930 footnotes to make them easy to check. Some scientists and environmental advocates have made exaggerated claims about environmental doom, and it's not surprising that they have finally been catalogued. Yet Lomborg is as guilty of exaggeration and selective use of data as those he criticizes. He is right that air and water quality and agricultural productivity have improved in much of the world. But to look at the data on global warming, biological diversity, marine depletion and deforestation and still say things are generally getting better takes a willful blindness.
We can’t judge the overall controversy RE Lomborg. But is he “guilty of selective use of data?” He certainly was in that syndicated column, pimping that apples-to-oranges comparison. And William Broad—dumb or dishonest?—rushed to repeat this perfect cant. Lomborg’s bull-roar had appeared in the New York Sun. Thanks to the hapless (or dishonest?) Broad, it soon found its way to the Times.

One last comical (and typical) point: In the passage quoted above, Broad quotes Lomborg saying that the “cacophony of screaming” about warming “does not help.” Indeed, those phrases come straight from the final sentence of Lomborg’s syndicated column. But as you can see from his piece, Lomborg wasn’t talking about Gore in that passage; he was talking about “the recent press frenzy” accompanying the IPCC report. Let’s spell it out: Lomborg wasn’t speaking about Gore in that passage; he was speaking about the New York Times! But as we’ve shown you down through the years, mainstream press corps liars like Broad never tell you when their own news orgs get scalded. Let’s pretend he was name-calling Gore, this great science writer said. But so it goes—so it has gone for many years—at the very top of American “journalism.”

TOMORROW: How and why this garbage persists.

FOR THE RECORD, WHAT BROKAW SAID: In his own Discovery Channel special (last summer), Tom Brokaw discussed the possibility of those ice shelves breaking off. Here’s a chunk of the program which was featured on Dateline. Brokaw relies on two well-known scientists—Princeton’s Michael Oppenheimer and Goddard’s James Hansen:
BROKAW (7/9/06): About 10 percent of the earth's surface is covered by ice, most of that in the polar regions. But if enough of that ice melts, the seas will rise dramatically, and the results will be calamitous. If the temperature rises more than four degrees, many believe it could trigger irreversible, runaway melting ice at both poles.

OPPENHEIMER: The Greenland ice cap contains an equivalent of about 23 feet of sea level rise. The west Antarctic ice sheet contains an equivalent of about 20 feet. If we lose a significant part of either of them, coastal civilization as we know it will disappear.

BROKAW: If this worst-case scenario should occur, in the coming centuries, New York could be abandoned, its famous landmarks lost to the sea.

HANSEN: Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami—they would all be underwater. In fact, the entire state of Florida.

BROKAW: This might be the view of Miami 50 miles out to sea. Across the Atlantic, the water would reach all the way to central London. And low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, with much of its land mass at sea level, would be almost wiped off the map.

How long would that take, that kind of apocalypse of water, if you will?

HANSEN: Well, the temperature change would be this century, and how long would it take the ice sheets to respond? That could be 50 years from now, could be 100 years from now, but it's not 1,000 years from now.

We can’t speak to the science here; Broad actually could have informed Times readers if he had tried to evaluate these claims. But Brokaw presented the same worst-case scenario for which Broad chose to ridicule Gore (by adopting Lomborg’s apples-and-oranges). This catastrophe could happen in this century, Hansen said.

We can’t judge the merits of Hansen’s statement. But last month, Lomborg turned Hansen’s apple into an orange. And, thanks to hapless (or dishonest?) Broad, Times readers got played for fools too.