A climatologist from South Africa sent the following letter to Rona Rahlf, publisher of the Daily Herald. If anyone else wants to chime in, please do.
Dear Ms Rahlf: I suspect this email from South Africa may come as a bit of a surprise. However, in my reading on the web I felt prompted to send you a letter.
In my job as a Professor of Climatology, I keep tabs on the blog discussions around the issues of climate change, and follow both sides of the debate (which is most polarized into rhetoric in the USA) in order to stay aware of the trends in the public view. In doing so I came across a posting by Barry Bickmore (http://bbickmore.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/will-the-daily-herald-print-a-retraction/).
As I operate in a continent that is comprised of “developing nations”, I am particularly sensitive to deception and manipulation of messages, because of the implications and consequences for the society are magnified where many live with significant vulnerability.
The article in the Herald that is discussed by Barry Bickmore, and the email communications he cites with the journalists, are extremely disturbing. I confirm the error of the initial newspaper articles, but more to the point, I find the ethics of the authors to be worrying. Aside from the snide and condescending tone taken in the personal emails to Bickmore, there is a clear and apparent disregard for truth at the expense of promoting a personal agenda. It is clear that the journalists have a strong bias of opinion, and that they are letting this significantly twist the integrity of their journalistic objectivity.
Climate change at it’s heart is an ethical issue; the decisions of humans brought us to this point, and the decisions of humans will determine our experience of the future. The journalism portrayed in this case is a contribution to a breakdown of ethics, and communicates a message that is a contribution to the decisions of the future. That the journalist states in his email to Bickmore “I very much doubt that what either the Daily Herald or Barry Bickmore writes will make a measurable difference in the political outcome” is actually neither here or there — ethical principles are not about the scale on ones relevance.
Thus, I wanted to let you know that even on the far side of the world, your newspapers reputation is suffering. Quite aside from any personal views on climate change, there is a responsibility to not deceive people; all the more so when one speaks from a position of power as a newspaper does. The responsibility in this case lies firstly with the journalist, then with the editor, and now with yourself.
I hope you will take a serious and hard look at the veracity of facts in the articles, and the measure of objectivity portrayed therein.
Prof. Bruce Hewitson
DST Research Chair in Climate Change
Climate System Analysis Group
Dept. Environmental & Geographical Sc.
University of Cape Town
If you do write to Ms. Rahlf, please note the following contrast.
What the leader of the CERN team, Jasper Kirkby, said about their conclusions: “At the moment, it actually says nothing about a possible cosmic-ray effect on clouds and climate, but it’s a very important first step.”
What the Daily Herald editorial board said about the CERN team’s conclusions: “Scientists there have concluded that cosmic rays play a much larger role than previously thought in creating clouds on earth.”
I’m a little disappointed that it’s taken Ms. Rahlf more than 10 minutes to consider this issue.