Given that the editors (Randy Wright and Jim Tynen) seem ok with the idea of publishing errors of fact that they know to be errors, I decided to give the publisher, Rona Rahlf a try. Here’s what I wrote:
I am a long-time subscriber to the Daily Herald, and a political conservative. However, I am also an associate professor of geological sciences at BYU, so I have enough Earth science background to discern that human-induced climate change is likely to be a big problem, no matter how inconvenient that fact is for my political ideology. For about 1 1/2 years, I’ve corresponded on and off with Randy Wright and Jim Tynen about their constant stream of editorials that have presented an enormous number of base distortions about the state of climate science.
I fully understand that people (even people like me) have biases, and we make stupid arguments from time to time. I think you understand that, too, which is why this statement on your Contact webpage is so minimalist. “The Herald corrects errors of fact appearing in its news and opinion columns.” I’m fine with that as a strong statement of the bare minimum required with respect to standard journalistic ethics. As the late Senator Moynihan is said to have put it, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
Your editors flout that minimalist ethic, however.
On Aug. 28, 2011, you published an editorial called “Huntsman’s Blind Trust in Global Warming,” in which you said,
A paper in the prestigious journal Nature reported on findings from Europe’s CERN Laboratory, the most advanced particle accelerator in the world. Scientists there have concluded that cosmic rays play a much larger role than previously thought in creating clouds on earth. Obviously, cloud cover has a huge effect on temperatures. Which means that all warming theories have been knocked into a cocked hat.
On Sept. 1, I wrote Jim Tynan and Randy Wright to inform them that the lead author of the study in question, Jasper Kirkby, had explicitly stated that their experiments did NOT yet say anything about cosmic rays and climate. He told Scientific American magazine, “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.” Here’s the link, if you want to look it up. The article also has a good summary of why that experiment isn’t enough to make any sort of case for cosmic rays being a major climate driver.
An experienced science journalist, Peter Hadfield, made a nice video that explains the same thing here, with some additional background.
Jim Tynan wrote back to say, in part, this:
I don’t think I have special insights into the physics — I just think Kirkby is talking politics, not science (as is too often true in this debate).
To me, when a scientist in his position tries to downplay the results, it’s actually confirmation: He obviously would like for this study to disappear, but the data were so powerful that they couldn’t be swept under the rug, at least not now.
And PR and journalistic spin are in my domain. Spinmeister’s rule no. 2: When there’s an inconvenient truth too obvious to be outright denied, try to find some distraction or some way of minimizing the impact.
No, the report doesn’t say in so many words that “warming is a crock.” But it gives hard evidence that cosmic rays affect cloud cover. And it’s obvious that affects climate,.
Notice what he said. He knew full well that Jasper Kirkby had denied that his experiment led to any such conclusion, but Jim Tynan could report that Kirkby and his team “have concluded that cosmic rays play a much larger role than previously thought in creating clouds on earth” because Jim Tynan could read Kirkby’s mind and find out what he REALLY meant. Oh, there’s no wiggle room here. The editorial didn’t say that the Daily Herald editorial board had concluded, based on Kirkby’s data, that cosmic rays play a much larger role, etc. The editorial said that the CERN scientists had concluded this, which the lead author explicitly denied.
I decided to drop the issue, for the time being, because I was convinced that Jim Tynan really believed he could read Jasper Kirkby’s mind. But then this Sunday you published another editorial that made the same claim, in the same words! I e-mailed Randy and Jim about it again, wondering if I could write an op-ed exposing their deception, or whether they would simply write some kind of retraction, or admission that their source was the voices in Jim’s head. Here was Randy’s response.
Dear Mr. Bickmore —
Sunday’s piece was intended to be our signoff on this subject — at leastfor some time. I think we want to wait to see what happens next in both science and politics. If climate change wins in either arena, we will be glad to publish a column by you on the subject of “I told you so.” Alternatively, we would also accept an “I was wrong” column.
There are two possibilities: Either climate change will win out politically, with a massive shift of dollars into investments, regulations and foreign aid that will, at best, deliver minuscule change in C02; or climate change and the massive redistribution of wealth desired by many third-world governments, climate scientists and Al Gore will not occur, owing to lack of votes.
I very much doubt that what either the Daily Herald or Barry Bickmore writes will make a measurable difference in the political outcome. I rather suspect our combined influence will be even less than the most optimistic reduction of carbon that might be purchased by mortgaging my great-great-grandchildren and dooming them to a future of insufficient and expensive energy.
You are a good Mormon, I presume, judging from your position. So I don’t know why the prospective death of Planet Earth seems to bother you so much. Doom will come eventually, one way or another. Isn’t the earth supposed to pass away and be renewed? And won’t heaven pass away and another rise to take its place? If you hold this religious view with as much fervor as you hold your view on man-made climate change, you might someday sit back with a bemused smile when you find that our political system has made a decision that shortens the planet’s life.
Given a general lack of persuasive evidence and the bad economics that attend virtually all corrective choices, I rather expect the political outcome will be disappointing to alarmists. In the final analysis, it’s going to come down to policy votes, and today I’ll wager that climate change will not prevail.
We should have more definitive answers to all this in, say, 40 years, at which time we can consider publishing your proposed column. After all, the intelligence gained in the four decades since the early 1970s has been quite helpful in deciding what to do about the dire scientific predictions of the onset of a new ice age. A good time to evaluate the scientific consensus on climate change would be around 2051.
On one item I have no doubt, however: By 2051 there will be a scientific consensus that Randy Wright is dead.
Jim Tynen had been quite prescient about this. Remember how he said, “And PR and journalistic spin are in my domain. Spinmeister’s rule no. 2: When there’s an inconvenient truth too obvious to be outright denied, try to find some distraction or some way of minimizing the impact”? That’s what Randy did. He and Jim both knew, going into this last editorial, that the CERN scientists had said no such thing, and in fact had said the opposite. But instead of addressing the elephant in the room, he tried to cloud the issue by bringing in all sorts of other points about scientific uncertainty, and so on. No matter how uncertain the science is, it is certain that Jim and Randy knowingly printed false information, and they refuse to acknowledge it in any way.
So my questions to you, Rona, are these. I imagine you are on the editorial board, so how do you feel about having printed blatantly false information under your name? How do you feel about Jim and Randy printing the same false information a second time, after Jim had admitted that he knew Jasper Kirkby had said no such thing? How do you feel about their evasion of the issue of retraction, when your website specifically states, “The Herald corrects errors of fact appearing in its news and opinion columns”? Are you going to print a retraction, or are you going to take Jim’s line of thinking, and rationalize that you know what those scientists were really thinking?
If you would like to see the full correspondence between me and your editors, just let me know.