Every Friday, we excerpt some of the most insightful, articulate, interesting, and entertaining comments we’ve received that week. Think we’ve missed something? Well… comment!

The Press and Climate Skeptics

Last week, Harvard’s Shorenstein Center hosted “”The Public Divide over Climate Change: Scientists, Skeptics, & the Media,” a conference that explored the decline in public belief that global warming matters, and what that trend means for reporters. Science journalist Phillip J. Hilts wrote an account of the event for “The Observatory,” and the comments started coming in.

The New York Times, including Andy and Dot Earth, are among the reasons that the communication of the problem (of global warming) is NOT working and that the media are losing credibility.

Do you — The Observatory — mean to say that you don’t get that, yet?

Did you read the recent Times story, on the front page, today, and have you read Andy’s most recent piece about a comment on an IPCC draft made long ago? If you read those two pieces, and then reflect on all the matters that The Times hasn’t covered (e.g., they never covered the letter from seventeen leading scientific organizations to the U.S. Senate late last year), and then ask yourself why the public is confused and the media are losing credibility…. well anyhow, that’s what I’d suggest.

Did the panel really sit around and have to wonder why the public are confused and why credibility (of science, of the media, or etc.) is going down the tubes? If so, I think that is yet another problem, and the credibility-losing enterprise is forming an ever wider self-inflicted circle.

I’m being harsh, here, for a reason: CJR and The Observatory are supposed to be helping to correct and improve the media, and it doesn’t seem to be happening, at least not to the degree that is Necessary (with a big N) today.

I started participating on Dot Earth within a couple weeks after it started, and I’ve followed the Times’s coverage closely. There should be no secret or mystery: The Times’s coverage is part of the problem. They might be better than many others in the media, but that’s like saying that a student who is getting a D- (when it comes to the real task at hand) is better than the other students, who are getting Fs. The aim isn’t merely to be “better than” the next guy or gal. Instead, it is to convey genuine information, in keeping with the vital importance of an issue, clearly and responsibly, in a way that is UNDERSTOOD by readers, and in a way that genuinely serves the public good.

— Jeff Huggins

I feel that the scientific information IPCC compiled to prove global warming is strong and defensible. What I don’t understand is the point of using the grey literature to push the conclusions further. As a researcher I believe that if the IPCC authors had been more forthright about declaring what they don’t know, it would have given more credibility to what they know. There is no smoking gun evidence of climate change and there won’t be one for a while, and the media has to learn to write sensible stories with imperfect information and analysis.

Regarding Nisbet’s comment about linking climate impacts to health issue to bolster public interest, that’s not necessarily true. It is well known that the lack of clean drinking water is really bad for health, but it has still failed to motivate governments in many developing countries to fix the problem. For years the World Bank tried to convince governments to adopt stricter air emissions standards using health impacts analysis but it has barely worked—air pollution remains a huge problem in developing countries. I am sort of influenced by my own experience of implementing environmental policies in many countries —I never found health impacts to be a very convincing argument. So Nisbet’s suggestion remains a testable hypothesis.

The Editors