Under the Dot Earth post about Rosenbaum, one of the regular commenters on Revkin’s blog asked why journalists have such a tough time explaining climate in a way the public “gets” and why CJR has often applauded the Times’ efforts nonetheless. He wants the press to go after ExxonMobil and other nefarious entities and expose how they have manufactured dissent about global warming—then, maybe, all will become clear. While it’s true that such artifice has been a serious problem (Revkin did most of the original digging into the White House’s role, one reason we have held him in esteem), there is plenty of legitimate scientific dissent that journalists must also contend with before the public will “get” climate.

A comprehensive picture depends upon answers to a lot of different questions. Journalists, contrary to the old maxim, must start focusing on the trees if people are to understand the forest.

N.B. There are two other accusations by Rosenbaum that I simply couldn’t let go of. First, he accuses CJR of “misunderstanding or misstating of the way science works,” because Russell’s feature reminds journalists that scientific consensus develops incrementally. To support his argument he reiterates Thomas Kuhn’s tired, old argument that science suddenly moves forward in great leaps when “paradigm shifts” overturn the prevailing conventional wisdom. Well, that can happen, but it’s rare. Technology may often improve dramatically overnight, but physical and life-sciences research is a miserably slow process. Second, Rosenbaum repeatedly accuses CJR of blindly defending “green” journalists and the new, “green religion” of environmentalism. He might note that the only time Russell used the word “green” outside of “greenhouse gas” in her piece was negatively, as in “greenwashing” and “green fatigue.” Go figure.


Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.