Grey Lady Down On Climate Story

Via Bishop Hill we are led to an article by Tony Thomas in Quadrant. The article is about the results of Steve Milloy’s successful Freedom of Information requests for emails regarding the NOAA’s involvement with an opinion piece published in the New York Times regarding ocean acidification. I recommend you read the whole thing.

I just want to excerpt portions of emails that I believe showcase abysmal decision-making by members of the Times staff. I want to separate this from the ongoing climate debate–what the Times is doing here would be wrong no matter what the topic.

The named authors of the Times’ opinion piece were The named authors were Richard W. Spinrad, chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to UK’s Department of Environment. That certainly sounds like a prestigious pair of writers, eminently qualified to opine on the subject.

New York Times: “It’s very interesting, but in order to work for us it needs to be geared more toward the general reader. Can the authors give us more specific, descriptive images about how acidification has already affected the oceans? Is the situation akin to the acid rain phenomenon that hit North America? What can be done to counteract the problem?”

NOAA Dr. Shallin Busch: “Unfortunately, I can’t provide this information to you because it doesn’t exist. As I said in my last email, currently there are NO areas of the world that are severely degraded because of OA or even areas that we know are definitely affected by OA right now. If you want to use this type of language, you could write about the CO2 vent sites in Italy or Polynesia as examples of things to come. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful on this!”

…”Thanks for letting me chime in on this piece.   My two general impressions are the following:

1) This article is mostly gloom and doom, which research has shown that people don’t respond to well. In fact, people just stop reading gloom and doom environmental stories. It could be good to highlight ways we can and are dealing with OA [Ocean Acidification] now and that we have an opportunity to prevent the major predicted impacts of OA by stopping carbon emissions before larger chemistry changes happen…

2) I think it is really important to resist the NYT editor’s impulse to say that OA is wreaking all sorts of havoc RIGHT NOW, because for ecological systems, we don’t yet have the evidence to say that. OA is a problem today because it is changing ocean chemistry so quickly. The vast majority of the biological impacts of OA will only occur under projected future chemistry conditions. Also, the study of the biological impacts of OA is so young that we don’t have any data sets that show a direct effect of OA on population health or trajectory. Best, Shallin. 

The title of the New York Times’ opinion piece was ‘Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas.’ The title the authors suggested was ‘In A High CO2 World, Dangerous Waters Ahead.’ This is the graphic used to illustrate the piece:


The opinion piece says “Research already points to the unnatural behavior of coral clownfish in an acidified environment. These fish wander farther from their natural protection, making them more vulnerable to predators.”

But while researching the story they heard this: “I have asked everyone I can reach and nobody is aware of a study that suggests that Nemo’s hearing would be impaired by ocean acidification. I did find one article on the web that suggested the opposite. I am aware of studies indicating that Nemo would lose sense of smell orability to detect predators and therefore would be more likely to be eaten. Perhaps you can ask the UK people to check on that sentence.”

The opinion piece says, “In the past three decades, the number of living corals covering the Great Barrier Reef has been cut in half, reducing critical habitat for fish and the resilience of the entire reef system.”

But they fail to note that: “The losses were due to cyclones (48%),  crown-of-thorns starfish (42%) and coral bleaching (10%) – none of this involves the “acidification” peril.  And the pristine northern Reef area showed no decline.”

The New York Times could try and blame the authors of the opinion piece for the tone and factual inaccuracies. But the leaked emails show that the New York Times was pushing them to sex up the story, to make it worse than we thought.

Perhaps Andy Revkin is better off walled safely away on a NY Times blog.

The media deck has been stacked against opponents of the Konsensus for decades. It’s just that we don’t see it in print very often.

This is not the voice of science speaking to us. This is people trying to elbow scientists aside and speak for them, to pronounce doom to motivate our politicians, scare us and cow opponents into silence.

Yellow journalism at its lowest.



7 responses to “Grey Lady Down On Climate Story

  1. Wow. Very interesting peak behind the curtain.

  2. BTW, here’s an archived copy of the NYT Story:

  3. Tom, there is no reason to think that the leadership level decision to deceive regarding climate by the NYT is unusual or infrequent. From at least Climategate on media decision makers have deliberately chosen to deceive the public and themselves about climate issues. What is to be expected now is for major media to ignore this. When the consensus on Wall Street were busy wrecking the economy with fraudulent mortgage investing, major media largely ignored or barely acknowledged the problems counter consensus observers were documenting. The climate consensus is not really very different. Great post by the way.

  4. Seems the Grey Lady’s editorial policy hasn’t changed much since Jayson Blair’s day.

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