Where Tone Torpedoes Credibility

Memorandum leads me to a Newsweek review of a book that aims to challenge the credibility of climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg.

Now, I’m a big believer in challenging people’s credibility – that’s how we dig away to something approaching truth.

But Newsweek science editor Sharon Begley torpedoes her own credibility and undermines the credibility of the review in her lede:

In naming roustabout, lumberjack, ironworker, and dairy farmer America’s “worst jobs,” CareerCast.com omitted one whose awfulness is counterbalanced only by its public-spiritedness: fact-checking Bjørn Lomborg.

Why is fact-checking Lomborg awful? Because you …ewww … have to read him?

Sorry, Sharon, but that’s just unworthy of anyone who would claim to be ‘NEWSWEEK’s science editor.’ Or if not, it tells me something about Newsweek.

Look, I don’t think Lomborg has a chokehold on truth in this complex issue. Nor do I think Steve McIntyre – or Phil Jones – does.

But I do think that the story is clear – that Jones et alia undermined the necessary process of science – through error cascade, groupthink, or deliberate policy – enough to move AGW into the ‘possible but unproven’ category.

What we need is constructive, transparent, respectful discussion that tries to sift the facts from the claims.

In her review, she makes reasonable claims that three of Lomborg’s claims are not supported by his citations. That’s serious. It would be more serious if she’d taken the time to map out Lomborg’s arguments and claim that – as a hypothetical – he makes 15 major claims and 10 minor claims and that of the 5 major claims that were checked, 4 of them were unsupported by his footnotes.

As it is, we have a science writer who is apparently virulently anti-Lomborg (see lede) citing a media critic’s anecdotal claims that several of Lomborg’s claims aren’t supported by his citations.

Lomborg responded on his website (pdf)…it’s worth checking out. If reading him doesn’t curdle your stomach, as it appears to do to Ms. Begley.

Update: Just read the Lomborg reply, and it’s pretty scathing about Friel’s claims. The fact that Begley doesn’t address the direct hits Lomborg seems to make further undermines not his credibility, but hers.

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6 thoughts on “Where Tone Torpedoes Credibility”

  1. Here’s the thing- if catastrophic AGW is undeniable, all of this overstatement, fiddling with the data, hiding from FOIA requests, and using un-peer reviewed studies from activist groups is inexplicable. The facts supposedly speak entirely for themselves, so why pad anything? Its rather like bluffing when the other guy is already all in. Cards speak, whats the point?

    I don’t think there is any real question that this issue has been oversold. That doesn’t mean its not real, but when you see this much back tracking and pulling papers back, by definition the case has been oversold. That is a red flag. One of _many._

    Lomborg is hugely dangerous to ‘the movement’ because he brings up a point that has been fiercely ignored- the point being that maybe this is a problem begging not to be solved, _even if its as bad as these guys say it is._ AGW is a damned complicated problem because it is built on many layers, all of which must be true or the entire issue becomes irrelevant no matter how correct the other layers are.

    The atmosphere has to be 1.Warming 2.Caused by human emissions 3.warming unprecedentedly 4.to unprecedented levels in the relatively near term (in the long run, we’re all dead) 5.that this is on balance bad for humans 6.that doing something about it won’t be worse than doing nothing 7.that what we do will actually be effective compared to how much we sacrifice

    Its the 5,6, and 7 that Lomberg speaks to, and these have undoubtedly seen the _least_ corroboration and debate, while ironically being the most important from a policy standpoint. Mitigation is a hugely important issue to consider, and that entirely depends on how quick and how severe we can expect to see catastrophe. Hence, if the warming has slowed significantly in the last 15 years (as per Jones), that has a MASSIVE impact on our cost/benefit analysis on what to do. A disaster 20 years from now is vastly different than 100 years from now, given our level of technological advance and growth of wealth.

    That being the case, how can the answer to our problems _always be the same_ ie copenhagen etc. Logically, every time a piece of evidence shows AGW will be farther down the road or less severe, there should be that much more pulling up on the reigns, less we impact our long term growth which will ultimately solve the problem. But we don’t see that. At all.

  2. Certainly, nobody has a “choke-hold” on truth. Somebody who has always been right in the past can always be wrong in the future. This is why one shouldn’t accept what somebody says uncritically, even if you think you can trust them.

    However, I’ve been reading McIntyre’s writings for years and I get the impression that he is a very careful man who generally doesn’t make statements on subjects unless he understands them very well.

    So while it’s completely reasonable to point out that one should be initially skeptical of everything – including his writings – hopefully you will see that in fact he has a great deal of credibility, with a track record of being right at the end of the day.

  3. Notice that farther down in the article she says, “He [Friel] therefore took on the Augean stables undertaking of checking every one of the hundreds of citations in Cool It.”

    If it’s all horseshit, why did he bother?

  4. Which is also the point of most AGW apocalypse opponents. Whenever you see the Al Gore acolytes preaching the end of times if we don’t go stone age – yet not dismantling their palaces or building levies around their waterfront compounds before the fly off to Bali. If Al Gore didn’t sound like the Shamwow guy I’d have more confidence in him.

  5. Luka, you’re 100% right, I’m misstated Lomborg’s position.

    Actually, I think it’s just a little more extreme than mine, in that I think there’s a good chance AGW is an issue…just not a good enough chance, given the data I’m seeing to restructure our economy.

    But there are a lot of high-impact things we can do that don;t involve restructuring the economy…


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