Climate Change Creates a Storm
By Michael Getler
September 21, 2012
It was not the PBS NewsHour's finest 10 minutes. In my view, and that of hundreds, even thousands of others, the program stumbled badly. On the other hand, it was not the end of the world, so to speak.
A segment on climate change last Monday evening produced a storm of protest from critics who felt the program mislead viewers — by a faulty application of journalistic balance — about the very real threat of global warming and man's contribution to it, as well as a sprinkling of support from those who think that threat is overstated and that balance was just the right touch for the NewsHour.
Just below is a video link to the segment so those that did not see it, or wish to see it again, can form their own opinions.
Watch Skeptic No Longer Doubts Human Role in Global Warming on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
This may be the longest ombudsman column I've ever posted because the subject generates about as much thunder and heat as one of those storms many have experienced lately that at least seem to make us think more about climate change. It also is one of those lose-lose subjects for an ombudsman in which whatever one writes is certain not to satisfy a lot of people.
Here's a guide to why it's long, why it may be worth sticking with it, and what's to follow.
The segment — headlined "Climate Change Skeptic No Longer Doubts Human Role in Global Warming" — was conducted by veteran NewsHour Correspondent Spencer Michels. It started out focused on a perfectly relevant news angle. Physicist Richard Muller had long been among those who denied that climate change was happening, but he made big news last month when he broke with his allies and published an op-ed in the New York Times saying not only was he no longer a skeptic but that "I'm now going a step further. Humans are almost entirely the cause."
The segment went on from there, however, in a much more controversial direction, and I will come back to it. But almost from the moment it ended, email began pouring into my mailbox, hundreds of them. A representative sampling is posted below. Some are quite long. At the same time, several analytical and opinion pieces attacking or supporting the segment were posted online — almost certainly driving more email traffic — by liberal and conservative commentators, and man-made climate change supporters and critics here, here and here.
Later in the week, a petition arrived listing 15,000 names associated with "Forecast The Facts," a group demanding an investigation into "how and why PBS NewsHour promoted falsehoods about climate change and slander against climate scientists." They focused on the broadcast segment and an accompanying blog post by Michels involving a more extended interview with another guest on the program, Anthony Watts, who the "Facts" group described as a "climate change denier and conspiracy theorist." I will come back to him as well.
We also have responses from Michels and NewsHour Executive Producer Linda Winslow to questions I raised.
But first, I want to lay out my views. In the interests of full disclosure, I'm a layman with no particular expertise in science or climate matters. My views and observations are formed mostly from the dreaded mainstream media and my own reading and observations. So I am engaged with the news and issues of our time but pretty much as an average citizen and viewer.
I think of myself as open-minded and believe strongly in hearing opposing views. But I do believe in the assessment by the vast majority of climate scientists and U.S. and international scientific organizations that the threat to our planet and future generations from global warming and the human contribution to it is real and needs to be addressed.
The NAP's Thoughts
As the National Academies Press, which encompasses reports from the National Academy of Sciences, put it in 2010: "scientific evidence that the Earth is warming is now overwhelming. There is also a multitude of evidence that this warming results primarily from human activities, especially burning fossil fuels and other activities that release heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. Projections of future climate change indicate that Earth will continue to warm . . . driving a multitude of related and interacting changes in the Earth system, including decreases in the amounts of ice stored in mountain glaciers and polar regions, increases in sea level, changes in ocean chemistry, and changes in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, precipitation events, and droughts. These changes in turn pose significant risks to both human and ecological systems. Although the details of how the future impacts of climate change will unfold are not as well understood as the basic causes and mechanisms of climate change, we can reasonably expect that the consequences of climate change will be more severe if actions are not taken to limit its magnitude and adapt to its impacts."
Back to the NewsHour Segment
The reason I wrote, at the top of this column that, although the segment was badly handled, it wasn't the end of the world, is as follows.
Michels, at the start, talked about "the world of climate change, where most scientists and a much smaller group of skeptics remain bitterly divided." He talked further in the interview about whether politicians "listen to the 97 percent of scientists who say that it is real or they pay attention to the vocal community of skeptics will determine to a large extent what regulations and what laws get passed."
Aside from interviewing Muller in the broadcast, he interviewed William Collins, senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who talked about the rapid changes in global warming and the human-enhancement of that change, and Jon Krosnick of Stanford University who pointed out that "the voices of skeptics on climate change are very loud in this country and particularly effective in Washington at the moment. But they are a very, very small group."
Michels also pointed out, usefully, that "neither presidential candidate is talking about climate change but, in Congress, it's a different story; 74 percent of Senate Republicans publicly question the science of global warming" and more than half in the House.
And physicist Muller got the last word: "We will be experiencing weather that's warmer than Homo sapiens ever experienced. And I tend to think that's going to be bad and we should do something about it and we can . . ."
But the missteps created by the program and committed on the air and online dominate the reasons why this segment is being most widely viewed as falling short of NewsHour standards. I feel that way as well. And the main factor was the choice and appearance of Anthony Watts as someone interviewed on the broadcast, and also interviewed at much greater length by Michels on the NewsHour's "Rundown" blog. My focus is only on the broadcast, which is what most people wrote and commented about to me.
Watts did not seem to get more time than some of the other major figures but he seemed to dominate the program. Watts is a broadcast meteorologist, entrepreneur and the founder of the "Watts Up With That?" blog that focuses on global warming. He is a leading skeptic, especially about the role of humans in the warming process, and his blog is billed as among the most popular and widely viewed on the subject.
Although global warming strikes me as one of those issues where there is no real balance and it is wrong to create an artificial or false equivalence, there is no harm and some possibility of benefit in inviting skeptics about the human contribution and other factors to speak, but in a setting in which the context of the vast majority of scientific evidence and speakers is also made clear.
What was stunning to me as I watched this program is that the NewsHour and Michels had picked Watts — who is a meteorologist and commentator — rather than a university-accredited scientist to provide "balance." I had never heard of Watts before this program and I'm sure most viewers don't, as part of their routines, read global warming blogs on either side of the issue.
I'm not being judgmental about Watts or anything he said. He undoubtedly is an effective spokesperson. But it seems to me that if you decide you are going to give airtime to the other side of this crucial and hot-button issue, you need to have a scientist.
As it turned out, Michels, in his blog post on Monday, revealed that Watts had been recommended to him by The Heartland Institute, that he described as "a conservative, Chicago-based non-profit that is one of the leading groups that doubt that climate change — if it exists — is attributable to human activities." The Heartland connection, which has included some funding, was not mentioned on the air.
Watts is articulate and confident and used his time well to make some strong assertions. A key one that he is associated with is his past efforts to show that climate warming data is inaccurate because weather stations where measurements are taken often soak up heat from their surroundings. Michels did not challenge that view, which has been disputed, and, in a highly unusual move, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent this statement to The NewsHour:
"The American public can be confident in NOAA's long-standing surface temperature record, one of the world's most comprehensive, accurate and trusted data sets. This record has been constructed through many innovative methods to test the robustness of the climate data record developed and made openly available for all to inspect by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Numerous peer-reviewed studies conclusively show that U.S. temperatures have risen and continue to rise with recent widespread record-setting temperatures in the USA. There is no doubt that NOAA's temperature record is scientifically sound and reliable. To ensure accuracy of the record, scientists use peer-reviewed methods to account for all potential inaccuracies in the temperature readings such as changes in station location, instrumentation and replacement and urban heat effects.
"Specifically, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center published a scientific peer-reviewed paper (Menne, et al., 2010) that compared trends from stations that were considered well-sited and stations that received lower ratings on siting conditions, which found that the U.S. average temperature trend is not inflated by poor station siting. A subsequent research study led by university and private sector scientists reached the same conclusion (Fall et al. 2011). Additionally, the Department of Commerce Inspector General reviewed the US Historical Climatology Network dataset in July 2010 and concluded that 'the respondents to our inquiries about the use of and adjustments to the USHCN data generally expressed confidence in the [USHCN] Version 2 dataset.'"
Watts called me late today and sent the following message: "While there has been much criticism of my appearance on PBS, the action by NOAA worth noting that speaks louder than those criticisms is the fact that NOAA has funded an experiment to determine the extent of temperature bias by encroachment of urbanization in their USCRN annual report section 5.1.3 saying: 'This effort promises to be greatly useful to understanding climate quality temperature measurements and how they can be influenced by the station site environment.' Given that NOAA is investigating the matter with new science, I stand by my concerns that the U.S. surface temperature record has bias issues."
Throughout the interview, Michels referred to scientists who warn against global warming and its man-made component as "climate change believers," a description that offends many and frames the issue, as one viewer wrote, as though this were "faith-based rather than fact-based."
When Watts said global warming had become a business and whole divisions of universities set-up to study it and so there was a tendency to keep that work going and not really look at what might be different, Michels did point out that "it's a charge that climate change believers say is totally false." But other Watts points about polls being manipulated went unchallenged, and the idea that global warming issues were being oversold because they allow for more taxes and regulations was answered by Michels pointing out that "Muller and others think action is exactly what is needed."
Watts, in a piece he posted after being invited to be interviewed by the NewsHour but before it took place, said that Michels "did mention that there was quite a debate in the Washington office over my participation. So, that causes a little bit of worry to me."
The NewsHour also heard, after the broadcast, from a scientist whose views had been included in the broadcast. As Michels later wrote in his blog: "In our broadcast piece, we said that '. . . Judith Curry, professor of earth sciences at Georgia Tech, who suspects natural variability accounts for climate change — not human-produced CO2 — said Muller's analysis is 'way oversimplistic and not at all convincing . . .' Curry wrote to us earlier today to say that she believes we didn't characterize her position fully and said she was 'appalled' with what we said.
"Here's what Curry told us: 'It is correct that I found Muller's analysis 'way oversimplistic and not at all convincing', but the statement implies that that I don't think human-produced CO2 accounts for any of the climate change we have been seeing. This is absolutely incorrect. For my views on climate change, see my blog Climate Etc. In my most recent posts on the Arctic sea ice decline, I estimated that about half the decline could be attributed to human induced CO2, which is in line with the latest analyses from the CMIP5 climate models.'
"In retrospect, we should have said that Curry suspects natural variability accounts for some amount of climate change, but she also believes human-induced CO2 plays some role in what has been happening to the planet."
The NewsHour Responds
First are responses to my questions from Linda Winslow, executive producer of the NewsHour. This is followed by a response from Spencer Michels.
Can you tell me how and why Watts, not a scientist, was selected?
There are indeed a number of commenters who take issue with our having given any space — on air or online — to Mr. Watts. These people are missing the whole point of the story. I believe there were sound editorial reasons to include the voice of a skeptic. I think Spencer's letter below explains why and how he was selected.
Was there discussion and opposition to this choice within TNH?
There was no debate about including a skeptic in the story. Spencer and his editors, as he explains, only debated which one to select. In the end, they chose Mr. Watts for the reasons Spencer enumerates.
The material about the heat from nearby buildings is quite controversial but wasn't challenged. If there is a reason, let me know.
I think this is a legitimate criticism of our broadcast story. We edited our interview with Elizabeth Muller, who directly responded to that charge. The full answer was posted on our website yesterday. In the broadcast story, we edited the answer to save time and lost the specific reference to "station quality issue" and "urban heat island effect". Had we left that part in, it would have been clearer that she was directly refuting Watts' statement.
Spencer Michels Responds
Aware of the flare up over the stories on the PBS NewsHour and website dealing with global warming/climate change, here's a brief summary of why and how we recently covered the issue:
When UC scientist Richard Muller announced in the New York Times that he was no longer a skeptic on global warming, I proposed a story for the NewsHour centered on Muller's "conversion" and the research he did to reach his conclusion, but expanding the segment to include more of the debate over the issue. My editors in Washington agreed; we had been discussing for some time how to show the role and influence of skeptics, and we decided that a tape piece was the best way to incorporate it. This was an opportunity to explore the role and rationale of skeptics — who, while mostly discredited by the scientific community, had followers in Congress. In fact, as we reported, more than half the Republicans in the House of Representatives are global warming skeptics.
Besides interviewing Muller and his co-researcher and daughter, Elizabeth Muller, we decided we needed to find a skeptic to articulate that position. We considered whether to get a scientist from organizations in Washington, or elsewhere in academia. I found several around the country; but the one recommended to me by the Heartland Institute ("The world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about climate change", according to The Economist) was Anthony Watts in Chico, California, which is where the rest of the story was based. Watts' criticism of scientists was part of that story. After talking to him on the phone, and after discussing the options with my editors in Washington and Denver, we decided to go ahead. We were all aware this was a volatile issue, and we were especially careful in deciding on the interview. We also knew that Watts was not a scientist, but a former TV weatherman. Still, his position, as articulated in his blog, "Watts Up With That?," seemed to represent the skeptic community.
He contends it is the most read posting on global warming on the Internet. His main argument is that statistics scientists use in showing that the earth is warming are flawed; temperatures are recorded in stations that have been warmed by nearby development and therefore read too high. That argument was one that also originally bothered Muller, but when he did his analysis of the data, he found that the statistics were essentially correct and in fact the earth was warming, due to human activities that produce CO2. We reported that.
In addition we talked with Stanford political scientist Jon Krosnick — after looking for someone who could explain public opinion on climate change to us. His name was suggested, by, among others, a spokesman for the National Academy of Sciences. Krosnick told me in an interview that less than 10 per cent of Americans are confidently skeptical about climate change, a figure that hasn't changed much over the years. But he said, "the voices of skeptics on climate change are very loud in this country and particularly effective in Washington at the moment." That seemed to me another reason to explore the role of skeptics like Watts, whose influence — Krosnick said — was out of proportion to the number of people who agreed with them.
We included the voice of a strong believer in global warming, William Collins at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is among the 97 per cent of climate scientists who accept global warming as a fact, and are concerned it is getting worse. And in essence, the video story contained several points of view, ending as it began, with comments by Richard Muller — who predicted bad results from global warming "and we should do something about it and we can do something about it."
It goes without saying that there was no viewpoint or bias to the story; I was reporting what I had found and what I thought was relevant to the national debate on climate change. Nevertheless, the feedback we have received on the story and the post will help inform ongoing coverage of the subject and how we have to frame it.
Here are the letters.
Here Come the Judges
I am a regular viewer of the PBS NewsHour and have great respect for its high quality coverage of complex issues and for its top-notch staff. But the NewsHour failed miserably in upholding its high standards with the report on climate change. Anthony Watts is a known shill for the fossil fuel lobby with no credibility on the science of climate change. His claims have been totally debunked by experts who do have credibility. Yet you featured this man as though he were an expert, and your reporter failed to question him on any of his claims. You do your viewers a grave disservice by giving a person like him such prominence. Would you interview a person who claims the Earth is flat or that the Earth is only 6,000 years old without questioning those claims? Please rectify this situation. You cannot let that segment stand as broadcast without undermining the integrity of the NewsHour.
Edgar DeMeo, Palo Alto, CA
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I have high regard PBS News Hour. But I must express absolute dismay at your recent interview by Spencer Michels on climate change with Anthony Watts. It was phony "balanced views" nonsense.
1) Mr. Watts is not a qualified climate scientist. He has no university degree in meteorology or in anything else. His status as a "meteorologist" is nothing more than a self-proclamation based on his having been a TV weatherman at a small station. His academic/professional background in climate science is even less impressive than his TV weatherman experience.
2. Your interviewer did not know enough to press him on the claims he made about the "problems" with temperature-trend measurements due to the effects of the urban heat island. Climate scientists are well aware of the warming experienced by some urban stations. There are many corrections, data-analysis strategies, and independent corroborating observations that have countered any such effects. Mr. Watts was allowed to claim that some degree of error had been introduced, casting doubt on the solid information that exists, without being made to account for the specific degree of error he claims to see, and without being asked to address the corroborating observations and corrections that eliminate his purported effects.
3. Mr. Watts was allowed to ramble on about all sorts of things, without being held to account for his claims. He digressed on the inaccuracies of thermometer measurements made in the 1700s, seeming to cast doubt on Dr. Richard Muller's recent work, while ignoring the fact that those old measurements are not at all necessary to Dr. Muller's major conclusions. He was allowed to imply that the climate science was not reliable because there were financial interests and "do-gooder" motives that had corrupted the process, but he was not held to account for what the supposed bad science results were. He discounted Dr. Muller's work as not having been peer-reviewed, but he was not challenged with the lack of peer review (and in fact public debunking by climate scientists) of his own work, nor with the massive amount of peer-reviewed science that counters his own assertions. And he was not challenged about the special-interest funding of his own work (Heartland Institute, etc.).
Mr. Watts has gained notoriety by being a very noisy, nasty critic of climate science and scientists, but he is no climate scientist and his work has been thoroughly discredited by respected climate scientists. His opinions have no scientific merit, and certainly have no status as a counterpoint to the mass of legitimate climate science.
It was a very poor performance by an inadequately prepared interviewer, and terrible editorial judgment by PBS to host such a miserable example of "false balance" and obfuscation. You should host another NewsHour segment with credible climate scientists addressing Mr. Watts' bogus comments.
Grandmas (and Viewers) Like You
First, I want to thank PBS for giving global warming/climate change some air time. This is such a BIG problem that cannot be stopped or turned around. We have to manage it in time IF humanity is to continue. My dog in the fight is my 4 grandchildren. If we keep going in our denial they will be suffering greatly all because of my generation's greatest error. I am 52 and have been somewhat informed over the years. So I thought. But actually, I have been lulled into believing it was "still a debate," or an issue that might come up in 500 years. It's not. See the American Meteorological Society's recent statement about climate change. It is strong and states a need to no longer sit on the sidelines. The science is in 1000 times over. The problem is no one has courage to take a stand. Certainly not TV stations or politicians. Who then? Grandmas like me who know that the best thing we can give our grandchildren is an earth that will feed them.
Juli Viel, O'Fallon, MO
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Really unbelievable, 97-98% of the entire world's scientific community agree that global warming is occurring and you elevate an ex-TV weatherman's opinions to the same value and importance as ENTIRE WORLD'S SCIENTIC COMMUNITY.
Charles Brown, Saratoga Springs, NY
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I understand why you'd have Richard Muller, a climate scientist, on your show to talk about climate science. But why give a non-scientist like Anthony Watts, who has been widely debunked, on the show to provide his opinion? Given the science Muller studied and found to be true, and the consequences of that science, this seems like a catastrophic failure of good journalism . . .
Auden Schendler, Basalt, CO
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As a graduate in Environmental Science, I question the methodology for selection of a former skeptic and a present skeptic (Watts) for the news item. When one considers the large majority of scientists that support the science of Climate Change vs. the very small number that are skeptics, and even most of them are supported by Heartland. I seriously question PBS's judgment in their selection. You owe us an apology for this very flawed piece.
Kermit Lund, Gilroy, CA
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I just watched your NewsHour story. Where to begin! Your story correctly states that skeptic Muller after examining the data himself has to admit he was wrong all along and that climate change is every bit as bad and human caused as virtually all the real climate scientist have been saying, go figure! Then your reporter inserts a lot of false "balance" by giving meteorologist and businessman Anthony Watts the chance to spread disinformation and yet the science strongly refutes Watts's arguments and did so long ago. PBS has a responsibility to use reporters who have the capacity and willingness to actually understand what they are reporting and not just hand the microphone over to someone because they speak for "the other side," especially if the other side is misstating the facts and has been proven wrong.
Worse still you direct viewers to an online interview with Watts where he gets to espouse his political beliefs . . . boiler plate climate denial and right-wing nonsense. Also, as someone who is from Oklahoma, I was saddened to see you show Senator Inhofe saying that climate change is a "hoax" once again in the context of "the other side." And yet that is just an opinion and the opinion of a crank even if he is a Senator and his statement is clearly, demonstrably wrong.
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The subject is Anthony Watts and Spencer Michel's decision to give Watts the legitimacy that PBS offers. Offering alternative viewpoints is a good thing. Skepticism is a good thing, and the social scientific project has skepticism built into it. However, Watts and the Heartland Institute (Watts' employer) do not offer an alternative viewpoint. They also are not representative of a skeptical approach, no matter how they self-identify. They have "never" offered an alternative theory. Indeed, no one yet — scientist or college dropout (Watts) — has offered an alternative theory to AGW that accounts for well-understood physics, instrumental measurements, and the recent and paleo record. Yet Watts has done immense damage to the scientific project by supporting, for example, the "climategate" allegations, by casting doubt on the legitimacy of climate science (which is nearly two centuries old), and by encouraging the idea that there actually is a scientific debate about the fundamental theory of AGW (if you think there is, show me the science!). A better report would have been an investigative piece into the way that climate science is presented to the public as a debate.
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Great job on the climate change story this week! I think it's a great idea to have people with no credentials come on and refute extensive scientific studies! How can I get a job doing that? If you have any upcoming stories about evolution or gravity, give me a call and I'd be happy to give the other side of the story . . . After all these are JUST THEORIES! Scientists think they are so smart . . . with their facts and knowledge and peer-reviewed studies. Well we dumb people deserve to be heard, too! If we stick together, we can finally win this centuries-old battle against science! And eventually return to the simpler times like the Dark Ages. Keep up the good work! Together we can finally push science off the air and off the edge of our flat Earth!
Los Angeles, CA
It's Real and It's Us
The most prestigious scientific bodies in the world have all issued public statements that global warming is real and is caused mainly by human beings, including the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, China, India, and Russia.
According to a peer reviewed analysis of the published peer reviewed scientific literature "97 — 98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC [Anthropogenic Climate Change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers." See here.
Since "journalistic balance" is the overarching principle that you are guided by, then I expect that the interview with the denier Anthony Watts will be followed by 98 interviews with actual climate scientists who hold the consensus view that is grounded in evidence; namely, that warming is real and is caused mainly by human beings.
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Watts is not a scientist and that he has never engaged in any kind of respected climate research. I am well aware that the producer of that segment is one most responsible for its content but I also know that nothing makes it on air without further supervision. The entire NewsHour is implicated in the furthering of anti-scientific propaganda of those who wish to stop all action to try to address the most significant issue facing mankind. It would have been better for your program to have avoided the topic completely.
I just read the piece posted on your site by [the NewsHour's] Hari Sreenivasan. I have this to say about his piece: It does not matter what other "elements" you might have "connected" to the TV program online because I did not go to your blog for the story. I was watching TV. Compared to your TV viewing public, most do not go to your blogs. If you wish to correct the impression you gave that Watts is somehow a respected climate researcher you would need to do another TV program. As long as you continue to include nonscientist propagandists in your TV programs as if they are experts in the field of climate research you have lost all credibility with me. I am still absolutely dumfounded! You must know there are literally hundreds of actual, well respected climate scientists in many different countries you could have interviewed who actually publish respected peer-reviewed research on the topic. Literally hundreds of them exist while the propagandists, dis-informers and deniers make up just a tiny segment of the scientific community. Watts is not even a member of that community!
M. Tucker, San Clemente, CA
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I am a retired meteorologist with a background in climate science, and I am really getting sick and tired of the way the mainstream news media is portraying the climate crisis story and in the process denigrating my profession and all of legitimate climate science. That PBS would air such an obvious piece of misinformation from the thoroughly debunked denier, Anthony Watts, is unbelievable. And this comes at a time when the real story that should be followed in depth and every chance you get is the record ice melt in the Arctic that is currently going on and which will most likely lead to a basically ice free Arctic Ocean in just a few summers with all the dire implications for weather conditions around the world.
Edward P. Hummel, Garland, ME
'Believers' Is Not the Proper Description
I protest the openly biased Spencer Michels' piece on climate change shown 9-17-2012 on The NewsHour. Michels used the term, "climate change believers," not one of his interviewees. Given the common meaning of the word believer, as faith-based rather than fact-based, Michels has revealed a bias of his own. He stepped beyond the 'balance' convention of counterpoint interviews. He is failing to keep up with the information base on the most influential news story of our time. Also, for your own sakes, get a better researcher on climate change, one who can understand scientific abstracts as well as policy statements.
Joan Savage, Syracuse, NY
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Today's NewsHour story on climate change was a low point for PBS . . . to give equal time to pseudoscientists like Anthony Watts. Did it not occur to the reporter to look into Mr. Watts' educational background and professional qualifications before giving his opinion equal weight? An AMS seal is a broadcasting credential, and does not suggest any background or training in science. To suggest that Watt's opinion on climate is valid is like suggesting that a dog catcher is qualified to dispute the professional opinion of 97% of veterinarians. His website specializes in smearing honest scientists and manufacturing doubt. His claims have been debunked over and over (by actual scientists who are held to a standard of professional peer review).
Finally, I would suggest that you not accept the framing language of deniers. We scientists are not "believers." That's a pejorative term designed to suggest a religious adherence. We are persuaded by facts, evidence, and the incontrovertible laws of physics. Likewise, deniers are not "skeptics." They believe in "natural cycles" that are not explainable by physics. They believe that urban heat islands can affect the temperature of the planet, despite the fact that cities make up less than 1% of the area of the Earth's surface, and despite the fact that the places that are warming the fastest (the Arctic and Siberia) lack cities. Deniers are not the skeptics. We are. People who reject pseudoscience are properly called "skeptics." People who reject facts and evidence are called "believers." It is dishonest and Orwellian to reverse the meanings of these words.
Mark Boslough, Ph.D., Albuquerque, NM
Fellow, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
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I still haven't scraped my jaw off the floor after you interview with Anthony Watts. When a subject questions measurable process it would be nice if you at least referenced the data questioned. Multiple studies have addresses the urban heat island effects on the temperature record. None of them have led any credence to Mr. Watt's opinions.
Global Warming is the biggest event in the most important nature/science story in history. It is bigger than Krakatoa or the destruction of Minoan Civilization. Please find me an example of a person (scientist or otherwise) who questions anthropogenic global warming who has not had their view repeatedly discredited by multiple peer-reviewed studies. Take their statements and match them, each and every one to peer reviewed science and see if any of them stand up, please.
William MacKinnon, Portage Twp., MI
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"Some people say global warming is a hoax, others do not" Good god a'mighty. There are hardly ANY practicing, PHD, card-carrying professional climate scientists/physicists who say the issue is in doubt. The vast, vast majority of the "other side," epitomized by NON-climate scientist Anthony Watts, are not scientists but professional skeptics. The very statements that Watts makes about the bias in the temperature record have been tested over and over again by the scientific community and have been found to be groundless. By giving Watts such credibility you have done an immense disservice to your supporters and the viewing public. What shoddy reporting. Richard Muller is not a climate scientist, he was a skeptic, but he did an honest examination of the temperature data and concluded that the position of people like Watts was groundless. But Muller did not consider the underlying physics which is really where the strength of the argument about global warming and climate change is — it is a rock solid prediction based on fundamental physics. You did not touch on that, which is admittedly hard to do since it requires much more time that even the relatively generous 5-10 minutes PBS gives to the issue. Why don't you talk to a real climate scientist? Talk to Kerry Emmanuel of MIT, Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M, David Archer or Raymond T. Pierrehumbert of the University of Chicago. Those are REAL climate scientists, and there are dozens — hundreds more — who live and breathe this stuff and are not paid by the US Chamber of Commerce or Exxon to cast doubt on the science like Watts.
Ron Spross, Ph.D., Humble, TX
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I am incredibly disappointed with the amount of air time that was provided to Anthony Watts on the PBS News Hour. His arguments have been clearly debunked. It's fine to provide a "balanced view" for things that are political or opinion. But climate change science has been fairly clear for 20 years, and indisputably clear recently. What's next, are you going to start interviewing right wing evangelists about questioning the theory of evolution as science? Maybe we should start arguing about whether the earth rotates around the sun or not. Without exaggeration, this is really the level of stooping low in this interview. The debate on climate change is over. We are so far beyond this debate, and actually starting to face the severe consequences already. PBS should be reporting about what is already happening as a result of climate change and the very challenging things that are likely to happen in our lifetimes that few people are aware of. Wake up!!!!
Michael Courtney, Saugerties, NY
Don't Let 'the Alarmists' Get You Down
Well done to you including Anthony Watts in your piece about "Global Warming." I along with many other "skeptics" applaud your bravery. I am sure that your inclusion of him in the piece is causing you no end of grief with the "alarmists" on the other side of the issue. Well done.
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Spencer Michel's story on anthropogenic climate change was excellent. Please do not be deterred by the volume of hate mail and threatening calls you receive for airing this program. Remember (and remind those who complain) that his is a scientific debate, not a shouting contest. If those contacting you could provide reproducible empirical data to support their claims, there would be no debate.
Louis Hooffstetter, Folly Beach, SC
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Please do not cave in to the censoring crowds. There is an orchestrated campaign to attack PBS on the basis of the one interview with prominent blogger Anthony Watts. The Watts story IS out there and it has not been told often enough. Why? Because many take it upon themselves to try to censor anything that might appear contrary to the usual climate-change-doom narrative. PBS has finally woken up to the Watts story. The program's producers and journalists should be commended for their courage. If you allow instead the censors to control what PBS says, it will be the ruin of PBS. I urge you to defend the journalists and all other PBS employees from this cowardly attack.
Maurizio Morabito, London, UK
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Kudos to PBS and Spencer Michels for the excellent and well-balanced program on global warming. Mr. Watts has won "Best Science" and even "Lifetime Achievement" awards for his science blog, which has 5 times the readership of other climate-focused blogs according to Alexa. When Mr. Watts states that he believes in global warming, just that it may not be as bad as painted, he is taking a normal scientific position held by many, including the 30,000 scientists who have signed a petition to that effect. The truly nauseating over-reaction of the PBS viewers to this mild interview presents an ugly view of the PBS audience.
Lance Wallace, Santa Rosa, CA