How to honestly report the climate debate

It is very easy to criticise the obvious failures of many broadcasters and newspapers to accurately and therefore honestly report the climate debate. But what would we sceptics say if someone genuinely came to us and wanted to know how the debate should be accurately reported in an impartial way?
Let’s create an entirely fictional organisation I shall call the SBC (Scottish Broadcasting Company). This is a public broadcasting company which is attempting to be impartial. It is therefore filled with public-sector journalists, of whom very few are scientists and none have any specialism on climate or energy.
Traditionally “science” was seen by the SBC as those ideas and facts originating from the group of people it called “scientists”. And with almost no other communication channels to challenge this view except other non-scientist journalists and a few scientific journals, the authority of “scientists” to be the spokespeople for “science” was never realistically challenged.
And as such “science” was largely synonymous with the views of the self-governing association of public-sector university academics (albeit with a much smaller & less vocal number of private-sector scientists).

The Internet

For a long time the SBC was respected, however, all that changed with the introduction of the Internet. Suddenly large numbers of individuals with an interest and therefore usually a qualification in science, started producing journalist material on issues traditionally seen as the domain of public-sector “scientists”. Very quickly a massive dispute erupted in the area of energy and particularly the need for fossil fuel to power the industrial economy and infrastructure.
As few of those within the traditional area of “science” had much interest or experience of the industrial economy that needed fossil fuels, they tended to favour public-sector intervention against the private sector. So a massive consensus had developed within the area the SBC tended to refer to as “science” that fossil fuel use needed to be ended. And as this was traditionally thought of as the only voice of “science” this is what the SBC had been broadcasting.
In contrast, many of those individuals on the internet who were now “blogging”, came from a private sector background where they knew the importance of fossil fuels and how it would be extremely damaging to try to stop their use. Furthermore, they tended to be sceptical about the efficiency & effectiveness of the public-sector, so were both sceptical of the conclusions of this sector that fossil fuels were a “problem” and also sceptical of the proposed “solution” which seemed like a huge public-sector power-grab.


For obvious reasons, being a public-sector organisation and already having very close links to the establishments that used to constitute “science” the SBC obviously found its staff tended to naturally side with the established public-sector “science” from academia. So, it had assumed that a “consensus” amongst this group that fossil fuels were a problem meant this was the settled view of “science”. As such the SBC had initially been very dismissive of those private-sector bloggers who were sceptical.
But let us suppose, that hypothetically the SBC now recognised that it had not been impartial and was now attempting to be more evenhanded in its reporting (an entirely hypothetical and probably far-fetched case).
How could it achieve this?

Problems faced by the SBC

  1. The first and obvious one is that the present group previous referred to as “science” will not be pleased to find that its authority to be the one and only voice of “science” is being challenged by a group of often nameless individuals.
  2. The individuals on the internet are just that: individuals. Unlike the old “science” there is not established or recognised spokesman for the SBC to approach to ascertain the authorative view of the internet “sceptics”.
  3. And unlike the old “science” the new group(s) on the internet have no recognised standards. So, if the SBC were to use material from the internet, it would not necessarily know whether that material sourced from the internet was of a sufficiently high standard to broadcast.
  4. And finally, because journalism and science are such different areas and the SBC does not itself have the necessary experience or qualifications to judge, how can the SBC as a non-scientist/non-engineer, judge in what appears to be a legitimate dispute between the interpretation of scientific facts and ideas.

Possible solutions

  1. One solution, and the one that the SBC initially attempted, was to try to retain the old system and hope that “science” itself would adapt. However, the dispute between the public sector academics and private sector bloggers did not resolve itself.
  2. Another solution would be to have an effective free-for-all so that journalists in the EBC may print whatever material they want. But unfortunately, because the EBC are public sector, the result was that the EBC journalists when given a free choice, would overwhelmingly publish material that supported public-sector views on fossil fuels.
  3. A third solution, would be to bring in-house expertise into the SBC. However, as the available experts in the subject tend to come from academia, this might just reinforce the predominantly bias toward the public sector already inherent in the SBC’s output.

A fictional example

The journal “Natural Science” has printed an article stemming from research at the Wave, Atmosphere & Climate Organisation (WACO) which says:

Sea levels along the northeast coast of the US rose by record levels during 2009-2010, a study has found.

Sea levels north of New York City rose by 128mm in two years, according to a report in the journal, Nature Communications.

This has then been picked up by several bloggers. One known as Mr Goodyard described the result as “fraud”, a claim that the SBC are reluctant to broadcast. However, the blogger provided ample evidence that sea level had changed for a number of years and that the period selected for study was dishonest as it did not reflect the known longer term change.
Likewise, another blogger called Mr Homeward, made similar points to Mr Goodyard highlighting the lack of recent acceleration and was equally condemning of the original paper stating:

there is no evidence that anything at all unusual is happening now.

but this time as a Hairy jock he also directed his comments fairly and squarely at the SBC:

More alarmist nonsense from the SBC, by yet another of their “Environmental Correspondents”. (How many do they ruddy well have?)

What should the SBC do?

In order to maintain high standards, the SBC have in place a policy that reports have to be come from a credible source. This means that whereas the original source from WACO is supported by that agency, the criticisms of their work comes from private individuals which the SBC for the best of reasons cannot just broadcast without some mechanism to avoid misleading its audience (or being sued).
But perhaps equally bad, the new internet bloggers do not proactively make their material available to the SBC. So, the SBC is in the invidious position of broadcasting material from WACO, and then perhaps much later discovering that an individual on the internet has serious doubts about the “honesty” of WACO’s research.
The SBC is not itself either equipped to judge who is “right” in this dispute nor does it have this role. But it has a duty to report impartially. But one side is a large organisation who has all the resources necessary to package up its “work” so that journalists at the SBC can almost copy and paste it for output. But in contrast the blogger have almost no resource except themselves and they not package up material suitable for broadcast nor in most instances do they tell the SBC about their work. So, even if the SBC wanted to be impartial, even if its journalists could afford to spend huge amounts of time rewriting the bloggers work in a form suitable for broadcast, it often doesn’t know about the bloggers material until it is too late to make use of it in the original article.

There is no simple solution I can see. Any ideas?

Post Script – Surely there are hundreds of areas where the SBC must already have to “arbitrate” between the big organisation and the individual. What about shoppers versus supermarkets. Patients versus hospitals? What is so unique about climate that journalists are incapable of seeing the issue for what it is? Or perhaps it is that journalists only champion the “little guy” when that little guy is them or the people they immediately know. And because sceptics & journalists are so different in outlook, that no journalists at the SBC know any climate sceptics?

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15 Responses to How to honestly report the climate debate

  1. Scottish-Sceptic says:

    I’ve just realised that the radio on which I used to listen to Radio 4 almost incessantly, has now been lying in another room tuned to “noise” because someone in the family has temporary tinnitus.
    So, just at the moment the “noise” has a higher rating than the BBC!
    I wonder if they have a statistic for that in audience listening figures?

  2. TinyCO2 says:

    But the err SBC is only interested in bad news. It is interested if you tell them that things are bad, despite the scientific line. If you’ve got a good catastrophe story then it doesn’t matter who you are or what proof you’ve got. On AGW the scientific line is mostly bad but even then they seek out those who say ‘it’s worse than we thought’. If there was a provable scandal, then they’d be interested… maybe but not at the expense of a bigger story – the end of life as we know it.
    Anti business and progress started long before AGW. It’s built into the mindset of those who inhabit the media set in general and the SBC in particular. Because the SBC is funded by the public then they have a buffer from the rough and tumble of genuinely earning a living. No need to tread carfully over those who sponsor their programmes. In theory this should make them impartial but in practice it just makes them careless. For mistakes their only threat is a fine and then all they do is pass the cost onto the public either in higher license fees or in reduced output.
    So there is nothing scientifically you can say that would sway the SBC that AGW is not a catastrophe… but how about getting them to think about what if it’s true? If AGW is true then everyone is going to have to change and that includes them.
    Only the other day I looked up wthat happened to the ‘ethical man’. The guy who made his family reduce CO2 as far as possible for a year. The conclusions from his experiment are still there but the Beeb have shoved it to the back of the cupboard. The guy found out how genuinely hard it is to cut CO2, especially in his job. This was not what the beeb wanted to hear and so buried the project. I’m not remotely concened about AGW but it pisses me off mightily when I see a beeb reporter stood on a glacier somehwere remote telling us somthing that could have been done in Salford or London with a blue screen and some of the endless footage they’ve shot for David Attenborough’s programmes. Then there’s the breaking news event that sees the perfectly suitable local news reporter elbowed out of the way for a London face who has jetted in for the event. That includes parts of the UK, where surely the local news teams are experienced enough and suitably well spoken to do national broadcasts. Aunty was spending £44,000 alone of flights to London from Manchester for those who didn’t book their own flights on expenses.
    Can you imagine asking them endless questions about what they’ve done to reduce their footprint and working practices?
    Have you ever tried to calculate your CO2 footprint? No matter what you put, you can’t get the value below about 4, which is twice what it would need to be to just park emissions. I think people would be shocked how little the things we have dore so far have done to our emissions. The lower you go, the more exponentially hard the reduction becomes.
    There are probably impressive figures about how much land would need to be covered in we used just solar and wind, just to produce as much energy as we have now. Then there’s a figure if we all went electrical for heating and transport.
    Ask loads of question they think they should know the answer to and then give them the shocking real answer.
    Only when you see what god awful mess cutting Co2 would be do you ask ‘are we sure we need to?’

    • TinyCO2 says:

      THink about adding up the money lost to the mafia for renewables or on fake carbon credits. What about the money spent on failed renewables companies in grants and the numbers of people left with dud equipment. How much money are the green NGOs collecting to lobby governments?
      Don’t draw any conclusions for these facts and figures, let people work them out.

      • Scottish-Sceptic says:

        It is by far the biggest scam in world history. Unless something like Hitler is a scam?? – although the housing bubble might be bigger. But I’d estimate the total cost as something like 1/4 of British, US GDP and I presume many other countries as well.
        But it is so big, that almost no one in the establishment has not bought into it. So, there are almost none who want to rock the boat as they personally will be implicated – at least as gullible, stupid and politically motivated.
        So even if we stop it going further – I’m still intrigued to know whether it will blow up to be the biggest scandal – or whether somehow they will manage to smother it.
        20 years ago, yes! They could smother it. No doubt there are numerous such debacles that we just don’t realise happened, because the establishment controlled the media. But today there is an independent media which they cannot control and so it is still likely to blow up in their faces and bring a lot of them down.

    • Scottish-Sceptic says:

      I agree with all you say. It’s no surprise that large numbers of sceptics are engineers. Because as an engineer I felt really really isolated in the Green party. Everyone else was living in cloud cuckoo land with ideas of little Catherine wheel sized windmills.
      In contrast, I knew that just the first step they were proposing would destroy much of Scotland’s scenery. That’s why I knew government could never ever reduce CO2 – mainly because the media like the SBC were completely utterly insaneable ignorant on what it really meant.
      So I realised that nothing would stop us burning all the fossil fuels, I realised that the CO2 rise would be limited only by the amount of fossil fuel – I read the article on Wikipedia, popped a link to it on Global Warming and came face to face with the most vicious nasty individual I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet W.C.
      And when you realise that those lying & cheating to falsifying the science are the climate “scientists” themselves, it wasn’t long before I became a full blown sceptic.
      However, the problem remains. The SBC will never change – all journalists seem to be the same gullible science illiterate people who swallow this global warming scam hook line sinker. But the SBC being public service are even more gullible when those spreading the scam are also public sector.
      The only way forward I can see is to privatise the SBC.
      I’d like to say we could just live with it – but the cost of the SBC’s bias against industry has been one of the worst disasters Britain has ever seen. I suspect it is singlehandedly responsible for the Thatcher anti-industry era, the CO2 scam where anti-CO2 is a nothing more than a proxy for “anti-industry”. The SBC have promoted a view of “science” that focusses on short-term projects (so basically a PhD), which means the whole concept of research and development in the UK is now that some wet-behind the ears student comes in looks at something for 3-4 years and then miraculously invents space flight or time travel.
      That kind of short-termism is now endemic not only in R&D but in the whole economy. We no longer think of the long term. Instead investors want to get in quick, make money in 3-4 years and then sell the company. That does not encourage the long-term experienced-based development that is needed in many areas. So, basically the SBC have fucked up Britain and it should go.

  3. TinyCO2 says:

    The worst kind of fraud is where the people running it believe in it. They are often more resitant to new information compared to true con artists who will run at the first sign of change. And of course there is an unknown amount of truth to the science, which makes it doubly problematic.
    While I agree wholheartedly about the SBC’s terrible effect on this country, I don’t think their minds cannot be changed. Like many busybodies they will be as fanatical in the other direction if they ever change tack. They will do much beating of breasts and then blame everyone else. Their outrage over the Savile issue is slightly funny to watch. It’s like they’ve completely forgotton their own part in it. I can see them ripping into renewables and even climate sientists with as much enthusiasm as they attack sceptics. As a bunch of people they don’t do austerity… not once they get into the club. They fondly campaign on behalf of the poor and the unemployed but they don’t really empathise. Like all champagne socialists they approve of chanpagne for all, not champagne for nobody. Well AGW doesn’t allow for that form of equality.
    They need to consider their own futures. Would the public rather spend their CO2 on heating and food or the SBC? Already, many of us look to bloggers around the planet for an up to date report of what’s really happening. Why would we use the real media and pay (in money or CO2) if someone will do it for nothing? Entertainment could go the same way. We will live on second grade internet TV rather than first grade real tv. The rise of internet self publish books and the popularity of Youtube is a pattern for the future. Imagine amateur dramatics for the internet? Virtual stages, actors and speech artists a thousand miles apart?
    IF CAGW is real there’s no place for the SBC… of they last that long.

  4. Scottish-Sceptic says:

    “Their outrage over the Savile issue is slightly funny to watch. It’s like they’ve completely forgotton their own part in it.” YES!!
    You are quite right. If government were serious about reducing CO2 use, one of the first things that we would all lose is TV. They’d be no cars either.
    In fact the only way to really do it – because we simply can’t grow the food without massive amounts of farm-use of fossil fuel – is to cut the population down to around 20-30 million.
    Actually, that may be too high. In WWII we couldn’t sustain the population of 35million without food imports. The “sustainable” population with 1940s style energy use is probably closer to 20million.
    That’s the kind of common sense understanding that is missing from the Greens. They have no idea how much energy we use in our society and where it is being used. They think a few LED lights and windmills. The reality is that we’d need all the windmills, far less people and no lights. (But I’d need to check calculations – that’s just a guess)

    • TinyCO2 says:

      I think it’s possible even without population decrease but it would involve a society almost like the one in the Matrix or at least a very simple one. Nuclear would be a must. Wartime style rationing. It would be very restrictive and unpleasant. We’d strongly readjust our priorities.
      Factoid – in 2005 about 32 million tonnes of CO2 were emitted by the UK air businesses (halved for international flights). That works out at roughly 0.5 tonne per person. Would anyone want a quarter of their dayly allocation of CO2 to be used up on flying?
      A return business flight to Australia is about 15 tonnes so those guys from the beeb and the guardian who went on a cruise with Turney are screwed.
      Wildlife would be screwed. Every animal would become potential bushmeat and it would be bbq-ed over the last twigs in the neighbourhood. Bye, bye pets.
      I can see a more dystopian future with CO2 reduction than without.
      However the SBC lot are relying on there being a magic solution. No need to worry about a low energy future if fairies are going to make it all better. We just need to believe hard enough.

      • I asked a farmer about bio-crops once. He said that 50% of what was grown would be consumed on the farm before it left the gate. You then need to add to that substantial amounts of fossil fuel used as raw material and energy supply for fertiliser and pesticides.
        So, let’s assume 75% crop yield due to less chemicals being added and that we still need 50% for fuel for the farm (maybe 40%). So food output is about 30%.
        However, we still have to get that food to people, we’ve still got the problem that we import more than we grow.
        So, a likely figure for a carbon free agricultural system is starting to be around 20-30% of food output. That doesn’t make the 20million an unrealistic figure for a very low carbon economy.
        Have you never wondered why I gave up a job to fight this madness? Most of what has been done so far as probably INCREASED fossil fuel consumption. I would be pretty sure wind has, PV certainly increases fossil fuel use.
        If the government were literally compelled to reduce CO2 levels, I’ve no doubt the only way to do it would be mass killings. Or at least Stalin style mass famine.

        • TinyCO2 says:

          Consumed I assume by animals? Which is why diet would have to go vegitarian or even vegan. Maybe meat will be generated by machine? Chicken is a much more viable meat than beef, lamb or pork. It takes only 6 weeks to go from egg to lunch and they can be fed on stuff we wouldn’t touch.
          Remember also that this country wastes about 50% of what it buys and is eating way too much so we could probably self sufficient if we wanted to be. We’re also not using all the land we could for food cultivation. It’s not impossible, it’s just not fun.
          We could level suburbia and put everone into flats. We could do loads of things… we just don’t want to. And won’t unless we absolutely have to.
          The SBC thinks that the bedroom tax is mean, wait until project CO2 comes into being. Wait till the SBC luvvies are told they’ve been reassigned as hand weeders and manure spreaders because art director and best boy are no longer required by the state.

          • TinyCO2 says:

            Actually the BBC have come close to imagining this with their episode of Dr Who when Donna Noble’s history has been rewritten and she never met the Dr. London has been destroyed and nearly all the vehicles have been disabled because of Atmos. The US were going to help but they’ve been decimated by the Adipose. Her family end up living on the floor of some northern kitchen while the other rooms i the terrace are thronging with some very jolly asians. At one point the asians are loaded into trucks to be taken off to labour camps. Donna’s grandad, Bernard Cribbins, cries and says ‘that’s what they called them last time’ as the truck rolls off. Donna runs after shouting ‘where are you taking them?’
            They have the ability to understand, they just need to realise that they’re one of the architects of this future.

  5. The single biggest reason there’s been no major war in the last half century is because when the economy is growing and the pie is getting bigger, no matter how unfairly the pie is split, everyone knows they will be better off.
    But if we go to a regime of reducing energy, reducing GDP and everyone realises that the wealth and literally “cost of living” is getting too high, people will start taking it out on other people.
    And it will be the green nutters and left wing goons who spend so much time criticising everyone else for wanting to have sensible immigration who will be the first to turn on those same immigrants.
    After all wasn’t the Nazi party the “national socialists”. Weren’t they the prototupe first green party?

    • TinyCO2 says:

      Which is one of the reasons why, if it’s done at all it has to be done fairly. No CO2 elites. No country takes the lead. At the moment everyone in power seems to agree that the west should cut first. We’ve had our share apparently. I’m not sure those who are recently arrived in the west, those who have a deprived ancestry or those who are poor now, would agree. That doesn’t leave many people to pay the bill our leaders are signing up for.
      The public are ignoring the problem and doing a good job of it. Governments and tv companies are fooling themselves if they think they’ll slide it in without the public rejecting it.

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