August 28, 2008 | Graham

‘Churnlism’ and global warming

A friend drew my attention to this interview on the 7.30 Report with Nick Davies, the author of Flat Earth News. Most of the interview is taken up with the question of how you produce good quality journalism when corporatism has taken over the news room (what he calls churnlism) and the constant deadlines of the Internet have colonised the time still left over for contemplation. These are issues which On Line Opinion tries to solve daily and Davies’ comments define the problem, even as they offer no solutions.
What really caught my eye was this exchange at the end of the interview. Bear in mind that Davies works for The Guardian, hardly a bastion of the right.

NICK DAVIES: Climate change is very interesting because what you’ve had there is a kind of three-way battle involving PR overwhelming journalism.
So you had a big bunch of corporations led by Exxon who were in the business of denial and who spent a fortune setting up front organisations and academic think-tanks to put out reports to justify their position of denial.
Then you had a breakaway group of corporations by Shell and BP who are much more subtle. They said okay there’s a problem with climate but we are part of the solution. And they also generate PR stories to serve their purposes.
And then third corner you have the environmental groups, people like Greenpeace, who even though they have the scientific consensus on their side nevertheless engage, as I’ve shown in the book, in some pretty breathtaking exaggeration in order to manipulate the media to take up their position.
In the middle of this kind of three-way fight you have the equivalent of civilians in a war zone that is to say the readers and consumers of news media, who suffer like civilians do because they’re being bombarded with misinformation and how any of us are supposed to know what the truth is about climate change and its implications when actually the news is being subverted by PR from three different directions it’s really a very worrying thing when you see the structural likelihood of media being vehicles for PR stories.

Now I don’t necessarily agree with every detail of his analysis, but I do agree with the thrust – there isn’t just one side to the Greenhouse story, but there are many forces at work trying to deny those sides to us.
We’ve had our problems at OLO because that is exactly what we try to do – put all sides of the greenhouse arguments. At the moment we have a reader trying to convince sponsors to withdraw funding from us because we have published climate professionals, eminent academics, a former university VC and a man described by The Guardian as “one of the 50 most likely to save the planet” who question some part of the IPCC global warming orthodoxy. He even objects to us taking paid advertising from organisations with which he disagrees.
Then there was Clive Hamilton’s dummy spit; and my response to it. Clive’s latest instalment in the CO2 wars is even more bizarre than his attack on OLO. Here is an extract from a speech he gave to the Sydney Institute, broadcast on ABC radio.

The methods of questioning the biases and prejudices lying behind facts is being turned against progressive political positions by a conservative resurgence that also…has in its sights the modernist project of objective truth. Fundamentalism is on the march and it pays less respect to the scientific method than the most ironic social constructionist. It is not just the creationists, but also the global warming skeptics, who’ve tried to systematically undermine the credibility of the mass of scientific evidence.
Mimicking the postmodernists in their critique of the social sciences and the humanities the global warming skeptics have characterized climate science as a social construction of scientists motivated by career advancement and prospects of research funding. Climate science must be discredited because it lends standing to environmentalism which as we all know is a force of darkness whose secret agenda is to dismantle capitalism.
The neo-conservatives long for a return to a pre-modern era in which faith has authority over science. Modernism elevated matters of fact over matters of belief and now finds itself under siege from both postmodernism and neo-conservatism. Both reject the claim of science objective truth. The former, postmodernism, sees truth as being socially constructed and the real truth is always contestable; the neo-conservatives refuse to accept that belief should be subject to falsification by fact.

If he paid any attention to the global warming arguments he would understand that while there are some irrational skeptics, most of the high profile ones are in fact very much part of the modernist, or enlightenment project (as is OLO) and are in fact scientists and other professionals applying the most rigorous scrutiny to the claims made by the IPCC. To give one example, which combines rational inquiry and modern communications technologies, McIntyre and McKittrick’s demolition of the “Hockey Stick” wasn’t a work of faith, but of painstaking statistical analysis, which continues to this day at ClimateAudit.
Surely Clive’s lecture is ironically post-modern itself as the claim that it makes here, based on nothing more than incorrect assertions, is actually an exercise in social constructionism, which seeks to improve its truth claims by criticising social constructionism at the same time. It also demonstrates some of the problems with modern journalism as Clive’s words will find their way into the ears of over-worked journalists who will duly churn them out without thought because it helps to meet a corporate, or Internet imposed deadline.
It’s a good thing that we’ve also got the Internet here to put some of these truth claims to the empirical test.

Posted by Graham at 12:13 am | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Media


  1. Today the thought of stewardship of our planet is a concept very much on the public agenda. Only a few years ago, even the idea of recycling was thought of as bunk….but today every household has a recycle bin. For this we thank the overworked journalists who have not totally understood the issues they were presenting, the scientists who have too often pushed their own agendas, and a plethora of people who have devoted endless hours to the promotion of our need to save the planet.
    Quantifying the extent of global warming has almost universally replaced the need for proof that it is occuring. This represents a great shift in the public paradigm, albeit a bit late in the game. Ironically, faith and science have gone hand in hand in this pursuit. Creationists say God created the world and have given people the responsibility to care for it. Science says the world has shown a great need for its people to stop destroying it,and take up the corporate responsibility to care for it.
    Arguing over statistics and viewpoints, and polarising arguments too often obstructs the task at hand to actually make a positive difference to the situation we find our planet in.
    The time has come to join forces regardless of political mindset, advantage, or personal philosophical paradigm, and address the practicalities of environmental stewardship…not because we have finally determined the actual extent of the damage… but because we acknowledge the damage does exist and it is the responsibiliy of each of us to correct it.

    Comment by Suzi — August 28, 2008 @ 5:24 am

  2. And of course OLO is in no way attempts to conceal its anti-AGW bias. It always, without fail publishes a link to the anti-AGW blog run by Jennifer Marohasy. And G. Young who runs The Domain is unashamedly anti-AGW.
    Graham’s latest piece attempts to draw the conclusion that because the interviewee equates Greenpeace propaganda with anti-AGW propaganda the science supporting AGW is therefore propaganda. This is of course misleading at best. Most of the scientific conclusions are based on models that use empirical observation as their input. Science underpins these conclusions and it does not, unlike Exxon, Shell or Greenpeace or OLO have a barrow to push. This is of course the gaping hole in the anti-AGW “argument”; what purpose is it exactly that the promotion of supposedly spurious theories of global warming serves? The answer is of course there isn’t one. That is why we have seen this embarrassing argument put forward by anti-AGW that AGW is some form religion, that the adherents are fanatics defending their faith. This resort to blatantly irrational explanations (in fact some of the tracts promoting this appear ecstatic) points to the underlying barrenness of the anti-AGW position. In truth they are the same old conservatives who nearly fried Galileo. They will, in the end, not go down in a blaze of glory. Their capitulation will be timid and at the same time grudging and ungracious.

    Comment by Patrick B — August 28, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  3. Suzi and Patrick.Perhaps you both should address the core realities surrounding CO2.CO2 is the key issue.See by Prof Springer.Water vapour accounts for at least 95% of GW.In the case of AGW,man made CO2 accounts for 0.117% of the earth’s total greenhouse effect.
    Now one Prof Sevringhaus acknowledges that new ice core data reveals that the heating of the planet causes CO2 to be released from the oceans.Prior 2005 it was thought that CO2 caused the heating.Severinghaus admits that the initial heating is not caused by CO2 but somehow CO2 acts like an amplifier.When I have questioned how exactly this is so,no one can give an answer.How does CO2 excite all the other gases to make them retain more heat energy?CO2 cannot be a catalyst since this is not a chemical reaction.
    Now there are many scientists who have doubts about the influence of CO2 and rightfully so because the science is far from being proven.
    Instead of accusing OLO of bias,do some thinking/research for yourselves.

    Comment by Arjay — August 28, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

  4. Why don’t you do your own research then, Arjay? Is it because you can’t find anything supporting your hypothesis?

    Comment by Chade — August 28, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

  5. Chade,you miss the point.I’m questioning the conventional scientific wisdom.It is not an hypothesis on my part.You see Chade,since 2005 new data reveals a new reality,and too many people are now financially reliant on old prejudices.
    For Severinghause to suddenly conjure up such an unscientific concept as amplification by CO2 when there is no scientific proof,beggars belief.

    Comment by Arjay — August 28, 2008 @ 9:26 pm

  6. Patrick, the real conservatives in this debate are those who just parrot whatever the AGW party line is.
    I’d be interested to see your evidence that I am “anti-AGW”. How do you define that term in the first place, and where have I ever argued that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere does not contribute to global warming?
    Perhaps it is both possible to believe in global warming and to be “anti-AGW”, but I’d like to understand how.

    Comment by Graham Young — August 28, 2008 @ 11:48 pm

  7. There is a certain point at which the mass of personal experience overwhelms all intellectual arguments, no matter how well informed they claim to be.
    Those who watch the US from afar can surely see that the Bush regime has been characterised by lies, cronyism and dereliction of democratic obligations of oversight. Will they act to change this?
    Likewise, Australia is experiencing terrible and highly threatening conditions which will diminish our economy and way of life.
    There is really no choice but to see the facts and take action, regardless of the cause.
    It doesn’t really matter if global warming exists: we’re cooking now and our water is running out.
    Does someone who is dying of hunger stop to argue that the grocery stores are to blame?
    We have too many people, too little planning for an oil-scarce future, and our food and coastlines are too vulnerable. That’s enough for us to agree on and act on, and quickly.

    Comment by Ronda — August 29, 2008 @ 11:27 pm

  8. Rhonda ,that was the longest of bows.You have coupled GW, Bush,Cronyism ,over pop into one scenario of cause and effect.Rhonda,”It doesn’t really matter if GW exists ,we are cooking now and our water is running out.” It does matter since your scenarios are unrelated.
    Would you remove both of your breasts because you suspected cancer in your lympth glands?It is the same scenario with GW and CO2.Do we destroy our economy and lifestyles on heresay and fear of the unknown?
    We have to establish cause and effect realities.Emotional generalities solve nothing and probably deepen the malaise.

    Comment by Arjay — August 30, 2008 @ 12:25 am

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