David Freeman is the science editor of HuffPo, and is the guy who keeps asking me to write a blog for them. I’ve equivocated on this, but today’s events have made me decide I never want anything to do with that place.
Yesterday Freeman wrote a piece on global warming, in particular the “news item” that 49 former NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) scientists and astronauts had signed a letter questioning the role of carbon dioxide in anthropogenic global warming:
“We believe the claims by NASA and GISS [NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies], that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data,” the group wrote. “With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.”
The group features some marquee names, including Michael F. Collins, Walter Cunningham and five other Apollo astronauts, as well as two former directors of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The letter included a request for NASA to refrain from mentioning CO2 as a cause of global warming in future press releases and websites. The agency’s “Global Climate Change” webpage says that “Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived “forcing” of climate change.”
That report occupied most of the article, with a lame attempt at “balance” with a quote from the Environmental Protection Agency website:
The EPA website says that “Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.” It goes on to say that “The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.”
That’s it: no mention of the massive and growing evidence that carbon dioxide is contributing substantially to global warming, and it’s a clear and present danger to our planet. Balance that against the headline of the HuffPo piece:
But if that weren’t bad enough, the original version of the article, as reported by David Roberts at Grist, ended with this question for readers:
What do you think? Is NASA pushing “unsettled science” on global warming?
Incensed, Roberts wrote this:
Uh. David. I mean no insult to Huffington Post readers when I say that they are probably not the best arbiters of this question. Instead, you might consult, oh, any science academy from any country in the world. Or the 2010 survey from the National Academy of Science that found that 98 percent of working climate scientists affirm anthropogenic climate change. Or the Presidential Task Force on Climate Change. Or, I dunno, the entire published corpus of atmospheric science.
As you are a journalist, I feel confident that you could ferret out this information with, say, a Google search. Typically this is what journalists do: find out what’s happening and tell readers. They do not typically ask readers what the facts are, though I admit I may not understand “new media” in all its facets.
Indeed; it’s as if HuffPo put up a piece saying “Science’s Acceptance of Evolution Blasted by Hundreds of Ph.D.s” (indeed, such lists exist), and then asked readers, “What do you think? Are scientists pushing ‘unsettled science’ as the truth about evolution?”
I just noticed that HuffPo has now eliminated the question and put up a disclaimer:
Editor’s note: We believe it’s newsworthy when 49 former NASA scientists and astronauts pen a letter to the agency — or to anyone — about climate change. But what really raised temperatures is when we asked our readers to weigh in. We’ve removed the question because HuffPost is not agnostic on the matter. Along with the overwhelming majority of the scientific community (including 98% of working climate scientists), we recognize that climate change is real and agree with the agencies and experts who are concerned about the role of carbon dioxide.
“Newsworthy” my yiddishe tuchus! Is it “newsworthy” when a bunch of misguided Ph.D.s say that evolution is bunk? HuffPo has now realized that it needs to be on board with the findings of modern science, but it’s too late. They tried to stir up controversy and, in the process, misled the public about science. The damage is done. I, for one, will never appear on HuffPo Science, and I call on my colleagues Victor Stenger and Sam Harris, who blog there—as well as other scientists—to quit the place, too. It’s the scientific equivalent of page 3 of The Sun, and it’s not worth associating with such a venue simply to reach a lot of readers.