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L.A. Times Bans Climate Deniers – When Will the Rest of the Media Follow Suit?


Cross-posted at Daily Kos

This past week, the Los Angeles Times took a little-noticed step that could have a profound impact on your children’s and grandchildren’s future: it decided to ban climate change deniers from its pages.  If this step catches on and spreads to other media outlets, it could finally lead us away from the distraction of the phony, manufactured “debate” over the existence and causes of the global climate disruption and actually get down to the real work of confronting this challenge.  

Editor Paul Thorton was admirably simple and direct on this point:

[W]hen deciding which letters should run among hundreds on such weighty matters as climate change, I must rely on the experts — in other words, those scientists with advanced degrees who undertake tedious research and rigorous peer review.

And those scientists have provided ample evidence that human activity is indeed linked to climate change. Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists — said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn’t whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us.

Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.  [Emphasis added]

Newspapers not printing “factual inaccuracies” – what a concept!

Now, let me be clear: I am sympathetic to the conflict that media outlets face, between publishing or airing the unvarnished truth on the one hand, and showing “balance” on the other. There are often reasons to err on the side of assuming that we don’t know enough about the facts that we should allow ample room for debate on them.  On economics, for example, not so much is settled (perhaps why so few economists predicted the Great Recession).  So open debate on such topics makes sense – though it still should be a conversation based on facts, not just blind devotion to ideology.  

But legitimate science operates on very different methods and assumptions.  Scientists do not simply sit in coffee houses and debate each other like French philosophers – they get out into the field, gather data and prove or disprove their premises.  Just having an “opinion” by itself isn’t worth a whole lot in science.

If you doubt that science works that way, just look around you at all the technologies you are using.  It is not debatable that electricity flows into your computer and it is engineered to enable certain outcomes.  It is not debatable that the internal combustion engine or battery of your car operates according to the laws of physics.  It is not debatable that gravity keeps you planted on the earth.  Having a different opinion on the matter will not erase any of these clearly observable facts.  The science behind these technologies has been proven.

Of course, the scientific theories that our tinfoil-hatted friends most like to deny – climate change and evolution – are not as visible and hence easier for those who don’t do much reading to say don’t exist.  But just like the theories that led to the development of computers, HVAC systems, cars, airplanes, biotechnology, etc., these theories have been proven to a very high confidence level through application of the scientific method.  

The evidence that climate change is happening and is due to human activities is vast, from ice cores to tree rings to atmospheric composition to air, ground and water temperatures over hundreds of years to impacts from coral reefs to melting glaciers and Arctic permafrost to changing dates for flower blooms to first frosts to changing weather patterns worldwide.  It’s a large enough body of work to have convinced 97% of scientists in this field to conclude that it’s real – not as a matter of random opinion, but as a judgment on a large and growing body of demonstrated facts.  

So just endlessly rehashing a debate created and paid for by the Koch brothers, Exxon-Mobil and other fossil fuel industry interests for their own financial interests – following the example of the tobacco industry, and using many of the same masters of deception, like the Heartland Institute – is not the proper role for the media.  Such a debate, rather than shedding more light on the issue, leads to more confusion and obfuscation about the proven facts.

As Paul Thornton said so well, it is not the media’s job to print “errors of fact” – on the contrary, it is the role of editors to keep such errors out of their paper, broadcast or postings.  It is time for all other leading media outlets – like the Washington Post and New York Times – to take a hard look at what the L.A. Times is doing here and ask why they are not doing the same.  

Many of our current political problems trace back to the media’s willingness to give empty hype the same billing as proven facts.  It’s why our problems never seem to move toward resolution, but just get caught up in endless, pointless, frustrating debates without a referee calling “BS” on anyone.  All opinions are treated equally, even when they are demonstrably based on lies.  

If the media wants to go back to its role of promoting truth over falsehood, they should begin with the small step the L.A. Times has taken, of telling climate change deniers to go spread their propaganda someplace else.  We can’t afford endless debates over facts about which the scientific community has expressed 95% certainty.  It’s time to move on to the business of dealing with global climate disruption, because the scientific debate on the big questions has been over for quite some time now.


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