Wrong Turn for Science Journalism

Posted by: Keith Kloor  :  Category: climate change, science journalism

If you recall, last week I expressed some dismay that a three part series on global warming in Scientific American magazine was financed by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

To my surprise, no journalistic watchdogs (or science journalists) rose up to publicly question this unusual arrangement. But Bud Ward at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media comes close in this post. Quite frankly, I’m gobsmacked by what he’s learned in interviews with an editor at SciAm and the writer of the series (John Carey). Let’s start with this passage from Ward’s piece (my emphasis):

Carey says he insisted to Pew that he alone retain editorial control over the story — “just like any other story” — and that Pew could not tell him what to write. At the same time, however, he acknowledged showing Pew staffers a first draft and a final draft prior to its publication. “I kept them apprised of drafts,” he said, says Pew had “no editorial control” and offered “no substantive comments” on the final draft, which he said had been shared across the Pew Center staff and not solely with its climate science personnel.

That is a huge no-no in journalism. Quite frankly, I’m astonished that Carey, a seasoned pro, would do this. I’m sorry, but you can’t wrap your magazine story in the mantle of editorial independence while allowing it (in several draft forms) to be passed around the organization that’s funding it. That’s not how it happens, “just like any other story.”

Ward also elicited from SciAm executive editor Fred Guterl this odd rationalization of the Pew/SciAm partnership:

In a phone interview, Guterl also acknowledged uncertainties about “where to draw the line,” and he said “journalism is in a place where it’s never been before. There are a lot of new models out there.” He defended the financial backing of the Carey series in part because he sees the Pew Center as “nonpartisan and nonprofit” and because of its tax status as not being a lobbying interest. While saying he stands by the journalistic merits of the series, he said the funding arrangement inevitably raises some legitimate concerns about journalistic independence.

Let’s leave aside the little matter of Pew’s mission and just ask this: Are Guterl and SciAm okay with Pew being allowed to review pre-publication drafts of one of their stories?

Am I the only one who has a problem with this whole arrangement?

UPDATE: In the comments, John Rennie, a former editor-in-chief of Scientific American, seeks to clarify the financial arrangement between Pew and Scientific American. It is worth noting, as Rennie does, that Pew directly paid the writer, John Carey, for his work—not the magazine. This arrangement between Pew and Carey is also discussed at Bud Ward’s post.

56 Responses to “Wrong Turn for Science Journalism”

  1. Eli Rabett Says:

    Guess you are down on Fox and News Corp.

  2. Sashka Says:

    I’m glad it rubs you the wrong way. It should.

  3. Bob Koss Says:

    “I kept them apprised of drafts,” he said, says Pew had “no editorial control” and offered “no substantive comments” on the final draft …”
    I infer from the above statement that Pew only edited and commented on the first draft with those edits and comments being inserted into the final draft.

  4. intrepid_wanders Says:

    i humors me to no end that you think that everyone that disagrees with you watches “Fox News and Corp.”.  You continually validate everyone’s opinion of your opinion, go the other way.
    If you actually had anything other than your climate zombie opinion, you would discover that more than half of the people that you spew your non-sense to/at/whatever rather despise “Fox News and Corp.”.  It is non-sense, but we have a problem figuring out which place is more full of s*it, Rabbet Run or Fox News.
    Even if you had a good idea, considering the source, I would go against it.  You have A LOT of NEGATIVE credibility.  Keith points out very salient issues and they are very strong points (logic/moral not vitrol; unless Watts is invloved) and serious supporting material.  Why don’t you run a survey of the number of skeptics and warmists that watch Fox News or Jon Steward/Stephen Colbert.
    Anyhow, obviously, I understand Keith’s COI issue.  But, then again, I do not have a paycheck from “Big Green” or “Big Oil” ;)

  5. Jack Hughes Says:

    “there is not a sexual editorial relationship, an improper sexual editorial relationship or any other kind of improper relationship”

  6. Tom Fuller Says:

    Keith, Pew’s been doing studies that appear in major media for decades. Sometimes they are funded by third parties, sometimes by the foundation.
    I agree with your point. But it’s really late in the game to be busting these guys on it.

  7. Tom Fuller Says:

    And as for the swapping of drafts back and forth, I would also (almost) give them a pass on that, too. I have often showed interview subjects drafts of an article before publishing, just to give them a chance to react to anything negative I wrote or to catch any errors I made.
    Is this sort of a line that you think they’ve crossed? If so, it’s not really a very thick and well-delineated line, IMO.

  8. Michael Tobis Says:

    (Part 2 was hard to find. Here is Part 3, with a link back to parts and 2. Informed English-fluent readers with skimming skills should allow perhaps 5 minutes for the whole thing.)
    It’s sad to see this level of fluff in a magazine called Scientific American. Given that it’s fluff, the few facts embedded in all the adjectives seem more or less true. It’s no worse than anything else in the mass press.
    I think articles about complex subjects should be vetted by the people quoted in them as a matter of course. I think journalistic practice is inexplicably bizarre about this.
    I understand there are circumstances where this might not hold but they would seem to be in extraordinary in matters of science qua knowledge (as opposed to science qua institution).  The article simply reported factual assertions (mostly amounting to appeals mawkish sentimentality but so be it) and made practically no assumptions regarding values nor any advocacy regarding goals. The connection to Pew was revealed in the article. What exactly is the problem?
    Has it reached the point where, though for-profit corporations are people and therefore entitled to their own opinion, that non-profits are not entitled to say anything at all? This is even more ridiculous than the Greenpeace kerfuffle. This is Pew, for God’s sake. They aren’t even trying to rock the boat!
    Find an article by anyone in the employ of a right wing think tank. Ken Green for example. Does he get the same criticism?
    Or are you shocked that Scientific American is doing tame, implicit, shallow middle of the road advocacy, the way Time and Newsweek have been lamely doing exactly the same sort of adjective-slinging ever since the likes of us were born? Why?
    Is there a set of rules written down somewhere?

  9. Barry Woods Says:

    wasn’t pew environment one of the attendees of a group of 27 ‘scientists’ ( half were ngo’s or lobbyists) that gave us theIPSO report that the oceans were doomed a few weeks ago”.  Only Climate Resistance and I thought to check the names….

  10. Jeff Norris Says:

    The issue really is what standards the NEW MODEL journalism will have.  The Columbia Journalism Review issued a report on some concerns and gave  guidelines last year WRT non-profits funding journalism.


    Giving donors advance access to news articles was definitely considered a bad practice.
    The fact that NGOs have started hiring investigative journalists to provide the media with material that they are no able to fund is a big concern so much so that the report expressly suggested
    “Don’t get in this game if you are simply looking for a platform for your ideas; get in it because you believe in the centrality of independent journalism to a free society.”
    Tom (7)
    Granted you said almost but I still have to ask.
    How comfortable would you have been sending drafts of an article about The Foundation for a Better Life to the home office of Clarity Media?

    Keith’s concern is that 20 years from now everyone will say this type of behavior was a Black Swan.

  11. Keith Kloor Says:

    Tom (6, 7),
    How do you interpret this post or my last one “busting” on Pew? They’re doing what any NGO does and I have no problem with that.

    Evidently you also didn’t read the three articles by Carey, because (if memory serves) he doesn’t quote anyone from Pew and rightfully so. So why allow them to see pre-publication drafts of his article?

    As for your own experience, could you tell me what publications you wrote those articles for? Giving sources a review of pre-publication drafts (why wouldn’t you just give the part containing their quotes, which I’ve done on occasion) generally frowned upon.

    Also, I have to say, if you’re generally okay with a journalist swapping drafts back and forth with a source (or an NGO funding said story), then you’re not familiar with the norms of journalism, and why that is verboten.

    Michael (8):
    You’re also seemingly undisturbed by the arrangement. You write: “Is there a set of rules written down somewhere?”
    See what I just said to Tom Fuller.

  12. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    “you’re not familiar with the norms of journalism, and why that is verboten”

    Guilty as charged.  Could you expand on this?

  13. Tom Fuller Says:

    Well, I wrote for several news organisation. Probably the one most relevant to this is either the International Herald Tribune (tada! Hosanna! or their now-defunct Italian affiliate, Italy Daily (depending on whether I’m trying to puff up my ego or even my resume).  But there were several others, including radio, magazines and as you know, Examiner.com.
    I also studied journalism at university, although it was not really a hotbed of future Woodwards or Bernsteins.
    And I don’t recall in any class, conversation or guideline any caution or contrary advice about sharing drafts with involved parties before publication. I can see the pitfalls-and I think we are seeing them here. Even if the author didn’t change a word due to Pew’s review, he’s now open to the accusation of it.
    But to be honest, when I was writing the fear of getting facts wrong (and the various publications’ fear of litigation) pretty much outweighed that. I knew I was too cantankerous to actually be influenced in terms of tone or even style (something you might possibly have noticed here… sorry… but not extremely…), so if there were norms I was violating it was not only unintentional, I would at the time have thought them unimportant.

  14. Tom Fuller Says:

    JeffN at #10, trust me-I could have written published anything for Clarity Media and they not only would not have objected, they would not have noticed. There is no editing function there at all. There are some people working hard and trying to do a good job for Examiner.com. I tried my best and so were some of the others I saw there. But there’s no quality control at all. It’s just a blog farm with assigned themes.

  15. Tom Gray Says:

    re 12
    Roy Thomson was a a newspaper baron who controlled many newspapers in Canada and the UK. In the 1960s he owned the Times newspaper in London. As part of his ownership policy, he dramatically increased the price of a copy of the newspaper.  He said he did this because he wanted to diminish the influence that advertising revenue had of the operation of the newspaper. The newspaper’s editorial policy should not be influenced by fears that it would affect outside funding sources.
    I would assume that this is the reason why funding arrangements with outside sources ae verboten in the newspaper business.

  16. Ken Green Says:

    Michael Tobis asks, “Find an article by anyone in the employ of a right wing think tank. Ken Green for example. Does he get the same criticism?”

    I’m not sure how I got pulled into this thread (although I’m flattered that my conversational companionship is so desirable), and I don’t have much to contribute to it other than a vague sense of surprise that anyone is surprised. This is the magazine that did such an overt hatchet job on Bjorn Lomborg that any sane person would have viewed their journalistic and editorial credibility as shredded years ago. I’m equally surprised when people express shock and dismay about the IPCC. The oft-slandered skeptics have pointed out the problems with both institutions for at least a decade now.

  17. John Rennie Says:

    If I may suggest it, a small correction may be in order to your description that this three-part series in SciAm was financed by the Pew Center. That description might imply that Pew paid SciAm to run the series, and I don’t know of any evidence that it did. The author, John Carey, is financed by Pew, but the editors decisions to accept his work would have been independent.

    Also, not to derail your discussion about the appropriateness of Carey sharing drafts with Pew, but your posts on this have both raised eyebrows over Pew as a source for information on this subject. As you’ve pointed out, Pew’s stated mission is “to provide credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change.”

    Perhaps I’m being obtuse but I’m not seeing the troubling agenda there. I assume it should be self-evident because both times you’ve cited the mission statement to make the point. What am I missing?

  18. Keith Kloor Says:

    John (17)

    Thanks for stopping by. I’ll put an update in the post, linking to your comment. I’m kinda seeing your concern as more a semantic issue, but I’ll clarify to make the financial arrangement crystal clear.

    As for the appropriateness of using Pew as a source of information, I don’t think we should conflate the issues. I have no problem whatsoever with using Pew as a source of information for research and reporting on a global warming-related story. I have found their work valuable over the years.

    What I have a problem with is that Scientific American published a very specific kind of story by a writer that was commissioned by Pew. Now that doesn’t seem to trouble some people as much as it does me, which I find perplexing. So let me try to get at this another way: Would it be acceptable if Time magazine or The Washington Post had the same exact arrangement with Pew?

    I’m guessing you’ll say no, it would not be acceptable (but please correct me if I assumed wrong). My point being: I view SciAm as being in the same class as those publications.

    Lastly, the climate debate is so politicized (look at the flak SciAm already takes from the two main camps every time they publish a climate related story, be it on Judith Curry or Richard Muller) that it seems to me that a publication of SciAm’s caliber would want to take extra care not to put itself in a position where one of its stories can be questioned for impartiality.

  19. Tom Fuller Says:

    KK, SciAm hasn’t seemed at all impartial to me on this particular issue for a very long time.

  20. Eli Rabett Says:

    Why yes Tom, Scientific American is on the side of science, something that always annoys you.

  21. Eli Rabett Says:

    Notice that Ken Green walks all around the issue that MT raised, that he is funded by right wing sources and publishes here there and everywhere without Keith getting his pants in a bunch.
    And no Ken, Lomborg was and is another hack who has hopped onto the gravy train.

  22. John Rennie Says:

    Keith (18),
    Impartiality, I think, brings us back to the question of the merits of the Pew Center as a source. If Pew has an agenda, the arrangement is more problematic, but it’s not clear that it does. Or rather, since every organization has some agenda (even journalistic ones), it’s not clear that the Pew connection conflicts with the journalistic goal of informing readers fully and fairly about the subject.
    So, no, I’m not sure I would be troubled if Time or the Washington Post wanted to use a writer with a tie to Pew, as long as they were appropriately candid about it, as SciAm seems to have been here.
    The issue of showing drafts or parts of stories to sources is always thorny, as it should be. As previous commenters have said, though, journalism allows some varying practices on this, and fact checking can open the door to informing sources about what’s in stories. I’ve asked scientists to look at parts of stories I’ve been writing to make sure they were accurate, but always with the understanding that I wouldn’t be bound by any of their requests for changes. I don’t know enough about what Carey did with Pew’s feedback to have an opinion.
    Bear in mind, too, that Scientific American built its great reputation by publishing articles written by experts with all kinds of academic, corporate, governmental and other institutional ties. It’s a given that many of those authors would have cleared some drafts of their articles with others in those organizations; in some cases, the organizations wouldn’t have allowed the experts to write without permission to review. SciAm has traditionally handled the problem by choosing those experts carefully, revealing those affiliations, trying to minimize the opportunities for institutional interference and pushing back against the obvious agenda-pushing and axe-grinding. It’s not a perfect system but at some point, you have to trust readers to be skeptical for themselves.

  23. Keith Kloor Says:


    You treat science blogging like a contact sport, so I don’t take you seriously. It’s all about scoring points with you, rather than engagement in good faith.

    Is Ken Green (in tarring ScIAm with a broad brush) doing exactly what Joe Romm does when he cites one instance to make a ridiculous claim? Absolutely.

    Moreover, MT (#8) has it dead wrong when he compares Ken Green’s situation to John Carey’s with Pew. If he (and you) can’t see that, then I can’t see going through the trouble of setting you straight. Not that it would matter, either.

    John (22):

    In terms of authorship of articles, I make a distinction between a scientist and journalist.

    Here’s what I think: If John Carey tried to place his Pew-funded story with Newsweek or the Washington Post, they would turn it down for the reasons I’ve laid down in my posts.

    As for vetting stories with sources, I’ve done that plenty of times, too-and continue to do so. My personal preference is to show only portions (as opposed to the whole article), which are relevant to a source’s expertise or where he or she has been quoted.

    Again, I feel this is a different situation we’re talking about here: none of the people quoted in Carey’s story are from Pew. Yet he willingly shared drafts with numerous members of the organization. I’m sorry, I find that inappropriate.

  24. EdG Says:

    Keith asks: “Am I the only one who has a problem with this whole arrangement?”

    I for one have a problem with this… though it does not surprise me.

    #22, John Rennie writes: “If Pew has an agenda, the arrangement is more problematic, but it’s not clear that it does…”

    It seems clear as a bell to me. Its website states: “the Pew Center has become a leading voice for sensible action to address the most pressing global environmental problem of the 21st century.”

    Thus their whole premise is that AGW is “the most pressing problem of the 21st century,” which clearly explains their bias and agenda.

    Sorry John, but if you can’t see their agenda, you probably can’t see the IPCC’s agenda either. 

  25. EdG Says:

    I think there needs to be a new word to describe this kind of “journalism.”

    On TV it would be called a paid advertisement.  

  26. EdG Says:

    Good grief! More from the Pew website… which some people claim has no clear agenda!

    “The scientific community has reached a strong consensus regarding the science of global climate change. The world is undoubtedly warming. This warming is largely the result of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities including industrial processes, fossil fuel combustion, and changes in land use, such as deforestation. 
    Continuation of historical trends of greenhouse gas emissions will result in additional warming over the 21st century. Current projections point to a global increase of 2.0°F to 11.5°F (1.1°C to 6.4°C) by 2100, with warming in the U.S. expected to be even higher. This warming will have real consequences for the United States and the world, for with that warming will also come additional sea-level rise that will gradually inundate coastal areas and increase beach erosion and flooding from coastal storms, changes in precipitation patterns, increased risk of droughts and floods, threats to biodiversity, and a number of potential challenges for public health.”


    It is just a IPCC parrot project, complete with the extreme speculation.

    Which, in turn, makes Scientific American an IPCC parrot publication.

  27. EdG Says:

    Pardon my multiple posts here but the more you look at that Pew website the more laughable any suggestion of its objectivity becomes.

    This is a remarkable spinfest:


    For example they answer one supposed ‘misconception’ with this:

    Recent increases in global temperatures result mostly from higher levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, which have been increasing because of human activities

    Then to portray the ‘consensus’ they state this:

    A recent poll of earth scientists demonstrated that there is strong agreement that emissions of heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels make a significant contribution to global warming

    Note that while the first statement claims that the warming is “mostly” caused by GHGs, the poll story says they make a “significant contribution” - which are two very different things.

    And look at the polls they used! As the first one only came up with an 82% figure they added the junk PNAS ‘blacklist’ poll for its “97.4!” fake statistic. And they do not even explain where it came from.

    Pew is much worse than we thought! 

  28. Keith Kloor Says:


    One could also say that your views of the Pew site are skewed by your own climate skeptic biases.

  29. Michael Tobis Says:

    “levels of heat-trapping gases” is not limited to “emissions of heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels“. The weaker claim of “significantly” for fossil fuel emissions-related gases as opposed to “mostly” for all heat-trapping gases is entirely consistent. In fact it shows exactly the sort of care and rigor that is so often lacking in public communication of science.

  30. Michael Tobis Says:

    Maybe somebody else can elaborate on Keith’s astonishing “MT has it dead wrong when he compares Ken Green’s situation to John Carey’s with Pew. If he (and you) can’t see that, then I can’t see going through the trouble of setting you straight.”
    I don’t see it at all. What’s more, apparently you only try to set people straight when they agree with you? Imagine if climate science took that position. I am asking questions in good faith presuming you have some coherent position. I wonder why you will not attempt to reveal it to me.
    Anyway, perhaps someone else could take pity on a bear of little brain and explain the fundamental difference between being (unacceptably) being paid by (non-partisan science literacy non-profit) Pew to write articles and get them published vs (acceptably) being paid by (right wing market libertarian think tank) AEI to write articles and get them published.

  31. Jeff Norris Says:

    The reason you have “peon” status is because You Sir are a Buzzkill.  If a “trusted source” offers to buy you a steak dinner let them, insisting on paying your own way is insulting.  If a donor or advertiser wants to see what you are working on just show them, they do kind of pay your salary dude.  These old guard standards you have really take the fun out of journalism and make it tough to get a book deal. :)

  32. Jeff Norris Says:

    For those who are not sure which rules, principles or guidelines Keith is talking about I have highlighted a few.  I think  the last one from the Society of Professional Journalists is one that  should be used more often.

    Sponsors should not exercise editorial direction; editorial content should not be shown to sponsors in advance of publication
    Newspapers should accept nothing of value from news sources or others outside the profession. Gifts and free or reduced-rate travel, entertainment, products and lodging should not be accepted. Expenses in connection with news reporting should be paid by the newspaper. Special favors and special treatment for members of the press should be avoided.
    Work by staff members for the people or institutions they cover also should be avoided.
    Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
    Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.

  33. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    I still don’t get what the problem is here. My brother went to journalism school so maybe I’ll ask him… :roll:

  34. Tom Fuller Says:

    Well, Eli, I recall Mr. Rennie’s editorial last year on climate change that managed to misstate Svante Arrhenius’ findings quite dramatically, which sort of made it clear to me that SciAm had a political point of view on the issue. When you get history wrong, can I trust you to get physics right?

  35. Tom Fuller Says:

    Oh-Rabett, I don’t think I’m the only one who cancelled their subscription to Scientific American after what they did to Lomborg. If I want to know what a hack thinks, I know whose name to click on. Hint: It isn’t Lomborg’s.

  36. Keith Kloor Says:

    Would someone like to take a stab at explaining to Michael Tobis (30) the difference between Ken Green at AEI and John Carey (commissioned by Pew), and why their situations are apples and oranges.

    Myself and other journalists (notably John Fleck) have often engaged with Michael on journalism-related issues and we can’t seem to make any headway. In fact, Michael’s disappointment with the profession grows deeper by the day. On his latest post he writes:

    “Increasingly I think journalism is too important to leave in the hands of journalists.”

    Fortunately for him, there are many non-journalist bloggers to pick up the slack.

  37. NikFromNYC Says:

    “Global warming is just propoganda.” - Nigel Calder, former editor of “New Scientist” magazine
    In other news, actual sea level data going back 150 years bluntly falsifies alarmist AGW claims:

  38. grypo Says:

    Well, we all know what AEI’s views are about climate solutions.  I have no what Pew’s are.  I assume the difference is that SciAm is a respectable place to get information and Carey showing his drafts to the funder hurts that independence in the eyes of readers.  OTOH, anything coming out of AEI is already irrevocably tainted.  Is that what you mean?  If so, MT’s case rests on whether readers are aware of AEI’s past, or he’s simply wondering why you would take anything coming out of there seriously.

  39. Eli Rabett Says:

    So, let us see, did Green engage or Gish Gallop?

  40. Michael Tobis Says:

    Here is the sea level rise graph without the snark and the Simpsons cartoons:

  41. Jeff Norris Says:

    Mr. Tobis
    Mr. Carey is among other things a journalist; in fact he is an award winning journalist.  He has also served as an editor for two different magazines.  The piece he wrote was not an editorial, opinion piece or a commentary, it was presented as an investigative journalistic piece.
    Mr. Green besides being a Scientist has been called many things but never to my knowledge a journalist.  He has written several editorials, opinion, analysis, commentaries but never anything that was presented as investigative journalism or even as a straight news story.
    You and I probably agree that it is becoming very difficult to tell the difference between reporting and opining.  Unfortunately, we must hope that the press has the courage to uphold their own standards or propose a constitutional change.              
    Purely out of curiosity do you have or use any written guiding principles or specific rules of ethics for your blogging?  What rules or standards if any do you think should be used by  blogs connected to Newspapers or Magazines?

  42. EdG Says:

    Keith writes:

    “EdG One could also say that your views of the Pew site are skewed by your own climate skeptic biases.”

    One could say that. But my point is that the Pew’s mission statement and agenda appear to be essentially the same as the IPCC et al. and that makes articles vetted by them and magazines that publish them arms of that same octopus.

    That was in response to #22, John Rennie writes: “If Pew has an agenda, the arrangement is more problematic, but it’s not clear that it does…”
    So, like you, I have “a problem with this whole arrangement.” Not that that matters. Such is the way of the world these days and I see more of this concerted ‘communications’ ahead. From all sides.

  43. Tom Fuller Says:

    I think I should step away from the keyboard. Slowly…

  44. harrywr2 Says:

    We should dispense with the falacy that an independent paid media exists.
    Sorry, everyone knows Billy Joe Bob of Billy Joe Bob’s Auto emporium engages in somewhat unscrupulous business practices.
    Billy Joe Bob takes out multi-page advertisements every week.
    Those multi-page ads are equivalent to at least a journalists salary. If something were to happen to that ad someone on the editorial staff would have to be laid off.
    The senior editor’s of publications get to sit in on staff budget meetings and have no delusions about where the money to pay salaries comes from.
    No one has ever written a negative article about the unscrupulous practices of Billy Joe Bob of Billy Joe Bob’s Auto Emporium and never will.
    As far as Pew ‘paying a journalist’ and the journalist allowing the Pew to review it, so what.
    Someone at Pew would have reviewed the Journalists work prior to the offer of payment to insure that the journalists overall views of the issue were ‘appropriate’.
    To top that off, Public Relations firms tend to pay significantly more then most publications..so many journalists get the subtle ‘If you ever decide to leave journalism come talk to us’ chat over drinks at the local watering hole. The message is clear…if a journalist would ever like to make enough money to have a house and a late model car and send the child thru college then tread lightly on the PR firms clients.

  45. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    it would appear that your sympathetic to the critique of the mainstream media put forth by Chomsky and Herman in Manufacturing Consent

  46. Tom Fuller Says:

    Stepping back in lightly and to continue in the vein of harrywr2, why should we be concerned about Pew when here in this thread we have both John Rennie and Michael Tobis who have shown themselves more than willing to sacrifice truth to duty? Which is the greater threat?

  47. Keith Kloor Says:

    Tom (46).

    So you’re the arbiter of truth?

    I noticed you said (35) you cancelled your subscription after SciAm’s special series of articles on Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist book. Are you aware that Lomborg got many of his facts wrong in that book? Ironically, I think his larger challenge to ecological/environmentalist credo was dead on, but he heavily slanted his own argument.

    But more to the point, I just don’t get this tendency to write off a publication because you vehemently disagree with a story or two. I was pretty angered (like many) by the NYT credulous reporting of WMD in the run-up to the Iraq War (symbolized by Judith Miller’s famous front page story). But that hasn’t kept me from reading the Times everyday.

  48. Michael Tobis Says:

    “… and Michael Tobis who have shown themselves more than willing to sacrifice truth to duty” raises another fruitless topic for discussion but (again) I am compelled to register my objection.

  49. Tom Fuller Says:

    No, Marlowe, it’s the concept of a politically  motivated hit job, which both Tobis and Rennie undertook, which offends.

  50. Marlowe Johnson Says:


  51. Ken Green Says:

    I’m flattered to be some kind of touchstone in this discussion, though I still am unsure why I am. It’s probably because a) I tend to anger some people, and make a good target of frustration; and b) I tend to respond to these things, which no doubt simply encourages people who I disagree with, but such is the price of civil discourse.
    A few points: First, Keith (and this blog) came to my attention, as I recall, because he was slapping me around for something I said. He invited me to come here to discuss it, and I did. More recently, he slapped me about again over seemingly inflammatory remarks, and I came back to respond. Now and then, I drop in just for the heck of it, to see what the state of discourse is. Keith seems like a nice enough fellow, but I can’t think of anything he’s said about me that’s particularly positive, so the idea that he’s favoring me is charming, but somewhat shy of the mark.
    Second, technically, I did not slam SciAm with a blanket attack over one incident (Lomborg’s), but over two: Lomborg and this latest silliness. Same for the IPCC: I didn’t slam them over one report, but over a pattern of them. People are welcome to search my works to see if I defended Lomborg from SciAm after the first incident, and they won’t find much: I felt that he was a big boy and could fight his own fights, and anyone who would name himself something that provocative was picking a pretty good fight. I didn’t bitch to SciAm, stop reading them, etc. Besides, the people attacking Lomborg were giving him more publicity than those who agreed with him ever could.
    Finally, Jeff Norris puts his finger on a key distinction: I have never held myself out to be an impartial, objective, journalistic observer. 15 years of my career (straight out of grad school!) have been with three think tanks that put their (generally libertarian) values right on their Mission Statement page on the web, and in their annual reports. I put their name right in my tagline. A person would have to be willfully blind or woefully stupid to be unaware that my writing reflects a publicly-declared set of values. Those same think tanks put their finances out in the public eye as well in annual reports and tax filings. Of course, cynics are gonna cyn, and assume that I’m bought and paid for despite any amount of evidence to the contrary, but that’s their problem more than it is mine. I should say that in a few circumstances, I’ve been asked to write things for encyclopedias and independent textbook publishers, and those things have to go through the same blind external-review process as anyone else’s stuff. And, for the record, I did them out of a sense of obligation more than anything else, the token pay doesn’t cover even 1/20th of the time involved. (Encyclopedia entries are particularly poorly paid - I’ve given up doing them.)
    Anyway, my “staycation”‘s over, so back to the grindstone for me!

  52. Keith Kloor Says:

    Ken (51),

    I appreciate that you mix it up here and hope you continue to do so on occasion, but let’s go back and review what you said in #16:

    “This is the magazine that did such an overt hatchet job on Bjorn Lomborg that any sane person would have viewed their journalistic and editorial credibility as shredded years ago.”

    First, I viewed SciAm’s critique of Lomborg as a bit excessive, but no hatchet job. Ecology is my first beat as a science journalist. I read Lomborg’s book when it came out, reported on it, met with him and talked to numerous ecologists about the book. My conclusion: he got the bigger picture right on some issues but stacked the deck with out of context stats.

    So I think your characterization of SciAm (its “credibility shredded years ago” is overwrought.

    And yes, Jeff Norris (41) gets the distinctions right, but he mistakenly says John Carey’s piece was “presented as investigative…” It is not. It is an explanatory (somewhat enterprising) feature story broken up into three parts.

  53. Keith Kloor Says:

    Tom (49):

    You’re getting overwrought and you ought to step away from that keyboard again. Stop the unnecessary flaming.

  54. Ken Green Says:

    Keith -
    We’ll have to disagree on the Lomborg thing: I thought that the way SciAm stacked up his opponents while largely denying him rebuttal time was shameful, and merits the term “hatchet job.” For the record, I’ve also met Bjorn a few times, and while I liked Skeptical Environmentalist, there were aspects I didn’t care for.
    As for the Carey thing, to be honest, I haven’t followed it closely since I’ve been vacationing, and have forced myself not to.
    I’ll continue dropping in now and then, Keith. You do a better job than most at trying to walk a vaguely middle-path on issues of interest, and you still place a premium on civility. That latter reason alone would predispose me to join you in discourse.

  55. EdG Says:

    Re 54 - Ken Green. I agree. The concerted attack on Lomborg’s book revealed just what Scientific American had become.

    Yes there were some errors in it but not nearly as many deliberate ‘errors’ as he pointed out. His dissection of how the WWF embraced the faked/extrapolated ‘extinction crisis’ stats alone was worth the price of the book.

    In any case, to address errors in a book that comprehensive, nobody needed that the SciAm Inquisition, as Monty Python might say. It was obviously an ideological reaction from the eco-crisis research-industrial complex, feeling threatened by someone pointing out that the sky is not falling as per their relentless marketing campaign.

  56. robert hake Says:

    boys, boys, i am not a jounalist but i thank all the journalists everywhere who write words i can understand, you guys are pushing it.  but anyway. sci am is fecal.  i have copies on my desk from 1965 and still read them. i subscribed again and was sorry.  the magazine is insulting.  no substance.  no identifiable consistent bias.  the articles have descended into pablum.  enuf said about that rag.  your discussion is wonderful.  how do you all sit in the same room and write on the same page?  please, help us and let us know where you stand when you write these things and give respect to your critics and us dummies, their words will either strengthen or contradict but those are more attempts to bring light into this dark tunnel.  keep on, please.

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