NYT and the IPCC: Little Evidence, Big Story

Last month CJR blogger Curtis Brainard (1/29/10) complained that the media were not giving enough attention to some complaints–mostly from climate change deniers–about the 2007 IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change report and complaints about IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri. Jim Naureckas suggested right here that this was a bad idea, but today the New York Times (2/9/10) seemed totake CJR‘s advice.

The headline (“U.N. Climate Panel and Chief Face Credibility Siege”) and second paragraph suggest something important:

But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri’s resignation last week.

So what’s the status of these charges? You have to read a few more paragraphs untilyou’re told that”several of the recent accusations have proved to be half-truths,” and that the “general consensus among mainstream scientists is that the errors are in any case minor and do not undermine the reportâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s conclusions.” Well, shouldn’t that be made clear from the start?

There are two scientific criticisms made about the last IPCC report–one has been found baseless, while the other was an actual mistake, though the magnitude of the error seems to have been overstated. But that’s apparently good enough to craft a whole story around the “IPCC Under Siege” theme, and to collect quotes from the likes of leading denier Christopher Monckton: “The chair is an Indian railroad engineer with very substantial direct and indirect financial vested interests in the matters covered in the climate panelâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s report. What on earth is he doing there?”

Monckton is, among other things, “the chief policy adviser to the Science and Public Policy Institute”– a climate change denying think tank that apparently does not disclose its funders (SpinProfiles). Yet apparently the Times sees Monckton as a credible source for critiquing the head of the IPCC for failing to disclose his financial ties.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.