‘Shape of the Earth – Both Sides Have a Point’

This 11-year-old Paul Krugman quip is what Kevin Drum was alluding to today with his “Views Differ on Shape of Earth, Climate Edition” headline:

If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical.

The argument is that the mainstream news media attempts at all costs to appear “balanced”, by giving both sides of any dispute equal footing — as opposed to simply trying to report what is actually accurate. Thus, in the debate over climate change, they give undue emphasis to arguments claiming that climate change lacks scientific consensus, when in fact the opposite is true.

Climate change may or may not be occurring. But there is no dispute that 98 percent of climate scientists believe that it is happening and is man-made. And Americans are grossly misinformed regarding this.

Update: Allow me to echo Kevin Drum’s footnote:

I wasn’t going to bother with this, but a reader emails to point out that, actually, 100% of climate scientists believe global warming is happening. Something like 98% of them believe that it’s mostly caused by humans. But I’m giving our survey respondents a break, since I suspect most people automatically think “human-caused global warming” whenever they hear “global warming.”

My “may or may not be occurring” line was sloppy writing, and wasn’t an indication that I personally am in doubt. What I was trying to say is that the debate over man-made climate change is one thing; the question as to how many climate scientists believe in man-made climate change is another. And there’s been a concentrated (and, obviously, effective) effort from those seeking to protect the status quo, carbon emissions-wise, to make common people believe that the science is in dispute. It’s not surprising that so many people don’t believe in or are unsure about man-made climate change, if they vastly underestimate the percentage of climate change experts who believe in it.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011