Milton Banana wrote:
"We need to get some broad based support,
to capture the public's imagination...
So we have to offer up scary scenarios,
make simplified, dramatic statements
and make little mention of any doubts...
Each of us has to decide what the right balance
is between being effective and being honest."
- Prof. Stephen Schneider,
Stanford Professor of Climatology,
lead author of many IPCC reports
Schneider is in on the ground floor fence sitters. Here you have a guy admitting that the Cultist do not tell the truth for the sake of pushing their agenda. He also admits to "doubts" in the research and theory. Well, we'll just not talk about that. The agenda is what its really about not the theory.
Not really, but why let the truth get in the way of a good lie? http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Me ... ology.html
Would you trust a scientist who advises his/her colleagues to use scary scenarios to get media attention and to shape public opinion by making intentionally dramatic, overblown statements? Would you have confidence in his or her statements if the scientist said that “each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest”? Understandably, you’d probably be suspicious and wonder what was being compromised.
I confess: those were SOME of my words, yet their meaning is completely distorted when viewed out of context like this. You will find hundreds of places — especially on the web sites of industrial or economic growth advocates opposed to global warming policies that might harm their or their clients' interests — in which I am similarly (mis)quoted alongside a declaration that my environmental cronies and I should never be trusted.
I’ll spend a few paragraphs telling you what I really said and why, as I want to illustrate the sorts of pitfalls that will confront a scientist or other expert diving headlong into scientific popularization, media appearances, advocacy, or some combination of these. This example illustrates the risks of stepping from the academic cloister to the wide world out there. A scientist's likelihood of having his/her meaning turned on its head is pretty high — especially with highly politicized topics such as global warming.
First, consider a movie theater marquis selectively quoting a critic as having said a movie was “spectacular,” when the critic might have actually written: “...the film could have been spectacular if only the acting wasn’t so overplayed and the dialog wasn’t so trite…” You get the idea. We see this kind of distortion in sales and advocacy, by citizens and politicians, from businesses and ideologists, in the public and private sectors.
My first experience in being misrepresented in the public debate began after the 1988 heat waves in the US, when global warming made daily headlines. I probably gave twenty interviews a day for several months that year. The global warming debate migrated from the ivy-covered halls of academia into the public policy spotlight via congressional hearings, daily media stories and broadcasts, pressure on the government from environmental groups pushing for control of CO2emissions, and loud and angry denial by industries with high CO2 emissions of both their contribution to global warming and the credibility of the science behind climate change. I was — and still am — quite frustrated about the capricious sound-bite nature of the public debate. Typically, a scientist or other party in the global warming debate is given twenty seconds (maximum) on the evening news for his or her quote, which is supposed to represent either the “catastrophe” or the “no problem” side of the debate, for this is how the media have too often categorized it. If one decides to elaborate on the various complexities associated with the problem, one risks being overlooked or boxed in.
I expressed my frustration to Jonathan Schell, a Pulitzer-prize-winning writer doing a story on the contentious climate debate for Discover magazine. I guess my first mistake was to be a bit tongue-in-cheek — I painted a stark picture of the opposing viewpoints in the climate change debate: gloom-and-doom stories from deep ecology groups and others versus pontifications on uncertainties from big industry and others, who used that to argue against preemptive action. I complained that even though I always make a point in my interviews to discuss the wide range of possibilities, from catastrophic to beneficial, media stories rarely convey the entire range. All too often, a scientist's viewpoint is boxed into one extreme or the other. Usually, but not always, I am put in the "it is a big problem" box rather than the "it is too uncertain to do anything" box, even though I acknowledge both perspectives have some plausible arguments. (See the opening paragraph in my review of Lomborg for Scientific American).
I tried to explain to Schell how to be both effective and honest: by using metaphors that simultaneously convey both urgency and uncertainty, and also by producing supporting documents of all types and lengths (see the "scientist popularizer"). Unfortunately, this clarification is absent from the Discover article, and this omission opened the door for fifteen years of subsequent distortions and attacks. Ironically, this is the consummate example of my grievance about problems arising from short reports of long interviews.
Here is the published quote from that interview with Discover, from which selected lines have been used for over a decade as "proof" that I exaggerate environmental threats:On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
The Detroit News selectively quoted this passage, already not in full context, in an attack editorial on 22 November 1989:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.
The most egregious omission in the Detroit News quotation is of the last line of the Discoverquote, the one about being both honest and effective. The Detroit News clearly misquotes me, presumably since including the addendum would have weakened the effectiveness of their character attack. In response, I prepared a rebuttal containing the full quote and the context of my interview, which actually showed that I disapproved of the sound-bite system and the media's polarization of the climate change debate. (See the Detroit News editorial and my rebuttal).
While the Detroit News readers had an opportunity to see my true intent, albeit a month later, when the rebuttal was published, I simply cannot respond and correct every article misquoting me, as they have proliferated and now number in the hundreds. Despite many attempts on my part — in my books, papers, talks, and other op-eds — to outline my opinions and dispel the media-propagated myths, the distortions continue to this day, even in "respectable" publications like theEconomist, which ran a partial quote (also taken from the Discover article) without even calling me to see if it was valid. (See the quote from the Economist. The 'brave' editor of this attack does not even sign his polemic, but I am told it was Clive Crook.) The most egregious distortion I am aware of was in a 1996 opinion piece by Julian Simon (see also my rebuttal), a business professor at the University of Maryland, in which he not only used an out-of-context quote from theDiscover article to "prove" that I advocate exaggeration in order to get attention, but he alsoinvented a preamble, that I advise people to “stretch the truth,” and he attributed that to me, while (of course) leaving off the last sentence of my actual remark.
Some friends have advised me to file lawsuits against such distortionists engaging in showcase journalism, but as a public figure, I have just learned to deal with character assassination and polemics as part of the "real world" of public policy debate. Moreover, lawyer friends have told me that partial quotes, even those that turn the original meaning of the full quote upside down, are generally protected by the First Amendment. In the face of this no-win scenario, I warn those who venture into this quagmire simply to expect such pitfalls and to prevent them from causing too much discouragement. It is difficult to correct these reporters and other media icons, who are the ones actually stretching the truth, since most people do not check the originals quotes or stories for accuracy or fairness.