explaining the impact of climategate
On the same Canadian news show that I mentioned yesterday, Joe Romm offers an alternative view. Should climategate and the recently discussed IPCC errors change what citizens believe, or how reporters handle the matter?
There’s no question that in this 3000 page report, the IPCC report, there were one or two relatively trivial mistakes, as the Washington Post put it. But they have been used as an excuse by some in the media to question the entire science. The analogy I use is: every major newspaper publishes corrections every single day and yet they expect the public to come back and believe what’s in the newspaper (ca. 4:00).
The analogy is a good one, although it goes against the point Romm is trying to make.
Let’s say we were approaching the newspaper like investigators, coming to a conclusion about the overall state of affairs based on the mountain of observations we make. It’s true that if one or two pebbles on that mountain went missing, our overall conclusions would likely not be affected.
But wait a second–do we read the newspaper like investigators? Most of us (aside from my friends and colleagues in media studies) don’t “observe” items in the paper. We don’t think we’re getting our information direct–we know we’re getting it through someone–through the in-between people, the “media.” When we find errors, our key question is not whether two or three revised bits of information change our overall view, but whether two or three errors decrease our trust in these in-betweeners.
Romm said: “every major newspaper publishes corrections every single day and yet they expect the public to come back and believe what’s in the newspaper.”
The more accurate way to put this would be: “every major newspaper publishes corrections every single day and so they expect the public to come back and believe what’s in the newspaper.”
The fact that newspapers have elaborate correction mechanisms makes them more trustworthy. Their willingness to undertake daily and very public self-mortifications, admitting their mistakes, gives us evidence of how much they care about getting it right.
Does the IPCC have an established mechanism for correcting mistakes? Has it, or its leaders, shown a willingness to undertake frequent and very public self-mortifications, admitting its mistakes?