Climate v. weather and false balances

Once again science denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla) and chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, doesn’t understand the difference between a data point and a trend.

And once again, the media look at the senator’s absolute ignorance about the difference between climate and weather as a circus event. the two samples linked above help represent what has been wrong with American reporting on issues involving science and science deniers.

Philip Bump at the Post did note the following:

Now, global warming skepticism skeptics might argue that Inhofe, the author of a book about global warming called “The Greatest Hoax,” is using one bit of weather-related data to try to disprove a well-established, very long-term trend. They might note that temperatures in February are supposed to be cold in the Northern Hemisphere since it is a season called “winter.” They might point out that at the same time D.C. was very cold, the West Coast was very warm, which is less expected during “winter.” And they might note that the government did indeed declare 2014 to be the warmest year on record, a detail that is not disproven by a snowball in the year 2015. (The sad irony of that, though: Much of the eastern U.S. recorded colder than normal temperatures — and that is where Inhofe goes to work.)

Bump’s piece is in The Fix, a commentary section of the online post, not a straight reporting article. The writers in The Fix appear to be encouraged to be snarky and witty in their analysis of issues of the day. (And let’s face it, Inhofe and his team of deniers have always been prime targets for snark.)

The Time magazine piece is not commentary but a straight report. It is also an example of how the reporter did not put the story into context and show how off base the senator is. The piece just mentions Inhofe’s comments, included the Vine feed of him tossing a snowball and leaves it at that. (Granted, everyone is running that Vine feed. Even me.)

Anyone who understands the difference between weather and climate — or a data point and a trend — could just laugh at the simple-minded nature of the senator from the Sooner State. But what is needed is a challenge to the simplistic and erroneous position being put forth by Inhofe.

Context is key to good journalism. Make sure the reader/viewer knows what the situation is around the story. Show the facts and the credentials of the key players. That means giving weight to experts in a given field and using anecdotes to personalize the issue at hand.

Too many journalists seem to think that if they just treat the deniers and the fact holders as equals, they have done their job of explaining the debate. Doing straight “he said/she said” journalism does not provide the context readers/viewers need to understand the issue. (Bump did this, but again, his is a commentary, not a news article.)

Journalists need to call out the deniers with simple words that show how their beliefs (matters of faith, not fact) are not sustained by the facts. Journalists need to continue to point out — in simple, easy to understand words — how science works.

And scientists need to wake up and understand how to communicate with use mere mortals who do not a dozen or so academic initials after our names.

And to be sure, this issue is more than just climate change. By giving an uncritical voice to the anti-vaccination crowd — a group usually associated with wealthy, liberal elites (but now being picked up by the right) — U.S. media outlets have done a disservice to their readers/viewers and society as a whole.

More scientists are rising to the occasion. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are two of the current crop. But more need to understand how to communicate with the rest of the world. (Especially journalists.)

Just to show how simple it is to explain the difference between climate and weather, here is a clip from COSMOS:

It can be done.

Oh, and the connection to the rest of the world?

News organizations in other democracies understand the need to stop treating deniers and scientists equally.

BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes

“…emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences…”

Anti-vaccination activists should not be given a say in the media

The Australian media, to their credit, have moved away from false balance in vaccine stories over the last few years.

Maybe U.S. news organizations need to catch up with the science reporting standards from across the pond. It needs to realize there is no scientific debate over vaccinations, climate change or evolution. There are only deniers who have gut feelings and anecdotes to support their positions, not science. Treating beliefs and facts as equals does not serve the public the way good journalism should.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Science

Nicaragua keeping canal plans under wraps

One thing that remains constant with governments such as those in Nicaragua and Venezuela, the government does like to control things.

The Committee to Protect Journalists now reports that details of the massive — as in US$50 billion — canal project are hard to find. In fact, it was even hard for reporters to attend the gala groundbreaking ceremony in December. (Reporters covering Nicaragua waterway project obstructed by lack of information)

Government officials told [journalists] to wait in a Managua hotel for a bus that would transport them to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, according to the Nicaragua Dispatch. But the bus never showed up. Tim Rogers, editor of the online news outlet, said that journalists who traveled to the Pacific coast site on their own were turned back by police.

To be honest no one should be surprised that the Ortega govenrment is being tight lipped about the project.

First, it is not in the nature of the Sandanista governments (and Ortega in particular) to be too enamoured with the idea of public scrutiny of government projects.

Second, the Sandinistas — like their patrons in Venezuela — have no great love for free and independent media.

Third, let’s face it , governments in the region in general are not hospitable to having people looking too closely at how money is spent.

And lastly, the partner in the canal is a firm that has an office in Hong Kong but whose founder is all up close and tight with Chinese state industries.

So you have a nice coalition putting the canal together by people who really don’t think it is anyone’s business but their own to know what is going on.

Given the global financial and political implications of another canal cutting through Central America, I would think there would be more pressure from U.S. and European business groups, governments and media outlets to see the paperwork on the building of this new canal.

Remember how conservatives in the U.S. got all hot and bothered when the Panama Canal was returned to Panama? Besides the whole “We stole it fair and square” stuff, they were also going crazy because Hong Kong businessman Li Ka Shing won the contract to handle the ports on either end.

Screams of how the Chinese communists were taking over the canal were heard across the land.  Unfortunately for the screamers, Li is no communist. He is from Hong Kong — a place Heritage Foundations loves for its economic freedom — and has no love for the rulers in Beijing. (In fact, Li is moving a lot of his holdings from Hong Kong to Bermuda. That should say something about how “lcommunist” he is.)

So now here comes a company, also registered in Hong Kong, but whose CEO is all about mainland China.

So, where are the stories? At least stories about how much we don’t know about the project.

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Filed under China, Freedom of access, Central America

Nothing sheepish expected from Chinese censors

The Hong Kong chief executive wants Hong Kongers to emulate the zodiac animal for this year. No surprise given the pressure CY Leung is under from Beijing.

The same could be said for the way Beijing wants the people of China to act as well. And leave it to the government and party aparatus to serve as shepards.

The ruling elite in China has the attitude that they know what is best and everyone else should just shut up and follow orders. It is such an intregal part of the way they work, they cannot seem to think of any other way to operate.

So while the people are to be sheep, the govenrment will act as both shepard and wolf.

And now, from Foreign Policy a prediction for the Year of the Sheep: Five Predictions for Chinese Censorship in the Year of the Sheep

  1. Tightening of the Great Firewall
  2. WeChat Arrests
  3. Intensified censorship during Pres. Xi’s visit to USA in September
  4. More arrests and jail time for dissidents and free speech activists.
  5. Stepped up pressure on the free media in Hong Kong.

To be honest, these are the same predictions one could make about the state of freedom of press/expression in China every year.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Harassment, Hong Kong, Press Freedom

Jailed Turkish TV Chief Calls For End Of Campaign Against Free Press

There is little I can add to this piece by Roy Greenslade at the Guardian. Just click on the headline and read the piece.

Arrested Turkish TV chief writes an open letter from his jail cell

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, Press Freedom

Toilets and Justice

I just love stories that link absctract concepts such as human rights and freedom with concrete, real-life problems.

A report on access to basic sanitation highlighted by the Open Society Foundations showed how the lack of functioning toilets and other basic sanitation facilities, results in poor health and unsafe living conditions

The Link Between Functioning Toilets and Justice

“Some residents are left to use open fields and bushes and become most vulnerable to criminal attacks, especially at night.”

No one should have to fear assault, rape, or murder while going to the toilet, yet this is an everyday reality for many South Africans and the world’s poor.

The report was done by a collaboration of the Social Justice Coalition and Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know), with technical assistance from the International Budget Partnership (IBP).

The bottom line is that there is more than just good health at stake. Safety issues and personal well being are at risk when there is no place to have a few private moments to one’s self.

People can talk all they want about the need for better health and safety among the world’s poor. Yet too few of us can really understand just how bad things can be. Breaking down the issue to one of the most basic and common functions of living creatures helps put the issue of poverty and health into a perspective most people can understand.

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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas

New jobs in Venezuela thanks to econ policy

Nothing like a story that graphically shows how lousy economic policies have an impact on everyday life.

In shortages-hit Venezuela, lining up becomes a profession

This kind of story helps show — without lots of numbers — how the economic policies of the Maduro government affects the daily lives of people in Venezuela.

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Filed under South America

China: Not exactly a rule of law place

ANGELA KÖCKRITZ, a correspondent for Die Zeit describes the hell she and her Chinese assistant were put through by Chinese authorities. None of it should suprise anyone, except those who think things really have changed in the way the Chinese government operates.

How my assistant got into trouble with Beijing’s security apparatus and I got to know the Chinese authorities 

This is the really scary part of the story: “Zhang Miao is a completely normal Chinese citizen. And we will treat her like we deal with Chinese citizens.”

Believe me, that is not something to make one feel comfortable.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Harassment, Press Freedom