TCS Daily

Journalism: Art of the Impossible

By Tim Worstall - July 29, 2005 12:00 AM

As we all know, the major newspapers and media outlets do not have an agenda to push. Reporting is scrupulously fair and balanced, editorials are pondered and written using the exquisite tact and careful attention to facts for which the medium is famed and, in complete and total contrast to blogs, vague and general assertions are never used to support pre-existing prejudices.

Those layers of editors and fact checkers (which as we know are not used in the Op-Eds, but are in the rest of the output) make certain that only those things that can be supported, checked and verified, are used for the edification of the readers. Quite.

In Tuesday's New York Times we have a short editorial on the subject of weather and global warming. A suitable subject no doubt, one of great importance even. What is happening, how it's happening and what we do about it, well, they are indeed some of the major questions of the age.

This little supposition has -- well, given what we are told by the purveyors of this type of journalism, must have -- been checked for accuracy and only used to reach a conclusion, not to support one that had a previous existence:

Taking global warming seriously means, in part, understanding that it is a broad-scale pattern of incremental changes, a shifting of averages over the long term rather than the immediate cause of today's weather. It may not be possible to say that this heat wave or the drought that is afflicting Europe has been caused by global warming, especially when some of the records that fell recently were set many years ago.

The drought that is afflicting Europe? The one I am sitting in the middle of? The one where we are cowering fearfully awaiting the arrival of the autumn forest fire season? That one? Indeed, it may not be possible to say that this has been caused by global warming. In fact, if one did say it one would be wrong.

Now I'm not sure how long the carrier mice that the NY Times uses to get information to the editorial board actually take to move information around but I would have thought that four days would be enough time. Enough time for this detailed report from the Guardian to impinge upon the consciousness perhaps?

The droughts in Europe may be shocking and they are predicted to carry on into next year. But, according to climate experts, they are the result of natural climate cycles and not global warming.

So that would be, no, the drought is not caused by global warming. It is therefore not only not possible to state that it has been, it is impermissible to say so. That is, that the implication is actually at odds with reality, is an untruth.

The skill and verve with which our layers of expert thinkers report the truth can be further seen in this:

The real reason for the drought is essentially a lack of rainfall over the past nine months. In winter and spring, most reservoirs get replenished, but in the UK, for example, the past six months have seen barely two-thirds of the average expected rainfall. Professor Saunders says that the current situation is a result of natural climate variability. Drought trends going back more than 100 years show this sort of natural cycle repeating itself time and again. He also rules out global warming as a contributing factor since it is expected to cause wetter winters.

Now it might seem a little droll to use the reporting of one avowedly left-wing newspaper to show the competence with which a liberal and avowedly impartial one sorts, collates and processes information; yet droll or not, instructive, no?

Our original implication is that the drought in Europe might be caused by global warming. The truth is that it is not. The further and deeper truth is that global warming is, in the opinion of those scientists studying the subject, likely to be the solution to the drought, quite the opposite of it being the cause.

A vote of thanks to the editorial board, the layers of editors and the fact checkers at the New York Times then, I feel it's only called for. Perhaps someone should give them a prize for the skill with which they approach such difficult subjects.

And we must, of course, all thank the Lord that they're not like bloggers, throwing out untruths and factual errors to support their particular prejudices. Tsk, tsk, that would never do, the newspaper of record failing to use its greatest strength, the ability to check things before going to press.

Tim Worstall is a TCS contributor living in Europe. Find more of his writing here.


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