[Update: 8/20/19] Open Letter to Nature Communications (the ‘Skeptic Climate Scientists Do Not Deserve Fair Media Balance’ Problem, part 1)

[ Author’s 8/20/19 update appears at the bottom of this page]  The entertaining news item last week was reports about the publication of a paper in Nature Communications titled “Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians,” which fundamentally suggested that “professional journalists and editors should adjust the disproportionate attention given to contrarians.” Climate scientist Dr Judith Curry describes it as a travesty, “the worst paper I have ever seen published in a reputable journal,” with regard to its highly questionable attempt to juxtapose 386 prominent contrarians with 386 expert scientists in a way to conclude critics of the IPCC side of the issue don’t deserve equal media attention. I’m one of the so-called “contrarians.”

I view the paper as fatally flawed, and in my Part 1 examination here, what follows is my email request to the editors of the magazine in which I offered two particular reasons why the paper should be retracted. My email is verbatim (with the only difference being red color text highlighting), sent on Saturday morning 8/17/19. If I receive any responses, I will include them verbatim if permitted below my email:

Subject: Petersen/Vincent/Westerling 8/13/19 paper in Nature Communications needs to be retracted due to fatal credibility problems

Ms Ranieri, Mr Gevaux, Ms Le Bot, Ms Gillespie, Mr Franke, Mr Muller, Ms Scott, Ms Xia,

I respectfully suggest that the Petersen / Vincent / Westerling 8/13/19 “Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians “paper be immediately retracted from Nature Communications for the following two reasons:

1) The paper’s authors imply the Desmogblog “Project” is some kind of objective organization or effort having “a longstanding effort to document climate disinformation efforts associated with numerous contrarian institutions and individual actors.” It absolutely is not. As heard beginning at the 56:45 point of this Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwGGedCw3do&t=3404 , Desmogblog’s co-founder James Hoggan self-admits he knew nothing about climate science, but after simply reading Ross Gelbspan’s 2004 “Boiling Point” book, he decided that skeptic climate scientists were liars, and thus he created Desmogblog in order to mute those scientists because of their allegedly ‘corrupt funding coming from Big Coal & Oil.’ Not because he had any capacity to prove their science assessments as false. This is arguably a form of massive journalistic malfeasance, if Desmogblog is considered to be a journalistic analysis organization. Further, it is a matter of record at Desmogblog that the entire site was motivated by and built on the works of Ross Gelbspan, whose primary work after 1995 has been to portray skeptic climate scientists as ‘shills being paid under the table by fossil fuel interests to spread misinformation,’ despite the lack of any actual evidence that could stand up in an evidentiary court hearing to support his accusation. Gelbspan may possibly have engaged in one of the biggest acts of libel/slander in history if he knew the so-called leaked industry memos in his possession were not what he portrayed them to be. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” movie companion book labeled Gelbspan as a Pulitzer winning journalist who discovered the memos — Gelbspan never won a Pulitzer, and the verifiably rejected memos did not come from the entity he claims they did.

2) I am one of the so-called “contrarians” in the list of 386 people the paper’s authors use as a comparison against expert climate scientists/speakers on the IPCC side of the issue. My name appears between Dr Sherwood Idso and Paul Chesser, both of whom have had practically no media presence in the last decade regarding climate science matters. While my own personal writing works is on the political side of the AGW issue in online blogs, I don’t recollect ever seeing any mainstream media outlet (newspaper or broadcast) ever making a solitary reference to my work, and if any did, it would not be regarding any pure science aspects of the issue. For the authors to imply that my appearance among “contrarians” (a term mildly offensive to me) helped ordinary citizens to hear more of the skeptic side of the issue than the IPCC / Al Gore side is, to put it mildly, ludicrous.

The talking point that ‘skeptics receive too much journalistic balance’ is a very old one, and has long been unsupportable. By way of example, the PBS NewsHour, which regularly covers the global warming issue in either direct discussion broadcast segments or in significant mentions of the topic, has not once featured a skeptic climate scientist on is program as a guest to freely inform NewsHour viewers about the other side of the issue. Among the approximately 880 times this topic was discussed/mentioned on the NewsHour going back to 1996, there has only been seven instances where NewsHour viewers received any semblance of science details supporting the skeptic side of the issue. I have extensively detailed that at my blog ( http://gelbspanfiles.com/?page_id=3834 ) regarding the appearances of pro-IPCC scientists, and I further have a huge file regarding the specific discussions/mentions to support my assertion about the overall egregious bias at that news outlet.

Grossly inflating the numbers of times when skeptics got any sort of air time or print time via so-called “data” from Desmogblog is a credibility killer. It is why this paper has no merit, and should be immediately retracted.

– Russell Cook

[ Author’s 8/20/19 update: just before 11am local time, I received a response from Nature Communications editor Elisa De Ranieri which was also cc’d to another of the magazine’s main editors. Her email contained a confidentiality disclaimer, so I will respect that and not reproduce her reply here. As has been seen within the magazine’s own reaction to criticism of the Petersen/Vincent/Westerling paper on 8/16/19, I can at least relay without violating the confidentiality disclaimer that the content of the email noted how the magazine is taking the criticism seriously, and that their investigation into the credibility of the paper is a matter of priority. ]

Part 2: I reinforce the apparently ongoing problem of where this unsupportable ‘Skeptic Climate Scientists Do Not Deserve Fair Media Balance’ talking point problem always spirals back to.