Monday, July 14, 2014

A Panel of National Experts Who Know Nothing About the Subject

(Updated below, 7-25-14)

Regarding the issue of Climate Change, Fox host Chris Wallace, February (16), 2014: "And we're back now with the panel."

Here's the funny thing about news today, or perhaps it's mainly a Fox thing: This panel, to discuss Climate Change, consisted of people who know nothing about Climate Change.  

Many people like to turn to Fox - it is after all the most watched national news station in America (And there's only a few such stations to begin with, so this matters.) 

But are viewers getting anything that is actually helping them to understand the issue better, or are they getting the opposite? Or something that leaves out critical facts, misrepresents many other facts, and is continually advocating through subtle suggestion and framing - that, as a result, only reinforces beliefs created on incomplete information, or further misunderstanding of the basic issue.  

Could this be part of why very few people, including the national panel of news experts on this show, even know what the real issue on Climate Change is?

"Well, the President's [Climate Change is a problem] case may be a bit hard to make when the Eastern half of the country is in the midst of a brutal winter," said Host Chris Wallace, before returning to his panel. 

The "Eastern half of the country" represents barely 1% of the globe. Climate Change refers to the entire globe, and a (significant) global change in overall averages, and possibly even in levels of variation (increasing it), as well. Climate is the general pattern of weather, over many years. Weather itself, is always all over the place.

In any regard, as temperatures and weather normally vary widely from day to day, season to season, year to year, and place to place (a phenomenon which, if anything, "Climate Change,"is likely to exacerbate, at least for a while), temperatures last winter in the Western half of Kazakhstan, or the Eastern half of the United States, etc., are irrelevant to determining what "Climate Change" is.

It is understandable that people confuse temporary, provincial, weather with long term global climate trends.

But is this national news host overseeing a panel on one of the biggest topics of the past several decades here doing exactly the same? Or just encouraging it in others, by referencing the wildly mistaken idea. 

Since an apt description of the Fox Channel is probably that it always shapes things to get in suggestion, it probably doesn't matter. But given the unusually poor grasp of the issue exhibited on Fox - let alone for a news station, let alone, again, for a national news station, and let alone yet again for a leading national news station) - it is probably at least some of the former. That is, Wallace doesn't understand the basics of the issue, either.  

Or the fact that Climate Change (vaguely) refers to both the cause, and more specifically to this likely long term (and increasing ) overall global warming trend result, over decades. Not this winter's, or even the last few winters' weather, in his or some viewer's neck of the woods.  

But then - with a panel of experts who know less than nothing on the subject, as most of what they say on it that has substantive relevance is wrong or highly misleading - how could he?

Here's the discussion that took place this last winter:

gnorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes what is wrong. -Thomas Jefferson

Having a panel on Climate Change who know nothing on the issue, but assert things - incorrect things - as if they do, is much worse than simply having ignorant panelists.

Jefferson also had another quote, among many, somewhat applicable here:

I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led.

This idea could be rearranged to capture today's Foxy approach, on the Climate Change issue:

"We were bold in pursuit of supporting what we wanted as facts, never fearing to follow whatever advocation was necessary to adhere to them, and equally bold in our pursuit of ways to dismiss whatever real facts, or even good logic, happened by accident to occasionally come our way." Such as what the issue is really about, and what the basic facts are.

Update: 7-25-14: There is a comment below suggesting that the author of this piece is "deliberately missing the point," in that it was a discussion of the politics of the issue. It is hard to believe that this commenter actually watched the clip. But from the comment below and a reference to one of the guests, it appears they had. In which case, anything that is filled with uninformed "information" that discusses the substance of an issue with political overtones (as most issues do), as is done in large part in the clip above, can then be dismissed as "politics." 

So if a news show discusses politics, by having uninformed guests speak out about a substantive topic on which they mislead viewers, it is, according to this commenter, "political experts [who] spoke expertly on the topic." Another way to look at it (see comment below); show a clip of the President talking about a substantive topic, then talk about that substantive topic, misinform or mislead, but, nevertheless, according to this incredibly illogical argument, it is "deliberately missing the point" to in fact point out all of the misinformation on the topic, because it was all "politics."

The comment also serves as an example of the very point that ended the original portion of this piece. That is, "We were bold in pursuit of supporting what we wanted as facts, never fearing to follow whatever advocation was necessary to adhere to them, and equally bold in our pursuit of ways to dismiss whatever real facts, or even good logic, happened by accident to occasionally come our way."

Here, the illogical advocation that, hey, they were just talking politics, "my guess is that you are not that knowledgeable about politics and won't be invited to be a panelist." (Certainly not on Fox.) And were "deliberately missing the point" (that misinformation and illogical analysis is no longer relevant, because all this has political ramifications and they discussed those too, and, also, they are "experts" on politics, and not, presumably, the issues they are nevertheless directly informing their audience on, as if they are.) 

The guests also discussed the issue itself, even predominantly, in the clip above. Most of what they represented, and the point of the piece above, was misleading, or, though more subjectively, ill thought out. (Additionally, discussing the issue, which they largely did, is not simply discussing the political potency of it. Panelists uttering substantive assessments that mislead or misinform on the issue is not discussing the political potency, so much as trying to shape it.) 

The Host talks about how Obama will have a hard time making his case with all the cold in the East, but doesn't simultaneously note that global climate, which is decades globally, is not regional weather; and that confusing the two greatly confuses the issue. Confusion which he was contributing to.

George Will doesn't know anything about the science of the issue. But he was giving his ponderous view of the science of the issue, and stated as gospel (See above clip.)

Charles Lane probably doesn't know anything about the economics of the issue or the science, but he was giving his economic/science amalgamation: It's a "rich man's issue." Because, unfortunately, America is a poor country, and if we only weren't several dozen times poorer than we were 100 years ago, maybe we could "afford" it. (Which is also based on the mis-perception that addressing climate change doesn't also add to GDP, but, unlike any other expenditure in our economy, all of which, in total, go toward comprising GDP, is uniquely a true cost that won't also contribute to GDP.)

Except we aren't several dozen times poorer than we were 100 years ago, we are many, many times wealthier; yet still too poor apparently to yet consider the "Rich man's issue" of not fundamentally altering the world in which we live, in a way that is highly counterproductive to our own long term interests, and in particular to the poor, who will suffer the most from climate change, and particularly in poor countries and countries that already have trouble getting enough food, which expected increased drought will only greatly worsen.

By Lane's argument, we can never address any harm or practices that may be doing us much more harm than good, and thus, improve, our world, and our economy in the long run. Because not radically altering the atmosphere in a way that is likely to greatly change climate, is a "rich man's issue." Collective atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases have already risen to levels not seen on earth in millions of years. Much of this just in the last few hundred years, and much of that in the last fifty. These are the gases that absorb and re radiate heat that is emitted off the earth's surface, and that are responsible, in already small number, for keeping the globe from essentially being a large ball of ice. Yet not continuing to contribute to this problem, or taking sensible steps to mitigate contribution and perhaps ultimately level it off or ameliorate it a little bit to the extent we can, is suddenly a "rich man's" problem. Not all of ours. Yet it seems that the rich, ironically, are most behind efforts to minimize the perceived threat from climate change.

Lane's subsequent expression was an opinion, but one that seems ill conceived, and largely tautological. Essentially, "if we didn't have economic problems" (his words), we could address something that was harming our interests more than helping them (my words.) Aside from a rare period in the 90s due to some sensible fiscal and monetary policy, taxation overall, budget control and a large technological boom, when have have we not had economic problems? And even then, many people argued we did. That aside, it still makes no sense to not address something that is harming our interests more than helping them (particularly one that is a compounding problem, as this one is), unless Lane's argument is that not trying to mitigate Climate Change helps us more. Which then has nothing to do with it being a "Rich Man's issue," but would be an entirely different argument.

Kirsten Powers doesn't get what climate (versus weather) is, or even what long term charts do. They are shown as smooth curves. An upward trend over time does not mean that, if each moment or year or set of years on a chart is plotted out, there are not flat or even downward areas. Thus her statement that it can't be called "Global Warming" because the earth stopped warming, isn't really correct. So far, statistically and climatically, the earth is in a warming trend. And even a slightly accelerating one so far. The last several years, still far above the recent historical mean, may be a small part of a much bigger (future) trend that starts to establish something much different. (No more warming, etc.), but on their own all that matters is the entire picture we have since modern record keeping began, and which includes these same most recent years. That picture is trending upward. And since climate is the pattern of weather over very long periods of time, that is by far the most relevant. Particularly when it comes to something which is a long term issue. Several years are not. And, particularly when they continue the pattern set in the 90s of extremely warm weather, when most of the ten hottest years since record keeping began were recorded, several of which have now been supplanted even by several of the years in the 2000s.

More importantly, the term Global Warming has little to do with why it was changed.. Climate change will likely (continue to) be a longer term warming trend. But the issue is more accurately about the fact that it will change, maybe with a lot more volatility, and the change will not be from "year to year," but the longer term,and trail, or lag, behind it's cause, for very specific reasons. And Frank Luntz, perhaps the most influential pollster in America, and brilliant with framing, apparently advocated to the political Right, that at the time was more generally opposed to concern over the issue, to call it "Climate Change" because it sounds less scary than "Global Warming." The issue was also repeatedly called Climate Change (which does more accurately reflect the issue, though geologically radical atmospheric alteration does more accurately, but it's long) even in papers on the topic as far back as the 70s.

Powers' assessment after that, that what Obama is doing is overtly political, IS discussing politics, or it could be a way to dig at the issue more, and ignore the substance or the science of the issue the President was just speaking on, but which was just incorrectly rebutted by someone (George Will), who knows nothing about the science. Thus simply furthering Will's bad science, rather than adding different information. Also, Obama's move could really be just "political"; but then what, by a President is not political, or to be labeled? If he knows the science, or has advisors who do, he's probably concerned about the issue (presidents can have real concerns), and is also expressing it.

Powers, in discussing carbon reduction (which is science and policy, not politics) next states "whether you believe in Climate Change or not." Maybe this is inadvertent, but this is not a "believe in it or not believe in it" issue. The framing further discredits the basic, incontrovertible, science of the issue, and what climate change - regardless of the extent of its affects on a system that we have no control variable to isolate out for - really is. That's not political either, as almost nothing has been.

Again, Wallace introduced it with the statement that the President will have a hard time making his case because it is cold in the East. IF there is any truth to that - since the weather pattern in a season (or even ten seasons over as small a fraction of the globe as the East half of the U.S. is all but meaningless to establishing long term global climate) - it is ONLY because of the furtherance of this very same mistake, namely, conflating weather, local weather weather, and weather patterns, with global climate, as Wallace engages in here, an thus only furthers, thus further confusing the issue, and leading to less, not more, informed discussion and understanding on it.

Wallace also said "The President said that Climate Change accounts for everything from drought, to flood."It's not clear from the audible portion if the president also technically said that, though he probably implied that the extra wacky nature of the weather is due to what we call "Climate Change." It's kind of a silly statement either way. Climate is what it is. Now that's changed, because we've radically increased the atmospheric concentration of long lived greenhouse gases that trap emitted thermal radiation and prevent some of it from thus escaping into space. Thus it doesn't directly "cause" anything, but factors into everything. So the question Wallace then asks, "George, do you buy it," also misleads on the basic issue.

That is, there is nothing to buy, unless one goes into the semantic assessment of "affects," etc. (This is also, again, as with most of this discussion tubed above, substantive discussion;, not an assessment of the politics of it. Otherwise everything w/ political implications or interest could be misinformed on, and just dismissed as a "discussion of the politics." And the basic idea of accuracy or even basic knowledge - what news, and ultimately the information that shapes our world, depends on – is when convenient to an argument, rendered meaningless.)

George's answer was then, in turn, somewhat ridiculous. The climate always changes, so even though it is incontrovertible that gg levels are far higher... and that they do trap more emitted thermal radiation, leading to a net increase in the earth's energy balance, in Will's (non science) world, this affect is (preposterously) somehow not affecting what is ultimately driven by energy - our long term global climate.

Will also said the debate is raging (not over), and, in that anthropomorphic sources are unduly affecting our long term climate, Obama is losing it. Even if, unsound as this is based on the facts, man is not unduly affecting climate, and a few actual scientists who are expert in this area really still argue it, in the real scientific community, the debate is over. (It's not in the politically charged atmosphere of Internet free for alls, and in politics.) And most real scientists, not ideologues, are pulling their hair out over it, because they can't understand why the country is not getting it. (Perhaps because it is never explained well?) Will is either incorrect again, or a little disingenuous; and this is again not a take on politics, but on the substance of the issue.

Simply because it is a news shows that has "panelists" talking about an issue that has political ramifications, and shows a clip of the president making a reference to that issue, doesn't mean the issue of the panelists actual knowledge on the topic, as well as the accuracy, or representative (misleading, or manipulative) nature of what they state, isn't an issue - and the point of this original piece. Particularly since this panel was poorly informed on the issue, and engaged in a discussion on it, which would only further misunderstanding and misinformation on the topic.


  1. You seem to be deliberately missing the point. This was a discussion of the politics of the Climate Change issue. It was not a discussion of the climatology. It was generally fact based. They began with a clip from Obama (a politician) and discussed the political potency of the issue today compared to formerly. They cited a poll that showed that the public no longer much cared.

    They discussed the Delta Smelt political issue too. Kirsten Powers made a few mistakes in my opinion, but in general this panel of political experts spoke expertly on the topic - which was politics. My guess is that you are not that knowledgeable about politics and won't be invited to be a panelist.

  2. Pat, thanks for the comment. I don't agree with it at all, but thought it was a good point in that the piece above doesn't really discuss the substance of the video, so the update above both responds to your comment, and adds that discussion.