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« Ye olde techniques - Josh 273 | Main | Wet, wet, wet »

Deliberate distortions

The New Yorker is taking sceptics to task for citing old newspaper articles (H/T Leo Hickman). The case seems to be that this is being done in a cursory fashion.

There’s nothing wrong with examining old newspaper articles for clues about climate conditions in the past. Legitimate climate researchers look at historical documents of all kinds. However, a good-faith effort to arrive at the truth would not rely on cherry-picking catchy headlines. It would require considering the context and looking at all the evidence. At the very least, it wouldn’t allow for deliberate distortions.

This made me laugh because I had raised an eyebrow at an earlier sentence in which the author said this:

A central tenet for [sceptics] is that today’s sea-ice retreat, warming surface temperatures, and similar observations are short-lived anomalies of a kind that often happened in the past—and that overzealous scientists and gullible media are quick to drum up crises where none exist.

Is claiming that sea ice is in retreat when sea ice levels are well above their long-term average the kind of "deliberate distortion" that he is referring to? Or perhaps "today's" means something different at the New Yorker.

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Reader Comments (28)

Well the NYT certainly knows about cherry picking and catchy headlines. It is the most alarmist US newspaper and its reporting is getting close to The National Enquirer.

Apr 30, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Sceptics are evil fossil funded lackeys who always cherry-pick.

While climate "scientists" are honest people saving the planet and never cherry-pick!

D’Arrigo - cherry-picking that’s what you have to do if you want to make cherry pie.

Esper is quoted as saying - "the ability to pick and choose which samples to use is an advantage unique to dendroclimatology"

Hockey Stick, "Hide the Decline", etc.

Just call me Pinocchio whith the 1km nose

Apr 30, 2014 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

John, The New Yorker and The New York Times are different publications.

Apr 30, 2014 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

They don't like being reminded that they are using the same old script.

Apr 30, 2014 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke in Central Illinois

The very first paragraph positively SHOUTS the intentions of the author: “…a quotation supposedly taken from a 1922 edition of the Washington Post…” Supposedly? Can you not verify it? Surely, even for someone as out-of-touch as myself, it would not be too difficult to ascertain whether or not that quote is actually from a 1922 edition of the Washington Post. Why can an American reporter not do that?

It then concludes with: “The intent, of course, was to poke fun at current headlines about climate change.” Is it? To me (usual codicils apply), it strikes me as someone presenting an argument that the whole scare of today has been repeated in history – and we are still here! Which makes it not a question of “poking fun” but of highlighting the utter stupidity of the whole scam.

If selecting that single tweet is not a prime example of “cherry-picking” that the author so obviously derides, I have no idea what is. I haven’t bothered with the rest of the article…

Apr 30, 2014 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

He seemed to completely miss the point that the headlines do not reflect the state of the science either then or now and over-hyped press releases from scientific establishments must be treated with due skepticism. Any claim that anything is unprecedented has so far always been found to be completely false.

It's annoying this continual strawman recitation of what skeptics believe. It's not so difficult that it needs framed: Skeptics are skeptical of all bold claims that are model-based and lack real observational evidence and so far this skepticism has been more than warranted!

In fact skeptics (including myself) long predicted this current pause in warming due to pdo reversal and endured warmists pouring scorn on the idea. Now of course the pdo effect is mainstream among scientists to explain the pause they had been denying for over a decade. Of course they still fail to admit the obvious implication that model assumptions of natural variations were ipso facto grossly underestimated which leads directly to the conclusions that there is no credible apocalyptic scenario and no meaningful way to attribute any warming to mankind.

Journalists ought to be thanking us for doing their job when they fell asleep and maybe they ought to learn to listen to the realism of skeptics a lot more than they currently do instead of just being holier-than-thou smartarses, lazily unwilling to read the original papers (if they even exist) behind the hyped-up press releases.

Apr 30, 2014 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

In fact, old newspapers are immensely valuable resources, given that in many countries "official" weather records compiled at a national level are only a century or so old.

For example, in Australia, the worst drought since European settlement (the Federation Drought) is not covered by the records that the BoM uses to tell us that things have never been worse thanks to CAGW. Without the newspaper records, they would have airbrushed it right out of our climate history. The same goes for severe flooding events, which are often described as "unprecedented" until someone looks up the old newspapers and finds that this is simply untrue.

Apr 30, 2014 at 12:21 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Can somebody better qualified than me get on the New Yorker comments and point out the inadequacies of Mr Beilinson;s arguments? It would do more good than commenting here. I am just about to go to bed or I'd do it myself. Ta.

Apr 30, 2014 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerboy

The AGW apologists are poisoning the well- inoculating the faithful against facts, if the facts are declared to be tainted by skeptics.

Apr 30, 2014 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Bertrand Russell would have liked this. A journalistic publication (The NY) is recommending for journalistic publications not to be taken too seriously as they are firmly rooted in their historical context.

Thus we should not take the very same recommendation too seriously, since it declares itself to be firmly rooted in the present historical context as well. This means we ought take journalistic publications more seriously than suggested.

Back to unshaveable barbers. Repeat.

Apr 30, 2014 at 1:01 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Radical Rodent writes:

The very first paragraph positively SHOUTS the intentions of the author: “…a quotation supposedly taken from a 1922 edition of the Washington Post…” Supposedly? Can you not verify it? Surely, even for someone as out-of-touch as myself, it would not be too difficult to ascertain whether or not that quote is actually from a 1922 edition of the Washington Post. Why can an American reporter not do that? … I haven’t bothered with the rest of the article…

If Radical Rodent had continued with the rest of the article, the Rodent could have read this:

After spending a few minutes poking around online, I was able to find both the Washington Post article and the longer source material that it came from—a weather report issued by the U.S. consul in Bergen, Norway, and sent to the State Department on October 10, 1922. The report didn’t say anything about coasts being inundated. … Rucker ultimately corrected his tweet once commenters pointed out the misquote. Through Twitter, he informed me that he had taken the line from a Washington Times op-ed by Richard Rahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. When I contacted Rahn’s office, a press representative acknowledged that Rahn had copied the quote from other bloggers and columnists; the fabricated sentence appears in articles at and The fabricated line seems to have been inserted around 2011, but the original article has been circulating online since 2007.

I agree with the criticism in the OP that global sea ice is too often confused with northern hemisphere sea ice, but Radical Rodent's criticism here seems wrong. More important, it shows that dismissing one's opponents too quickly can be unhelpful, no matter what side of a debate you are on. You will mislead yourself, fail to find genuine weaknesses in arguments, and convince no one else you are correct. It's inevitable that we all make this sort of mistake given limited time available, but for myself I will take it as another reminder to be careful with this.

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJK


> Is claiming that sea ice is in retreat
> when sea ice levels are well above their
> long-term average the kind of "deliberate
> distortion" that he is referring to?

Does anyone say that? Can you point to scientific studies that say sea ice is in retreat, as opposed to saying that northern hemisphere sea ice is in retreat? If not, then the "deliberate distortion" is yours.

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

BH wrote: Is claiming that sea ice is in retreat ...

Chandra wrote: Does anyone say that?

New Yorker wrote: A central tenet for [sceptics] is that today’s sea-ice retreat, ...

Chandra, the answer to your question was right in front of your face.

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterSleepalot

Same theme from gAVIN at RC.

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

Dear Bish, I'm confused.

Is it "cherry-picking", when IPCC WG I ("The Science"), cites a 1975 article from Newsweek?

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterSleepalot

Often we come across comments to the effect that a weather event is "unprecedented", or others using superlatives like "hottest", "least", or "most". People who have been following the discussion know that such comments have not been limited to media reporters, but have fairly regularly issued from climate scientists. As a matter of logic, citing a contrary instance is a direct refutation of such claims and is therefore always relevant.

Sorry to post something so elementary, but some people need to be reminded of the obvious.

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Strom

Sleepalot, that is an article discussing fabricated quotes about northern hemisphere sea ice retreat. The Bishop links to a graph of global sea ice. So the question stands, where is global sea ice claimed to be in retreat (by scientists, not quote-fabricating 'sceptics')? If you can find no such claim then it is the Bishop who is indulging in "deliberate distortion".

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

who still takes anything that comes from new york seriously??

should they not be busy building culshral cenners for the islamists and such

Apr 30, 2014 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

chandra is, I believe, reading the article with his UptonSinclair glasses I textmined the article for words like "northern" and "southern" but no. The article's conclusion is about ice capS with an s, but probably chandras glasses do not penetrate that far.

Apr 30, 2014 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

You have a point, JK (2:06 PM), however, whatever the contents of the full article, that first paragraph is so wrong, on several counts, not least the contentious phrasing. The reporter would have been better stating that it was a misquote right from the start, rather than saying “… supposedly taken from …” with the inherent implication that he had not bothered checking its veracity.

Apr 30, 2014 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

What is the sea ice of the NH retreating from? A strategic flanking move? From a less-than-100-year record? So muuch hype and distortion by our AGW kooks?
And the impact of this alleged retreat, what is it?
No change in historical weather patterns.
No impact on world sea levels.
No adverse hits on wildlife.
Some unsustainable shipping and drilling stunts, OK.
The great thing for the climate obsessed about the Arctic ice is nearly no one can look and see just how trivial and trumped up their hype about the ice actually is.
Instead, we can get some beleiver to deconstruct a quote made by one person and pretend it is representative of all skeptcs. while ignoring the spectacular structural failures of the the climate hype industry's official voices.
Afterall, as we see in Chandra's pathetic responses, he/she is not even able to actually read what is written. And Chandra is a bright, well educated believer. Think of what that implies about the intellectual capacity of the typical true believer.

Apr 30, 2014 at 4:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

I don't think that in this case one swallow does make a summer. Many newspapers have their archive on line. Steve Goddard often references them. The fact that one has been changed doesn't make the rest fabricated as well.
Some of the more recent ones Steve Goddard has linked:
BBC Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Lodi News-Sentinel - Feb 28, 2007
The Milwaukee Sentinel - Sep 11, 1954
Time Magazine 1974
New York Times November 25, 1969
New York Times January 28, 1934,

Therefore until all references are proven to have been modified by big oil funded sceptics then I'll ignore this article.

NB As the New York Times articles are behind a paywall what Steve Goddard has copied cannot be verified without buying a subscription. The first couple of sentences can be viewed.

Apr 30, 2014 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

I partially agree with the New Yorker article, but his arguments apply equally to both extremes on the climate change debate, yet he only applied it to climate change skeptics. Why?

I agree that cherry-picking a headline/quote from a newspaper article to prove a point can be very unhelpful and/or misleading.

At best, it is only anecdotal, at worst it is out-of-context or misquoted! However, what's sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. We are constantly inundated with poorly researched headlines claiming that CO2 is "destroying the planet" (e.g., "the warm list") - why doesn't Jerry Beilinson call them to task in his article too?

Speaking of old newspaper articles, while cherry-picked headlines aren't very helpful, they can be very useful tools for studying climatic trends... once you recognise that they are usually only qualitative records, and have to be treated very cautiously. For instance, Liu et al., 2001 carried out an interesting study where they used 1000 years of Chinese newspapers (called Fang Zhi) to estimate long-term trends in the numbers of typhoons making landfall in Guangdong, China.

Mind you, the New Yorker writer might not approve of the Liu et al., 2001 study, since they didn't get the "right" answer - they found the worst period for typhoon activity was during the late-1600s and not the 20th century... ;)

I think anecdotal records, e.g., newspaper articles, are particularly interesting for sea ice extent because the satellite records only began in 1978... and the late-1970s marked the end of a period of "Arctic cooling" which began in the 1940s. So, the satellite sea ice records do not tell us whether the recent Arctic "melting" trends are unusual or not. Since there seems to be a lot of interest in Arctic sea ice trends (although not the Antarctic trends for some mysterious reason ;) ), perhaps we should be looking carefully at some of these old newspaper articles and other anecdotal descriptions for some qualitative insights?

Indeed, in an essay we wrote a few months back, we looked at the voyages of several of the great Arctic explorers, and found that many of the 19th/early 20th century Arctic voyages would not have been possible in 1978. This suggests that when "records began" in 1978, the Arctic sea ice extent was larger than it had been at various stages over the last few hundred years:

Apr 30, 2014 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRonan Connolly

Check out the Wilkipedia list of 17 18 19 century Atlantic hurricanes that hit the east coast of America before Sandy.

Apr 30, 2014 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

'However, a good-faith effort to arrive at the truth would not rely on cherry-picking catchy headlines'

So their asking us NOT TO act like the New Yorker and countless other AGW faithful in the media , why is there something wrong with that approach ?

Apr 30, 2014 at 7:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

The Bishop has covered the Washington Post article before. As you can see from the 2008 post the text originally tweeted by Rucker does not appear in the Post article.

Jerry Beilinson is wrong however to ridicule Rucker thus:

This isn’t surprising. Scientists were smart back then, too, and they knew that melting sea ice wouldn’t appreciably raise sea levels, any more than a melting ice cube raises the level of water in a glass.

because Rucker says 'due to ice melt' NOT 'due to sea ice melt'.

Furthermore, if Beilinson or Rucker had done a bit more research they might have found that, in 1947, Hans Ahlmann did make a prediction very similar to the one appended to the 1922 article:

From the Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), Saturday 31 May 1947, page 2


LOS ANGELES. May 30.— A mysterious warming of the climate is slowly manifesting itself in the Arctic, and if the Antarctic ice regions and the major Greenland ice cap should reduce at the same rate as the present melting, oceanic surfaces would rise to catastrophic proportions, and people living in lowlands along the shores would be inundated, said Dr. Hans Ahlmann, noted Swedish geophysicist to-day, at the University of California's Geophysical Institute.

It appears to me that the mysterious addition to the Post article discussed at:

is a conflation of the 'Arctic Ocean Getting Warm' article and the 'Arctic Climate's Alarming Change' article.

Apr 30, 2014 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Thanks, jamspid (@Apr 30, 2014 at 6:17 PM).

Actually, we also have an essay on what we know about hurricane/tropical cyclone trends, and what (if any) link there is to anthropogenic global warming.

In that essay, we provide quite a bit of analysis on the Atlantic hurricane data, although we confine our analysis of hurricane trends to the post-1880s period.

In a nutshell, we find that there has been no long-term trend in hurricane/tropical cyclone activity, but there has been an increase in the damage caused by tropical cyclones due to the rises in coastal populations. Is that in keeping with what you have found from your studies of pre-19th century Atlantic hurricanes?

Apr 30, 2014 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterRonan Connolly

"However, a good-faith effort to arrive at the truth would not rely on cherry-picking catchy headlines."

You mean like newspaper reporting of Hurricane Katrina and "Super Storm Sandy" ?

Sceptics generally quote old newspaper headlines of the past in order to put current sensational headlines in context. Obviously, lots of people aren't going to like that.

May 1, 2014 at 12:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterWill Nitschke

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