News! Journalists doing their job, critically reporting on rising seas & the bee-pocalypse.

Summary: In their desperate race for survival in a world with too many journalists, they’ve given a warm reception to all kinds of doomsters. Events this week suggest that at least some journalists have realized that they have no competitive advantage at clickbait, but that there will always be a market for good journalism — especially when challenging the conventional wisdom.

Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in "Psycho" (1960).

 

Contents

  1. The bee-pocalypse.
  2. The sea rise over our cities.
  3. For more information.

 

(1)  The coming bee-pocalypse

The story of the bee-pocalypse shows why we’re so poorly misinformed despite the massive growth of the news media, both professional and amateurs. The story has run for years, but with little debunking in the major news media. That they don’t grapple with major stories, especially such easily debunked ones, shows one reason they’re in decline.

For 8 years we’ve heard about death of honey bees (probably due to pesticides) and the resulting wreck of agriculture, told with varying degrees of hysteria by a wide range of publications. Some examples are “Better Planet: Beepocalypse. Can we save honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder?“ by Josie Glausiusz in Discover (July 2007),  “Honey bee apocalypse may not be caused by evil corporations after all” by George Dvorsky at io9 (June 2012) and “The New Silent Spring: America is one bad winter away from a food disaster, thanks to dying bees“ by Todd Woody at Quartz (May 2013).

Feeding the hysteria, Bryan Walsh wrote incendiary articles at the once-great Time magazine…

Bee Warning

Journalists at the major news media covered the story as a technical story, as if oblivious to the horrific claims made elsewhere.

Readers of the FM website learned the truth, that the hysteria was almost totally baseless: Is the bee-pocalypse coming, when the bees die and our crops fail? (June 2014) and Much of our news is people crying “wolf”. Do we still listen to real warnings? (January 2015).

But the time are changing. This week Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog did some strong de-bunking: “Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high“. Does this mark a change of policy?

National Geographic

(2)  The sea rise over our cities

For 2 decades the journalists have given uncritical applause to scientists’ papers giving forecasts far outside the range described as likely in the IPCC’s reports. That might have changed this week with the coverage of announcement of “Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2°C Global Warming is Highly Dangerous” by James Hansen and 16 other eminent scientists.

A media barrage coordinated by the “strategic communicators” at Grover Park Group preceded publication of this non-peer reviewed paper, sensible since it seemed designed to build public support for action at November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The media kits included this terrifying excerpt from the paper…

We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

This image of our planet with accelerating meltwater includes growing climate chaos and storminess, as meltwater causes cooling around Antarctica and in the North Atlantic while the tropics and subtropics continue to warm. Rising seas and more powerful storms together are especially threatening, providing strong incentive to phase down CO2 emissions rapidly.

Hansen followed the successful template of Carl Sagan, who published “The nuclear winter” in Parade magazine (30 Oct 1983) — followed by a massive media campaign. The paper appeared in the 23 December issue of Science, and was far weaker than the decisive analysis Sagan described in Parade. Go here to see the details.

However the paper did not include that alarming excerpt, and was more measured in its conclusions than the press release. Other oddities to this episode were the number of prominent climate scientists, including some usually on the “alarmist” side of the public debate, criticizing the paper, and the general low-key news coverage. Coverage since publication has been even more critical. See summaries of the coverage at Climate Etc.

Time will tell if journalists have reacted to an over-reach by Hansen et al, or if this marks the start of more critical coverage of alarmist press releases and studies.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see The keys to understanding climate change, all posts about information and disinformation, about doomsters, and especially these:

 

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17 thoughts on “News! Journalists doing their job, critically reporting on rising seas & the bee-pocalypse.

  1. I think that he jumped the shark when he didn’t even get the paper accepted for publication. Working scientists tend to take a dim view of ‘publication by press release’.
    I am familiar with the Nuclear Winter controversy which hinged on the particle size distribution. At my firm the consensus was that even a “low” threshold of 400 MT could be worked around.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Social bill,

      Hansen’s paper was published at a discussion journal, which was an appropriate venue for such a long, complex, broad, and speculative paper. I doubt the usual peer-review process could handle it.

      But, as you note, hiring a marketing firm to run a pre-publication media blitz of a non-peer-reviewed paper was too much for many journalists and scientists.

      As for Sagan’s nuke winter paper, there were many problems. The target selection was absurdly unrealistic — nukes targeting every town on the planet (which would be species suicide, not war). The assumptions were bizarre. The publicity was disproportionate to the research.

      Like

  2. Christopher Ingraham doesn’t have a lot of credibility for reporting on any science issue. He has a B.A. in Comparative Religion. At best we can blame his lack of credentials for all the errors in his piece though I suspect his real motive is pure disinformation. Mostly, he seems to be basing his cut & paste conclusions on a report brought out by Angela Logomasini, a woman who has a Ph.D in American Politics.

    Again, someone who doesn’t have scientific credentials. The two of them are more like shills for industry than actual journalists. In both of their writings about bees they seem to follow almost perfectly the game plan described here: http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/f0/f/4656/FollowTheHoneyReport.pdf

    Like

    1. Debra,

      (1) Journalists very seldom have subject matter expertise in the stories they cover. They are “reporters”, not sources.

      (2) If you’ll look at my two posts about this, experts in the field have consistently debunked the “bee-pocalypse” theory. The failure of the doomster’s predictions to materialize during the past 7 years is additional confirmation.

      (3) You have not provided any rebuttal evidence, or pointed us to such. The irrelevant facts and shrill denunciations don’t give a reader any basis for confidence in your claims.

      Like

  3. YMMV but I think the best journalists are the ones who do write about subjects where they enjoy some expertise. They know which questions to ask and which trails are red herrings.

    Biologists have pretty much reached a consensus that pollinators such as native bees, honey bees and all the rest are in trouble and that pesticides are likely the main culprit. Here’s a link to a recent meta analysis of over 1000 peer-reviewed studies on the subject: http://www.tfsp.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/8_ESPR_11356_2014_3229_OnlinePDF.pdf

    Harvard University has been doing some in depth investigations into the connections between pesticides and bee decline. It has not only found a direct link between bee decline but just this week released a report that shows the vast majority of bees are coming into contact with the insecticides.

    I enjoyed reading your post. I can tell this issue is important to you. I am in the process of writing a fuller response to the errors in Ingraham’s piece. I invite you to check it out and comment. It should be out sometime this week. Cheers.

    Like

    1. Debra,

      I agree that pesticides might play a large role in the current high die-off rate of honey bees. But you rebuttal is irrelevant to the WaPo article. The article agrees that bees are not dying, and does not discuss the causes. It says that the forecasts of doom proved incorrect because beekeepers have adapted. That was clear from the headline: “Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high”, and was developed in the text.

      You have said some nasty things about the reporter, but have provided no evidence to support them.

      Like

    2. I appreciate the quick response so much. Thanks. Feel free to visit my site later. I really do have a great deal to say about his argument. It would take up a lot more space than this comment box allows though. And I’d sincerely love to know if my conclusions are incorrect. I feel like you might bring a fresh point of view to the subject.

      Like

  4. Fabius Maximus,

    We need better crisis management. But if we were to build an institution that would handle the way we reported and managed crises, we’d shortly find our media reporting on how the crisis management agency is in crisis!
    We need a better way to punish those who cry wolf. That’s the only way we can get out of this loop. Of course going to far in that way and you risk a whole slew of other problems.

    Good post though.

    PF Khans

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PFK,

      I agree on all points. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that nothing will happen until we become more skeptical consumers of news. The current crisis management systems work quite well for those on top, and will not change them excerpt under pressure.

      Like

    2. Fabius Maximus,

      Agreed. I don’t see the general population wising up without assistance. I can several types of organizations that would help reduce this issue, but none that would work without substantial support against the obvious pressures that would be brought to bear against them.

      PF Khans

      Like

    3. PFK,

      “I don’t see the general population wising up without assistance.”

      You go to the heart of our problem. It seems unlikely that we will wise up without assistance. And we’re going to get only resistance, not assistance. After 50 years of work, the 1% own or control everything – from the 2 major political parties to the Boy Scouts. That makes a path ahead difficult to see, as readers of my Reform America posts well know.

      Like

  5. Regarding the “beepocalypse”, I’m skeptical about the methodology of the study which purports to show that bees aren’t dying off because there are more colonies now than in 2006.

    But I doubt anyone would accept the number of dwellings or number of cities in the US as a proxy for the actual human population of the US.

    In other words, isn’t it possible that the bee population is staying the same or falling but the number of colonies are growing due to the actions of the beekeepers splitting existing colonies in half, which would make the “evidence” used by the study fallacious?

    Also, consider who underwrote the cited study…

    I don’t know if bees are being wiped out or not, and I don’t have any economic stake in the issue, but using number of colonies as proxy for population size is bad statistics and therefore bad science.

    Like

    1. kramer,

      “study which purports to show that bees aren’t dying off because there are more colonies now than in 2006.”

      What study shows such a daft thing? The point of this post is that beekeepers have adapted to maintain the honey bee supply (they’re not indigenous to N. America) despite the losses to Colony Collapse Disorder — hence the confident predictions of a bee-pocalypse during the past 7 years have proven wrong.

      Like

  6. Uh, the study cited in the WaPo article linked to in your original post: which links to {PERC study}.

    Let me try again: If I have a box containing 1048576 objects and I split that population into 1048576 boxes, I certainly have more boxes but I certainly do not have a larger population. So beekeepers may have more colonies now but that doesn’t mean the bee population is larger.

    Like

    1. kramer,

      (1) First, your theory is irrelevant to this post — which is about forecasts of damage to agriculture, which proved false.

      (2) “study which purports to show that bees aren’t dying off because there are more colonies now than in 2006.”

      “Dying off” is too vague and means nothing. The study is more precise, and correctly describes the situation with many statements such as this…

      “A reasonable assessment derived from beekeeper surveys is that since the appearance of CCD, mortality rates have at least doubled. Mortality represents an outflow from the population of bees, while the re-queening and splitting of hives and the creation of new colonies represents an inflow. The net result is the observed change in colony numbers.”

      (3) ‘isn’t it possible that the bee population is staying the same or falling but the number of colonies are growing due to the actions of the beekeepers splitting existing colonies in half, which would make the “evidence” used by the study fallacious?”

      Since that is exactly what the study says, I suspect you have not read it. Note that it makes no statement about the number of bees, rather that there are sufficient to avoid damage to US agriculture.

      Like

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