Smears and science denial from the New York Times

Summary: We’re ignorant about the world because we read the news. Here’s today’s example from the NY Times. The subject is the public policy debate about climate change, by a reporter deep into science denial. But it could be about COVID-19, our mad foreign wars, or many other subjects affecting the future of America. We cannot afford this low quality of news. But until we demand better, this is what we will get.

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Sometimes a story perfectly captures the essence of a political movement, such as this in the New York Times (farcically still calling itself America’s “paper of record”): “A Trump Insider Embeds Climate Denial in Scientific Research” by Hiroko Tabuchi. It shows how “news” has become leftist propaganda. How smears have replaced debate. And how extremists’ denial of science has displaced the work of the climate science institutions, such as the IPCC and NOAA. This is why we are so ignorant about the world: we read the newspapers. Kip Hansen first flagged this.

Tabuchi names this “insider”: Indur M. Goklany, “a longtime Interior Department employee who, in 2017 near the start of the Trump administration, was promoted to the office of the deputy secretary.”

She neglects to mention that his actual title is the not-so-grand “Assistant Director of Programs, Science and Technology Policy in the Office of Policy Analysis. Which in turn is one of the six units of the Office of Policy & Environmental Management, which is one of the seven offices of the Office of Policy, Management, and Budget. Which is one of the eleven units of the Office of the Secretary. Which is one of the 17 operating units of the Department of the Interior (10 Bureaus and 7 Offices). Which is one of the 15 cabinet-level agencies, which are the largest components (but not the only ones) of the Executive Branch.

Goklanly is a bureaucrat in the middle of a gigantic machine. It is absurd to call him an “insider.” And Tabuchi has barely begun her “reporting.”

Who is Indur M. Goklany?

Before reviewing Tabuchi’s story, look at the subject of it. Goklany was “present at the beginning”, representing the US at the negotiations that produced the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. He was one of the US government’s nine representatives with Working Group III of the IPCC’s First Assessment Report (1990). He has written three books and an impressively long and broad list of publications (including some in peer-reviewed journals, such as Science, Nature Biotechnology, and the Journal of Theoretical Biology). See them here. He has an H-index of 25 (impressive, since this isn’t his day job).

Looking at the indictment

Tabuchi claims that Goklany says many things. The body of her article gives neither quotes or examples. She does not mention any sources for her information or even describe the basis for her claims. She gives one quote.

“Samuel Myers, a principal research scientist at Harvard University’s Center for the Environment who has studied the effects of climate change on nutrition, said the language ‘takes very specific and isolated pieces of science, and tries to expand it in an extraordinarily misleading fashion.'”

Myers (bio here) is a Faculty Associate at Harvard, and appears to be a health care scientist doing research on the “consequences of large-scale environmental change to human nutrition and impact of food production systems on the environment.” That Myers disagrees with Goklany is interesting, but hardly definitive. Science is about disagreement.

More importantly, Myers does not say if he reviewed any of Goklany’s memos for the DOI, or if this refers to Goklany’s publications. This does not support for Tabuchi’s claims.

Tabuchi then transitions to a different article by the NYT that expresses their unhappiness that the President does things the NYT does not like with respect to climate change. That article does not mention Goklany.

Finally, some specifics.

Deep into the article, Tabuchi gives specifics. No dates, no titles, nothing that would allow a reader to find this offensive material.

“The misleading language appears in environmental studies and impact statements affecting major watersheds including the Klamath and Upper Deschutes river basins in California and Oregon, which provide critical habitat for spawning salmon and other wildlife.”

Tabuchi then quotes another person expressing dislike about Goklany’s statements. Did she attempt to find anyone who agreed with them? She then provides a photo of an excerpt from a document. Totally without context, since she does not mention its authors, date, title, or purpose.

“Ultimately, future conditions at any particular time or place cannot be known exactly, given the current scientific understanding of potential future conditions. Likewise, it is important to recognize that the risks and impacts are the result {sic} of collective changes at a given location. Warming and increased carbon dioxide may increase plant water use efficiency, lengthen the agricultural growing season, but may also have adverse effects on snowpack and water availability. These complex interactions underscore the importance of using a planning approach that identifies future risks to water resources systems based on a range of plausible future conditions, and working with stakeholders to evaluate options that minimize potential impacts in ways most suitable for all stakeholders involved.

This looks like standard due diligence boilerplate that is in most official reports (and should be in all of them). Since this is the core of her indictment, let’s examine it.

“Ultimately, future conditions at any particular time or place cannot be known exactly, given the current scientific understanding of potential future conditions.”

True. While global forecasts from models have some degree of accuracy (albeit still debated), regional forecasts remain problematic. There is much less validation of their skill.

“Likewise, it is important to recognize that the risks and impacts are the result {sic} of collective changes at a given location. Warming and increased carbon dioxide may increase plant water use efficiency, lengthen the agricultural growing season, but may also have adverse effects on snowpack and water availability.”

True. Climate changes create positive and negative effects, and both must be considered to produce accurate forecasts.

“These complex interactions underscore the importance of using a planning approach that identifies future risks to water resources systems based on a range of plausible future conditions, and working with stakeholders to evaluate options that minimize potential impacts in ways most suitable for all stakeholders involved.”

This is the consensus advice of reports by the IPCC and major climate agencies for at least two decades, as expressed in countless reports. She gives more of what she considers horrific evidence.

“The new documents show that, as early as September 2017, Mr. Goklany, newly appointed to the office of the deputy secretary, started directing scientists to add climate uncertainty language in agency reports.”

Tabuchi should read the reports of the IPCC. Every finding is expressed with a statement of confidence/uncertainty: very low, low, medium, high, and very high. That is a wise policy and good science. It has worked well for the IPCC

That Tabuchi finds these statements objectionable shows that she is deeply ignorant about the three decades of work by the IPCC and major climate agencies – or is a big-time science denier.

Office politics! Policy differences!

Tabuchi then reveals that some people in the Department did not like Goklany’s promotion. As if that is extraordinary. Not only are promotions often greeted by whines, this is especially so where the politics are fractious. People are policy. Promotions that advance one set of policies are often described as evil and ignorant by those who oppose those policies. That is life.

She then quotes many people who want aggressive policy action on climate change. They express dislike for Goklany’s adoption of policies standard for reports by the IPCC and in other fields (i.e., giving clear statements of uncertainty). That might not help their cause!

Conclusions

Nothing in Tabuchi’s articles support her claims of “climate denial” by Goklany. Rather, her own evidence shows that the aspects of it she quotes are in the best tradition of the IPCC and general good practice by government reports – and that the objections she quotes are based on policy differences. This is a disgraceful example of modern journalism. The NYT should issue a full retraction. But they probably won’t because their objective is propaganda – not journalism. This is why 38% of Americans had confidence in newspapers back in 1983 but only 23% today.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see an inspiring story about the young women who flew biplanes in WWI and lived in a barn: Ballad of the Unknown Pilot.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, and especially these …

  1. The Extinction Rebellion’s hysteria vs. climate science.
  2. Climate activists attack climate science.
  3. After 30 years of failed climate politics, let’s try science! – A proposal to break the policy gridlock.
  4. The guilty ones preventing good policy about climate change.
  5. Toxic climate propaganda is poisoning US public policy.
  6. An obvious solution to the climate policy crisis.
  7. A demo showing our broken climate policy debate.
  8. Climate denial caused the losses from Australia’s fires.

Activists don’t want you to read these

Some unexpected good news about polar bears: The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened by Susan Crockford (2019).

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr., professor for the Center for Science and Policy Research at U of CO – Boulder (2018).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

 

15 thoughts on “Smears and science denial from the New York Times”

    1. Hugh,

      It certainly is the same guy.

      Goklany raises an interesting point which has received too little attention: as the world population zooms towards 10 (or even 12) billion in the mid-21st century, food production will become a global priority. There is no doubt that higher CO2 boosts plant activity. Also, it is unclear the net effect of warming on global precipitation (more or less?).

      So calculations of the net effects of more CO2 must include the benefits as well as the damage. This has not been seriously done for the various warming scenarios. Especially the likely ones: RCP 4.5 and RCP 6.0 (at some point, warming in a century probably becomes a net negative, as in the almost impossible RCP8.5).

      This is Goklany’s point. Since it is an obviously valid one, it has earned him the burning hatred of activists (including the growing corps of activist scientists). He’s trying to ruin the parade!

      1. Charly,

        They are, like me, voices screaming into the wind. Nobody is listening.

        Climate activists have worked long and hard to gain control of so many major institutions. But the skeptics let them, preferring to have fun staging food fights. Now the activists reap their winnings. They can make the biggest claims without opposition.

  1. Today’s nitpick: There is much less validation of their skill. Did you mean “little” for “much less”? 4th comment in “Finally, some specifics.”

    Less than humorous is that Tabuchi revels in her ignorance or her partisanship. As you point out, this was standard boilerplate risk management and stakeholder communication. In fact, it looks like part of an executive summary where you pre-feed the conclusions so that others don’t get lost in the details, or argue about inconclusiveness. She then takes a side!

  2. You said: “The body of her article gives neither quotes or examples. She does not mention any sources for her information or even describe the basis for her claims”

    …and yet he article has both sources and quotes.

    the article said: “The Interior Department’s emails, dating from 2017 through last year and obtained under public-records laws”

    as for sources or quotes you didn’t mention this one:

    “By early 2018, the emails show, the bureau had adopted a de facto requirement that studies reference climate uncertainty. “Attached here is the latest draft of the ‘uncertainty’ language that Dave Raff and others worked on with the Department, to be included in all Basin Studies from here forward,” Avra Morgan, a watershed management official, wrote on Jan. 26, 2018, in an email to more than a dozen bureau scientists”

    She even provided a significant quote from Mr. Goklany albeit from 2009 as well as quotes from his emails.

    Please explain the discrepancy between your description of the article and the facts.

    1. Thor,

      Those are not specifics. For example, in the only one in which she quotes his words – she gives absolutely zero context. We don’t know the date of the document, its title, its purpose, or the section in which the quote appears. So we have only her word about the terrible things he is alleged to have said.

      Since her analysis of that one quote is totally fallacious, I’m disinclined to take at face value her assertions about all those other documents.

      This is a common tactic of activists (left and right). Climate activists often make absurd claims, then cite one of the thousand page IPCC reports as a source (bogusly).

      1. “gives none”? The interior department emails are the source. She interviewed 4 current and former ID employees who confirmed the assessment. Why are you ignoring this?

      2. Thor,

        People who give very selective information when they have the actual details are usually spinning (ie, they’ve good reason to omit the vital details). It’s an old tactic.

        Similarly, giving claims instead of details is almost always evidence of spinning.

        I’m sure you know all that, and would immediately pick all this up if the message didn’t so nicely meet your tribal truths. But then, that’s how America works these days, both Right and Left. It’s evidence of deep dysfunctionality. This gullibility makes us pleasant peasants, easy to rule. A gift to our elites.

    2. Follow-up note-

      Re: that quote in the NYT article allegedly inserted by Goklany. What if that was from a report in 1992? Or even 2002? I doubt if anyone, left or right, would have found it objectionable.

      Taking assertions from people on the other side of policy wars is silly without supporting documentation. It’s just propaganda?

  3. Enter the exploding heads!!! As a participant in our healthcare organization’s advocacy efforts (vaccinations being a key issue as far as i am concerned) here in Oregon, it turns out, not surprisingly, that heads are exploding with regularity over climate change. The republicans in the legislature actually left to avoid a quorum so that the state could not pass climate change legislation which was strongly opposed by most of the state not living in the progressive, Bolshevik central valley. On a televised discussion about this, when the head of the republican delegation stated that they were not sure if the proposed carbon tax, and other regulations which would prove costly to many of the state’s businesses and contractors (truck drivers, loggers, etc.) the democratic representative immediately stated: “Oh, so you are a denier then” which kinda shut down the discussion.
    Along a similar note, after a recent discussion in our own organization’s advocacy committee, a paper was sent out delineating the extreme likelihood of violence in a warming world, based on “what?” as i said. If two degrees of warming would result in such a massive increase in violence, and violent deaths, then why, as i also pointed out, would not such a crime wave be routine say in Florida, or Texas, or California every summer when the winter left and temperatures increased from the 45’s into the 75’s? I also sent a copy of this to Judith Curry, of whom i am a longstanding fan, who replied that she agreed not only with me, but also suggested that the real rise in health issues as a result of “global warming” was the increase in mental health issues now being created by the global warming alarmist communities. I did pass on her comments to the head of our committee, and her response was that she had heard from others that Judith Curry is at best a “problematic person” which in essence invalidated anything more she had to say, and thus was not worth listening to. End of discussion. A that point i desisted, since anything further was invalid in their minds anyway.

    A few references for the readers- not sure if i saw this here, or elsewhere, but there was an excellent paper written after a discussion of all sides of the climate debate entitled: “The Hartwell Paper.” (https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=hartwell+paper) it presents what is essentially a Curry styled set of policy responses- the no regrets policy plan. It has never been acted on in our current insane environment, with its cancel culture. I would also add i watched a talk by Jonathan Haidt, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOu_8yoqZoQ) a rather progressive individual who still believes in liberal open minded discussion, and is fighting to restore sanity to our universities. He referred to a paper by Ritter and Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” where they describe “tame”problems” and “wicked” problems wherein the tame problems are those easily solved based on actual science or engineering. The wicked problems are more difficult because how you might attempt to view them, and thus solve them, are based on your underlying philosophical viewpoint, making them very difficult to address. Hence the problem here. We have entered into an era of “wicked polarization” (https://thebreakthrough.org/journal/issue-3/wicked-polarization) from which we may not emerge, without great effort, and turmoil.
    Larry- thanks as always for your thoughts, and ongoing commentary.

    1. PS from the time i left for college in 1969 i read the NY Times every day, from cover to cover. I did the crossword puzzle in pen daily, including the sunday crossword. I lived in Buffalo several decades ago and had to walk to the one coffee shop that carried the Times literally daily to pick up my daily “fix” in the cold, the snow, the rain, the wind, etc. However… About 10 years ago after waking up, i realized how biased their reporting was and eventually cancelled my subscription of 40+ years, as it made me want to vomit. I have now cancelled my subscription to the Washington Post for the same reason. i cannot countenance contributing to the delinquency of the press and the nation by paying for that tripe. I now have to rely on the Wall Street Journal, as well as outside news sources which i think are less biased. I would recall for all of FM readers the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect here: https://calhounpress.net/blogs/blog/78070918-wet-streets-cause-rain-michael-crichton-on-the-gell-mann-amnesia-effect
      Well worth reading. Sad, but true…

  4. The Times article, a poorly sourced, obvious smear, rankled me so much I commented rather sharply on it. Twice, actually. The first attempt did not get by the moderators.

    By expressing uncertainty, Goklany is just being a good scientist. Certainty is the hallmark of dogma not science. There is nothing even remotely controversial about his stance. Unless, of course, you are a Greta type.

    One of the more irritating aspects of climate panic is its relentlessly negative narrative, as though there were no possible upside to more fuel for photosynthesis and milder winters.

    There is always an upside, and in this case a pretty large one, what with the mild effects we have so far experienced.

  5. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #402 -

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