John Broder of NYT looks at Carlin “suppression” by EPA

Yesterday, I discussed the latest essay on climate science and politics from New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin (along wirth Joe Romm’s critique). There I had a suggestion for Revkin and the New York Times:

Or come to that, how about looking at the farce playing out in Washington – one in which Patrick Michaels happened to have played a large, if unwitting, role – namely the so-called suppression of the EPA’s Alan Carlin.

Presto! Look at the gift Google Alert delivered scant hours later: a thorough re-examination of the Carlin saga by the NYT’s John Broder. According to Broder,  internal EPA documents and other material “paint a more complicated picture” and cast doubt on Republican claims that, as Broder puts it,  Carlin was “muzzled because he did not toe the liberal line”.

For the first time, a mainstream reporter has referred to the numerous problems in Carlin’s report, including dubious sources and the lifting of material verbatim. And, for the first time, Carlin has had to answer questions about these problems.

I originally discussed the Carlin saga back in June, when charges first surfaced that an EPA “scientist” had written a “suppressed” report questioning the scientific basis for the EPA’s imminent endanger finding on greenhouse gases.

In that post, I began examining some of Carlin’s dubious sources and  documented a passage that appeared to have been lifted almost verbatim from Patrick Michaels’s World Climate Report, a contrarian blog. (Michaels’s rabid opposition to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and his links to fossil fuel interests have been well-documented at SourceWatch.org).

Subsequently, I discovered that several more passages had been lifted from  a key post from World Climate Report, with small but telling adjustments. That  WCR post was a virulent attack on the EPA that was to form the heart of Carlin’s pastiche.

Broder refers to some of these problems, without giving too much in the way of specifics:

Agency officials and outside experts who reviewed his report as a result of the outcry over the episode have said they found it wanting in a number of ways. It included unverified information from blog posts, they found, quoted selectively from journal articles, failed to acknowledge contradictory information and may have borrowed passages verbatim from the blog of a well-known climate change doubter. [Emphasis added]

Here’s how Carlin responded to these issues:

In the interview Thursday, Dr. Carlin admitted that his report had been poorly sourced and written. He blamed the tight deadline.

“There are numerous problems with it,” he said. “I wouldn’t dream of sending it to a journal in its current form. It is totally unacceptable for that type of thing. But it was either do it in four and a half days or don’t do it. I had to take some shortcuts.”

As I have already documented in excruciating detail, the “shortcuts” that Carlin took with the World Climate Report included:

  • Wholesale appropriation of at least two blog posts, graphs and all, without any attribution whatsoever.
  • Adoption of Patrick Michaels’ attack on the EPA as the central thesis of the report and the basis for almost an entire chapter.
  • Careful excision of material of inappropriate tone, such as sarcastic references to Al Gore.
  • Careful editing to change the “voice” (“we” to “I”) and other small changes that appear designed to integrate the lifted material more smoothly.

In a third post, I showed how Carlin incorporated material from a column by Marlo Lewis of the National Review (who also happens to be a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the think tank that originally pushed the “suppression” story). Carlin freely mixed unattributed material from Lewis, with his own meanderings. (The accompanying graph was attributed, but to the wrong source.)

In short, Carlin’s excuses simply don’t add up. In fact, on top of the shoddy “scholarship” relying on highly dubious sources, it is increasingly difficult to avoid the looming issue of plagiarism, much as Carlin would like to.

And if that is not enough, the growing pile of coincidental links between Carlin and the Competitive Enterprise Institute raise concerns about the think tank’s role in the whole affair, especially its possible support for Carlin’s appearances on Fox News. That’s a subject I hope to return to soon.

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3 responses to “John Broder of NYT looks at Carlin “suppression” by EPA

  1. A tip o’the hat to you, Deep, for having documented this. I think it helps, a lot, to make journalists’ jobs easier.

    I took issue with one aspect of Broder’s article – namely that a reader had *no* idea what the thrust of the piece would be, until paragraph 5; I wonder how many kept reading that far.

    (which is certainly not to say that my writing skills are better – it’s just that “apply an uninformative title and bury the lede” yields results more jarring for the reader, than for the writer)

    (not that it’s likely Broder had anything to do with the title, and it’s been pointed out that the necessary intro is complex enough that a case can be made for lede burial, though IMO it’d still call for lede presaging)

    Hey, speaking of the Times, do you know how to get a call or email back from NYTimes spokeswoman Diane McNulty? So far I have not met with success.

    [DC: Never even heard of her before. I'm not very plugged in, I'm afraid.]

  2. p.s. in a similar vein – Compare Steven J. Mufson’s “New Groups [plants need co2, co2 is green] Revive the Debate Over Causes of Climate Change”, in WaPo today, with the SourceWatch page on PlantsNeedCO2.org that I put up a week ago.
    The difference between Mufson’s piece and the SW page – besides readership (hint – and permanent visibility!) – is that Leighton Steward did speak to Mufson; he hasn’t replied to my emails and phone calls.

    I think they like gentle questions from comrades.

    Perhaps related (and ala WaPo’s Fred Hiatt) – note Mufson’s B.A. from Yale ( Econ & Poli Sci) and experience as “Beijing bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. Earlier…London and Johannesburg.”

    [DC: I'll check it out - good to hear from you again.]

  3. Peter Sinclair in his youtube series, Climate Crock of the Week, deals with this report in (by memory here) Creepy at the EPA.

    It’s old news but thought I’d throw it out there for anyone wanting a quick briefing.

    youtube_dot_com/watch?v=TNbjqSyWdcs

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