National Post shocking turnaround: “Global-warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause”

First, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.  And then I checked the date at the top of the screen to make sure I hadn’t stumbled across a leftover April Fool’s joke.

But the date read “July 15, 2010″. And the headline of the National Post’s lead opinion piece still read forthrightly:

Bad science: Global-warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause

The piece itself, by longtime Post columnist Jonathan Kay,  is as forthright an excoriation of “climate-change deniers” (his term) as I’ve read anywhere.  And, unlike previous (and very occasional) token AGW commentators, Kay is a National Post insider, who happens to be comment pages editor. Indeed, there are intriguing indications that the Post’s treatment of the climate change issue may be undergoing a shift, although it’s too early to say how far it will go.

Kay’s astonishing piece points to the recent PNAS study by Anderegg et al as support for the proposition that a “tiny 2-3% sliver of fringe opinion” has somehow been “reinvented as a perpetually ‘growing’ share of the scientific community”. Ironically (and it would be interesting to know if Kay is even aware of this), identification of “dissenters” in that fringe was based on signature lists attached to widely circulated “skeptic” open letters, many of which National Post financial editor Terence Corcoran played a key role in disseminating.

And to be sure, Kay stops short of repudiating the past decade of Post “denial” of anthropogenic climate change. But he does describe the propositions of certain  unnamed colleagues as “nonsense”. That includes  claims that scientific support for the skeptic position is growing (that turns out to Corcoran), and that “the church of global warming’s Galileo moment” is fast approaching (Rex Murphy, back when he was opining for the Globe and Mail).

And while Kay is careful to say  “skeptic” science does not in itself demonstrate an anti-science, discredited conspiracy theory, the “paranoid” hoaxers do:

This describes, more or less, how radicalized warming deniers treat the subject of their obsession: They see global warming as a Luddite plot hatched by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Al Gore to destroy industrial society …

In support of this paranoid approach, the denialists typically will rely on stray bits of discordant information — an incorrect reference in a UN report, a suspicious-seeming “climategate” email, some hypocrisy or other from a bien-pensant NGO type — to argue that the whole theory is an intellectual house of cards.

Kay puts much of the blame for this squarely on the “science” blogs like WattsUpWithThat and ClimateAudit (again without naming names):

In part, blame for all this lies with the Internet, whose blog-from-the-hip ethos has convinced legions of pundits that their view on highly technical matters counts as much as peer-reviewed scientific literature.

The rest, according to Kay, is ideological and cultural bias:

…  [T]oo many of us treat science as subjective — something we customize to reduce cognitive dissonance between what we think and how we live.

Never mind that those blogs and Post climate commentators are in nothing less than a symbiotic relationship. And it’s true  that Kay stops short of pointing a finger the hidden interests that promote these views. Indeed, the Post has a lot to answer for, and this column is only a small step in the right direction.

But it is noteworthy that a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Post editor can speak out in and conclude the obvious:

Rants and slogans may help conservatives deal with the emotional problem of cognitive dissonance. But they aren’t the building blocks of a serious ideological movement. And the impulse toward denialism must be fought if conservatism is to prosper in a century when environmental issues will assume an ever greater profile on this increasingly hot, parched, crowded planet. Otherwise, the movement will come to be defined — and discredited — by its noisiest cranks and conspiracists.

And the timing is interesting, to say the least. Could it be that these sentiments are shared by the Post’s new owners, who took over only a few days ago?

Yes, new CEO Paul Godfrey was head of the National Post before the recent takeover of the troubled CanWest nespaper chain by the Godfrey-led alliance of debtholders. And, yes, the new ownership has rebranded the CanWest newspaper chain as PostMedia, a clear indication that the National Post will continue on, or even be enhanced,  in its role as the flagship of Canada’s largest daily newspaper company.

But maybe, just maybe, it will no longer be business as usual for Terence Corcoran and his merry band of what a prominent editor the Post itself has now forthrightly called “climate-change deniers”.

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45 responses to “National Post shocking turnaround: “Global-warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause”

  1. A while back Kay made some very good comments about the notion of a carbon tax, in essence saying that it would support several (real) conservative values.

    I don’t read what he writes often, but when I do I am usually pleasantly surprised

  2. Thanks DC, reading this made me smile…there is hope yet.

  3. Wow. This has got to be one of those “did I think that or say it?” moments!

  4. Kay has claimed to support climate science in the past, even as he disputes the solutions (yesterday’s piece has hints of Lomborgian criticism in it – supported by an explicit citation of Cool It! in the earlier op-ed). I suspect this is too hopeful, as the Post wouldn’t want to alienate its established, loyal conservative audience in today’s economic climate. Now, if Kay’s article prompts a reversal from Solomon or Gunther… then we’ll be talking.

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  6. The NP hasn’t been entirely denialist. They had this nice piece from a former skeptic not too long ago.

    http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/12/14/jonathan-abrams-on-climate-change.aspx

    Very nice well-written piece from Kay, though.

    “blog-from-the-hip”

    I like it. It’s a great phrase to describe the sort of knee-jerk political-style extremely biased approach to science global warming deniers actively engage in.

    “In these electronic enclaves — where a smattering of citations to legitimate scientific authorities typically is larded up with heaps of add-on commentary from pundits, economists and YouTube jesters who haven’t any formal training in climate sciences”

    “This is a phenomenon that should worry not only environmentalists, but also conservatives themselves: The conviction that global warming is some sort of giant intellectual fraud now has become a leading bullet point within mainstream North American conservatism; and so has come to bathe the whole movement in its increasingly crankish, conspiratorial glow.”

    “Yet when it comes to climate change, many conservatives I know will assign credibility to any stray piece of junk science that lands in their inbox … so long as it happens to support their own desired conclusion. ”

    Ok so I find myself wanting to quote nearly the entire article. Best just let everyone read it in full.

  7. Here are two things I’ll be looking for as a demonstration that the Post is really looking to change course, at least to some extent.

    1) A big drop in the number of “climate change denial” columns from the usual suspects: Corcoran, Foster, Solomon and Gunter.

    and

    2) A lot more actual climate science reporting from the likes of CanWest’s, oops, I mean PostMedia’s, star science reporter Margaret Munro. Her climate science reporting appears to have been deliberately excluded from the Post for some time now.

    I’ll say this for Kay. He appears to be fairly forthright in his acknowledgment of the science. And unlike some lukewarmers (including both Lonborg and Pielke jr), Kay distinguishes clearly between “pundit” blogs and actual peer-reviewed science.

    But if this turns to be some sort of cover and “balance” to point to, so that Corcoran et al can keep doing what they’ve been doing, and the Post can continue to suppress the science, I’ll be the first to point it out.

  8. Thanks for this. Maybe we’ll see an epiphany from a major US paper one of these days, too.

  9. Jonathan Kay’s article hints at the beginning of what many of us with some sympathy for capitalism, ‘small government’, liberal economic and organic (‘conservative’) change as opposed to radical change etc. have yearned for. It is a pity that the debate is dominated by the left whilst the right is AWOL.
    Let’s hope this continues.

  10. This is not so surprising. Many conservatives are just as keen on government controls as leftwingers are, and AGW is just too great an opportunity for totalitarians to let slip – hence the agreement between left and right.

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      Punksta, not everybody is as compulsive about black helicopters as you. Some of us just care about, well, the truth. Compulsively even. Suppose Kay has a touch of that?

  11. Could we give Kay at least props for being brave enough (even if this is because of a change at the helm: it’s still brave to GO FIRST) to say this and *accurate enough* in his portrayals (even if he’s careful to avoid the deep do-doo, but then again, this is the early stages of change). If he named Monckton, for example, would the paper be able to handle the change in leadership AND the rabid hordes and scary latin from the Loopy Lord?

    It would be a risk.

    But where he does become forthright, he’s also accurate.

    And so props for his piece is deserved. B. Could do better, but good work.

  12. John McManus

    Speaking of blogging from the hip, this story semms to have bunched the delicate underthings of our man Tony at WTF. He seems to thinks its ugly.

  13. PolyisTCOandbanned

    I already made the points a long time ago, that despite one’s philosophical biases, one should go with data and findings, not with wishful thinking.*

    I actually hope that I’ve had some effect in warning people off of thinking that McI was so impressive. He does not stand up to scrutiny well…and one gets the wrong impression of his level of findings by listening to the cheer leader blog commenter hoi polloi. It’s kind of a shame, since he does have brains and an interesting tendancy to look at things like a detective. If he just honestly published things whereever the chips fell (including a lot of negative results to tests of failure), he would actually contribute. And would up his own game by really driving thoughts to fruition rather than to talking points. But he won’t. So write him off. His day is over…

    Kind of glad to see Moshpit driving to findings and revealing things whichever way they fall. And he supported JohnV. Too bad about playing footie with Watts and McI and too bad about the philosophy major rationalizations…but still…he might be saveable. Lucia…I don’t think so. She’s not a critical thinker. Didn’t test her own hypotheses on trend critically…had to be driven halting to each finding that minimized what she wanted to say.

    *The trait that McI and his followers have is a human condition. People look for talking points to support their view, rather than thinking critically to test assumptions. You can see it in business all the time. One can see it on the left as well in other areas.

  14. TCO,

    Sorry if it’s OT, but I vaguely recall what you’re saying regarding the “negative tests failure”.

    Could you please provide a synthesis of what you are talking about, or just provide links?

  15. It seems it’s still business as usual for Terence Corcoran. Blacklists and green activists and jumping into empty pools, oh my!

  16. Gavin's Pussycat

    willard, TCO may be referring to McI’s submission to Muir Russell, where there was a Yamal computation that was somehow fishy. Someone on CA checked the computation and found this out.

    I am vague on the details, but might be worth digging out by an “auditor’s auditor” :-)

    • GP,
      Are you referring to the fact that SM overweighted the Schweingruber Khadyta River site in his Yamal combined regional reconstruction?

      IIRC, that was pointed out by Keith Briffa in his initial (very brief) response.

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      DC, I don’t think it was that. It was about an omission in specifically McI’s submission to Muir Russell, that significance was not reached or something. But I do recall that also Tom P was involved in pointing this out, calling upon McI to submit a correction.

      (Note to self: buy more/better memory :)

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      DC,

      searching unearthed the following link (comment thread) which seems to be on the issue I remembered (but may be the same as yours after all):

      http://shewonk.wordpress.com/2010/02/26/the-inquiry-submissions/#comment-1625

      …but it seems to be about the parliamentary enquiry, not Muir Russell (wasn’t McI’s submission the same to both?)

    • IIRC, McIntyre did recycle his submission, and then complained that Muir Russell did not interview him.

      Anyway, the two issues are different. The one I raised has to do with McIntyre’s combined Yamal reconstruction. The issue of site weighting vs. individual sample weighting within the Yamal regional reconstruction was raised almost immediately by Briffa and elaborated in his eventual longer response.

      I believe Tom P was discussing a broader NH reconstruction combining several regional series. Tom P raised a discrepancy between text and caption (probably more a case of the caption being incomplete). The point was that McIntyre had made substantial changes and then proclaimed that a “seemingly inconsequential change of version” resulted in a changed “medeival-modern” differential.

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      DC, thanks.

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      DC, what about this?

      http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/09/hey-ya-mal/comment-page-7/#comment-137150

      Different issue?

      I have a recollection there was more…

  17. Christopher Monckton and other deniers get far more press coverage than they deserve. Journalistic false balance has caused the public to be confused on climate change – the greatest threat to humanity this century. Worse, these deniers have used mainstream media to attack climate science and the scientists who pursue the truth. Let us now turn the tables.

    Monckton has been exposed by Dr. John Abraham and instead of hiding his tail and whimpering away, Monckton has gone on the offensive by attacking Dr. Abraham and asking his followers to essentially “email bomb” Dr. Abraham’s university president. We need to alert the media to this story.

    I have assembled a list of 57 media contacts in the hopes that my readers will follow my lead and send letters asking for an investigation of Monckton and his attack on Abraham. I have placed mailto links that will make it easy to send letters to several contacts at once with a single click.

    In the thread comments, please suggest other contacts in the US and from abroad. This blog thread can then be used in the future to alert the media to denialist activity.

    http://profmandia.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/turn-the-tables-on-monckton/

  18. Pussycat,

    I remember that incident, but I believe what TCO refers to is linked with the times he used to hand around CA. I’ll look in there if I have no more infos:

    http://www.google.ca/#hl=fr&q=site%3Aclimateaudit.org+TCO+%2Bfail+%2Btest

    Replacing “fail” with “failed” or “failing” changes the threads.

    PS: Btw, TCO, one can willingly play an inferior move during a chess game, if one wants to win at all cost, e.g. for a tournament prize ;-)

  19. it will no longer be business as usual for Terence Corcoran and his merry band of what a prominent editor the Post itself has now forthrightly called “climate-change deniers”.

    Where and when did Corcoran argue that climate is constant?

    [DC: Can you possibly be serious? If so, please re-read Kay's piece to understand what he means by "climate-change denier".]

  20. TCO,

    Would you consider that discussion:

    http://climateaudit.org/2006/05/13/sampling-from-contaminated-distributions

    appropriate to exemplify what you said earlier?

    PS: I don’t wonder anymore about the B, A and N in your pseudo ;-)

  21. Yeah, Right

    Can you possibly be serious? If so, please re-read Kay’s piece to understand what he means by “climate-change denier”.

    A “holocaust denier” is one who denies that the holocaust occurred. An “evolution denier” is one who denies that evolution has occurred and is occurring. Therefore a “climate change denier” is one who denies that the climate is changing. By definition, something which does not change is constant. Sorry, but we don’t get to re-define the semantics of the language to suit our agenda.

    That being said, I will ask you again:

    Where and when did Corcoran argue that climate is constant?

    [DC: As Kay and others use the term, "denier" is shorthand for those who who deny the scientific evidence of the link between. say, smoking and lung cancer, or, in this case, the link between human activity, primarily greenhouse gas emissions, and *current* global warming.

    Since you are interested in discussing straw man arguments and irrelevant parallels, such as those raised by Monckton or Morano, please try WattsUpWithThat. Thanks! ]

  22. PolyisTCOandbanned

    Willard:

    I don’t really follow you on what you’re wanting examples of, so I don’t know if that discussion meets it. (This is good though, as it sure becomes laborious to have to dip into the hard to search CA bloggorhea. Were, I snarky, I might just say…go reaad the entire blog…after all that’s the position STeve puts people in. But really I think for the micro point (among several) on lack of negative results, my point there was not tied to some evidence of examples, but to the general issue of Steve being selectvie about what he shows…you never see the complete examinations as Burger or Zeke would do. You only get “factor X22″ which had something interesting, but not the overall set. It’s obvious that this is going on, if you’ve ever done any analysis. IOW, you never see the dry holes. But a better understanding of the landscape would result from showing wjhich holes were dry and which wet. Or arguably wet.

    The major thing to get out of that discussion is the standard deviation dividing, where Steve has been pretty legalistically disingeenous and hard to pin down. Huybers really clarifies things by showing the full factorial of adjustments. Steve makes two adjustments at once, but only comments on one of them (and by doing so overdramatizes the effect of Mannian error).

    In addition, wrt units, he’s legalistic or not thinking (I suspect more that he’s being a truculent internet-style debater than that he lacks the brains). Anyone with a chemistry degree and an understanding of stoichiometry would rapidly understand that ppm (substance1) is NOT equivalent units to ppm (substance 2). The concept is DIRECTLY analagous to the concept of different tree species, which may have differnt RW growth rates, and temp sensitivities.

    There is a lot of other stuff going on in that thread, so you have to be able to weed past and disaggregate. Also, I’m pretty bold about confessing lack of knowledge in area A, without it stopping me for a second in discussing B (or even A, with the caveat understood). This is kind of rare on the net, where people specialize in Internet style high school argument and always want a consolidated position and see the discussion not as analysis of mulitple issues but about personal battles. Oh…and don’t think of this as humility…it’s actually confidence that drives me to be that way.

    I suspect the banning has something to do with Anthony Watts feeding my name into spam control engines for WordPress. The guy has no honor and is sort of a little Ned Flanders worm, who still hasn’t fessed up for all his crap experiments and analyeses (Basil solar silliness for example).

  23. PolyisTCOandbanned

    Willard: Why did I make you smile with the 2006 comment? Is it just that people don’t write papers (the obvious)? Or something deeper?

  24. TCO,

    Thank you for your answer. I think I do see what you mean now. That’s something one could observe by looking at the whole rhetorical edifice. CA might be described as a judiciary construction alright. This is not even a criticism, merely an observation.

    Yes, you did made me smile, as you stated what seems to me some kind of comical truth that applies very well to Steve, and also to some people I know ;-)

    PS: Don’t worry, you’re cockiness shows very well.

  25. PolyisTCOandbanned

    Cool. Yeah…I feel qualified to make comments on the whole thing because I…well read the whole thing…at least back in the day. And I’ve just seen a lot of patterns of wishful thinking and the like in other areas (business, technical). I’m not all Aristotle trained, though. Never done that.

    P.s. I used to drink a lot, back in the day. (FYI.)

  26. rustneversleeps

    Maybe there is a “conservation of idiocy” law in Canadian newspapers. The Globe & Mail seems to be picking up the slack created by Kay’s good effort with this piece of nonsense: Please remain calm: The Earth will heal itself .

    [DC: The Globe and Mail has really slid back since the forthright editorial declaration in support of climate science late in 2007. They have clearly lost their way since the accession of John Stackhouse as editor-in-chief.

    Rex Murphy has gone off to the Post, but Neil Reynolds, Margaret Wente and ex-Encana CEO (and, according to his G+M biography, noted environmentalist) Gwyn Morgan continue to run amok. It's disgraceful. ]

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  28. rustneversleeps

    The Globe and Mail article is just bloody ridiculous.

    The discussion regarding the “rainfall since the dinosaurs” would have “filled the oceans 20,000 times over”. WTF?

    “Yet, the amount of water in Earth’s oceans hasn’t changed significantly in all of this time.” WTF?

    Neil Reynolds is another scientfically illiterate stooge.

    [DC: Laughlin sounds like Ian Plimer, except even more idiotic, if such a thing is possible. ]

  29. PolyisTCOandbanned

    Willard:

    1. Will you please give an explanation of your blog? I’ve never taken any rhetoric or philosophy, so don’t immediately recognize what’s going on. could you maybe explain it a little in simple terms, withut the wink allusions? Honest, please.

    2. Was just surfing through it. Cripes is of course Poly who is TCO…who got stepped on (censored) in trying to respond to the rebuttals in that one Cripes thread. That said, not much loss, since the hoi polloi are so silly themselves and since it saved me having to respond to ad hominems, repeated rebutalls, and other sorts of numskull behaviors (rather than interesting points).

    3. Volokh.com is so much better, for actually people making interesting points on the content. Often that I had not expected or that help me better disaggregate issues.

    [DC: Willard and PolyIsTCO,

    I'm glad you two have found each other. And your discussion is actually somewhat interesting, unlike many OT comments.

    So here's a good place to continue ...

    http://deepclimate.org/2010/07/19/open-thread-4/ ]

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  33. New owners force their writers to change the slant of their articles, and this is a good thing?? Hmmm… Whether you agree with the new slant or the old slant, the fact the there is a slant should be the biggest worry.

    [DC: Let's be clear. The "old slant" is clearly still represented - both Terence Corcoran and Peter Foster wrote such articles after Kay's. But I don't think Jonathan Kay would have been able to express his point of view so forthrightly before, although there were hints of it in his previous work. So no one has been forced to "change the slant of their articles" - quite the opposite.

    As well, particularly in the work of Solomon and Gunter, there is clear record of propagating falsehoods and distortions concerning climate science and climate scientists. In the case of Solomon, at least, that appears to be at an end. Surely, that is to be applauded. ]

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