Giving Fox News some heat

14 Jan

News BroadcastingIt was two years ago a memo leaked from Fox News.

Written by its managing editor, it instructed that they were not to report on basic temperature measurements without noting they were subject to controversy in some quarters.

Even if those quarters are out past the fringes of the scientific community.


You’ll be glad to know that directive is apparently still in force.

Just days after NOAA released its reading of last year’s US temperatures, Fox responded with a report in which it questions whether NOAA is producing accurate temperature readings.

The report is a classic example of what is called “false balance.”

It presents experts with relevant experience and the official word from NOAA, but also surrounds them with quotes from several people who aren’t scientists — as well as one scientist who is known for his strident disagreement about other fields of science.

In many ways, these self-labelled skeptics contradict each other in their hurry to condemn NOAA.

The Fox report ends with a veiled hint that people might consider throwing NOAA scientists in jail for their “manipulations of data.”

Here’s how this all came to be –

We start with the historic US temperature records.
These are generated from stations maintained by the US government.

Over the course of 100-plus years, many of these stations have been moved to new locations or had their equipment replaced.
These events create a break in the records.

To generate its historical analysis, NOAA has to identify the breaks and perform an analysis that matches up the two end-points, creating a single, continuous record.
Many say it does a good job.

When the Berkeley Earth Project examined temperature records, they used a statistical method that didn’t repair the breaks.

Instead, they treated the two sides of the break as independent temperature records.

Yet that team came up with a temperature reconstruction that was nearly identical to ones made using NOAA’s data.

Since that time, NOAA has gone back and updated their records further, identifying additional breaks that had gone undetected and updating its programs to take advantage of advances in computing power.

If anything, its current data is even more reliable.

And that’s exactly what a NOAA spokesperson told Fox News.

Yet Fox News decided to go out and find three people who don’t believe him or the scientists he represents.

One is a blogger who writes under the name Steve Goddard, who told Fox, “The adjusted data is meaningless garbage. It bears no resemblance to the thermometer data it starts out as.”

But Goddard doesn’t explain why he thinks that’s the case, nor why Berkeley Earth came up with similar results when they weren’t using some of NOAA’s adjustments.

And Fox doesn’t explain why they’re putting NOAA’s word up against someone who doesn’t study the climate and has only bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering.

If they had looked into his background Fox would have found that Goddard has attacked climate researchers before, only to find out his criticisms were completely wrong and based on a trivial error.

The report does include one scientist with some relevant experience, Roy Spencer.
But again, Fox does not appear to have done any checking of Spencer’s background.

Spencer has been known to let his personal views cloud his scientific judgement, as evidenced by his wholehearted support of intelligent design and disbelief of evolution.

In the case of environmental issues, he’s made his personal views very clear, stating, “I would wager that my job has helped save our economy from the economic ravages of out-of-control environmental extremism.”

A lot of his climate research isn’t well-respected by the community, either.

The final critic trotted out is meteorologist Anthony Watts, who runs a prominent skeptic site that is notable for its generally flawed approach to science.

So, what can we make of this chaotic jumble of unreliable sources and internal contradictions?

As far as Fox is concerned, apparently nothing.
The report doesn’t draw any conclusion about the science whatsoever.

It’s a classic example of false balance, allowing the reporter to present a biased picture while maintaining the appearance of impartiality.

It creates controversial where none would normally exist.

It gives a false impression of presenting both sides of an issue, even if one side is nothing but innuendo and negative stereotype.

And the report gives Watts the last word, and he uses it to suggest NOAA’s scientists should probably be in prison, saying, “In the business and trading world, people go to jail for such manipulations of data.”

That’s not “Fair and balanced”.

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