Auden Schendler: Where were the fact checkers on Sturm column?
September 16, 2014
Here's a suggestion to The Aspen Times: If a columnist presents factually incorrect information in a newspaper, particularly in the realm of science, that columnist should be asked by the editorial board to provide supporting evidence for their claims in the form of peer-reviewed science before being published.
That would prevent this newspaper from being complicit in promoting falsehoods. It also would prevent inaccurate columns like Melanie Sturm's Sept. 11 regurgitation of two recent Wall Street Journal op-eds that were debunked in great detail by climatologists, complete with citations of peer-reviewed science.
Ensuring the truth of claims in opinion columns is not radical. Because it is impossible to support the kind of misinformation showcased in Sturm's column, the Los Angeles Times no longer prints letters or opinion pieces that deny established climate science. This is not censorship any more than preventing people from yelling "fire" in a movie theater is censorship; instead, it is responsible ground-truthing of scientific claims.
Two quick examples: Sturm and the Wall Street Journal claim that warming has paused. This is statistical sleight of hand. It ignores ocean warming (oceans are where most of the heat is going) and cherry-picks two points on the jagged, upward-trending surface-temperature graph to make it seem that warming has slowed or stopped over short time frames. But NASA science shows each of the past three complete decades has been the warmest on record at the time, and 13 out of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. You'd have to be willfully blind or statistically illiterate to claim warming has stopped.
Sturm and the Wall Street Journal use the same sleight of hand (cherry-picking two points on a jagged, downward sloping graph) to claim Arctic sea ice is recovering. Of course, that's false. August ended up with the seventh-lowest sea-ice extent in the satellite record. That information can be found from the same source Sturm cited: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews.
There are plenty of conservatives who understand that it is irresponsible to mislead the public on climate science and policy. They know a carbon fee and dividend solution won't hurt the poor and that climate change certainly will (as conservative economist William Nordhaus at Yale has shown. That's why George W. Bush adviser and Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz agrees and supports such a fee (as well as the science, of course), as does George W. Bush and Mitt Romney economic adviser and Harvard professor Greg Mankiw.
All this ultimately isn't Sturm's problem, other than being embarrassing. In her living room, science can be a football and facts may be malleable. But a newspaper has a responsibility to defend the truth.
Auden Schendler has been working on climate-change solutions for more than 20 years and took his first course on the science in 1990. His book on the subject, "Getting Green Done," was called "an antidote to greenwash" by NASA climatologist James Hansen.