The Illusion of Balance

The founding fathers of the United States of America wrote freedom of the press into the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights. As their own quotes and records show, they did this because they felt that a free, independent press was one of the most vital checks on the power of government, and the only way to impart to ordinary citizens the information they need to be responsible decision-makers in a democracy such as ours.

In the United States of America today, the press has failed that trust.

Much could be written, and has been written, about the way that the press has steadily become more and more deeply intertwined with the rich and the powerful, until their interests align with those entrenched powers and not with the common people they are supposed to be informing. Much could be written about the way in which the press credulously accepted the current administration’s rationales for war without asking the questions that would have exposed their fraud. Much could be written about their preference for sensationalism and spectacle over facts and context. However, in this post, I intend to discuss a more insidious and possibly even more pernicious tendency of the modern establishment media: their widespread belief that every point of view they present, no matter how qualified or well-respected, must be “balanced” by presenting the opposing view on equal terms, and that no point of view must ever be called wrong, discredited, or unsupported by the evidence.

Here is an instructive example from the April 1999 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cancer therapy pained her family…and didn’t work. The article concerns the sad story of an area woman who died of breast cancer at the age of 39 after refusing effective, conventional medical treatment in favor of implausible, ineffective, and scientifically unsupported “alternative” therapies:

Davis… adopted a rigorous 13-hour-a-day treatment plan called Gerson Therapy. The therapy – based on a combination of diet, exercise and coffee enemas – is controversial. Doctors in California warned Davis against relying exclusively on the alternative treatments.

“Controversial”? The only thing this article could find to say about therapy that involved treating malignant breast cancer by receiving coffee enemas and eating a pound of carrots per day is that it is “controversial”? I will say what this paper would not: such a treatment blatantly ignores everything we know about how cancer is caused and how it can be cured; is utterly unsupported by any scientific evidence; is advocated only by quacks; and may well end up costing the lives of any people who rely on it exclusively, as this poor woman did, because it does not work. Although the title of this article, at least, points out the failure of this treatment in the specific case, the article itself studiously avoids commitment to a general conclusion, instead seeking refuge in the limp label “controversial”.

I have experienced the effects of this policy for myself. On one occasion last year, I read an article in my local newspaper credulously touting a chiropractic back massager that was claimed to be able to treat carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma, among other conditions. This article did not provide even a shred of skeptical balance, and aside from promoting these quack notions, added nonsensical claims such as that this technology was used by NASA to test the integrity of heat-resistant tiles on spacecraft (and that has what to do with curing asthma, exactly?).

I wrote to the reporter to complain, and she responded in a way that made it clear she had no idea what the problem was. Her response basically boiled down to saying that there was a “controversy” among doctors as to whether back-adjustment techniques worked for treating problems that have nothing to do with the back, it wasn’t proven that this device was not efficacious, and how did I really know it didn’t work, anyway? In this case, not only did the illusion of balance give undeserved attention to quackery, it served as a convenient excuse for a reporter who had no knowledge of medical science to write about this device without having to go to the trouble to check up on its claims for herself.

As with many evils, the road to this particular hell was paved with good intentions. This illusion of balance arose from a desire for journalistic integrity and objectivity, to ensure that readers had a chance to view all sides of an argument so that they could decide for themselves. This, in and of itself, is a noble goal. The problem is that journalists are being taught that their articles must be balanced even when the facts are not balanced. The result is a situation where objectivity is taken to its most ludicrous extreme, where all points of view must be treated as equally valid regardless of whether that is what the evidence supports.

Other observers have noticed this trend. For example, former vice president Al Gore lambasted the media’s surrender to spin in a 2001 lecture series at Columbia’s journalism school:

Gore’s first lecture engaged objectivity itself, challenging the journalistic trope that fairness resides in controversy and an article has to represent all sides — no matter how marginal — equally. Instead, Gore argued that the journalistic impulse to exalt even the most fringe views to parity in order to furnish opposing perspectives is harmful to basic accuracy. This didn’t sit well with more than a few of the wannabe reporters in the class, many of whom were aghast at the suggestion that the media should attempt to actually mediate between truth and spin.

And Chris Mooney, himself a reporter (but one of the good ones!), writes in his book The Republican War on Science about a 2004 paper published in the journal Global Environmental Change. Despite a broad consensus among practicing climate scientists that global warming is real and is caused by human activity, this study surveyed over 600 articles published in several major newspapers between 1988 and 2002 and found that over 50% gave equal credence to the industry view that global warming is simply the result of natural climate fluctuations (a conclusion, by the by, that is not supported by any peer-reviewed publications). Nowhere could the illusion of balance be more obvious.

This lazy and credulous reporting harms society at large because it deprives people of the context they need to make an informed decision. There are many groups who do not need to prevail outright in public debate, but can achieve their goals simply by muddying the waters and creating a widespread perception of controversy and confusion: for example, creationists who call for “teaching the controversy”, or industry groups, such as tobacco companies or petroleum lobbies, seeking to avoid regulation by asserting that the evidence is not strong enough to support action. In seeking to create “balance”, the media has played right into their hands. As Mooney puts it, “many journalists reporting on science issues fall easy prey to sophisticated public relations campaigns” (p.252).

What will it take to cut through this illusion of balance and restore true objectivity that pays heed to facts and not just to opinions? It will require reporters to know something about their subject matter and evaluate the evidence in order to draw an informed and accurate conclusion, rather than taking the lazy route of pasting together quotes from two opposing sides into a context-free and uninformative “he said/she said”-type article. It will require reporters to identify minority opinions as such and mainstream opinions as such, to contrast views that attract scientific support with those that do not, and to accurately convey to their readers what the state of the art is and what consensus has been reached by qualified experts. It will require reporters to inform their readers when there is a genuine controversy over some issue and when there is nothing but a phony controversy drummed up by ideologues and zealots. In short, it will take a media whose aim is truly to get at the heart of a matter and find the truth, not the complacent and detached media we have today that is content to uncritically repeat spin. There are already some good reporters out there, true journalists who are not afraid to tell it like it is – we can hope that the rest will in time learn to follow their example.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • SpeirM

    I don’t if you’d rightly call the History Channel or Discovery Channel “media” (as in “supposed to be factual”), but I’ve noticed this tendency in both a lot. They’ll show a “documentary” on UFOs or the Bible Code or hauntings some other such foolishness and deliberately try to end with the jury still out. Credibility doesn’t seem to be a concern of theirs. In my experience this is less true of the National Geographic Channel.

    “What will it take to cut through this illusion of balance and restore true objectivity that pays heed to facts and not just to opinions?”

    It’ll take a viewing/reading public that doesn’t expect to have its absurd beliefs stroked.

  • http://www.gibsonian.blogspot.com Ian B Gibson

    Even more important than having an informed media is having an informed public, who can actually tell the difference between good & bad arguments, are able to think critically, and who understand the techniques and principles behind rhetoric & ‘spin’.
    Whether this is a realistic hope or not is of course rather doubtful.

  • tobe38

    Completely agree with SpeirM about the documentary channels – one seriously stars to wonder what the point of a documentary is?! The National Geographic is better though, still subtle but I think they make it quite clear whose side they’re really on.

    When I was studying history at GCSE Level aged 16, we were told to present both sides in an essay and then come down in the middle and look for the compromise. When I studies history at ‘A’ Level aged 18, we were told that to get the best grades you had to be strong and decisive, look at the evidence, pick a side and make a case.

    Modern journalism, here in the UK as well as the USA, is as immature as the critical thinking skills that greet it.

  • SpeirM

    If they’re not biased in my direction, they’re biased.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hi folks,

    I really hate having to put my foot down, but I’d like this thread not to become another partisan foodfight, and so I must ask that people refrain from arguing over which political party the media is biased towards. That issue has been debated to death and isn’t the subject of this post. My point in writing it was to show that the media’s refusal to ever call any point of view right or wrong, or to value expert consensus more highly than fringe kooks, hurts everyone. I’d appreciate it if comments could be kept relevant to that. Thanks.

  • http://endless-rambling.blogspot.com BlackWizardMagus

    That was what I had originally intended to point out; that they do that all the time, even going so far as to lie about it. My prime example was indeed the entirely fake consensus on global warming; I’ve read testimonies from dozens of scientists in the last week or two alone arguing against it, as well as a handful of scientific papers (hard to find without a subscription to a journal, hence so few) that contest it directly. I had to point this out since you quote Al Gore, who is currently the fringe kook (even supporters of global warming and the IPCC reports show that Gore’s position is way out of line and exagerant; example, he predicted something like a 20 foot increase in sea levels, when the IPCC report he was reportedly referencing said it would not even be 2 meters). There is a majority but nothing close to a consensus agreement on CO2 and climate change.

    My overall point was that (I wish you had kept my first post) the media is not balanced at all. It does favor one side over the other. It has a largely anti-gun ring and goes out of it’s way to have tons of alarming news stories and headlines about gun accidents and showing speeches against RTC laws (despite proven effectiveness over and over and over), just for another example. This is not balanced. Furthermore, however, the imbalance is not random; it’s consistently left leaning. So, the problem is not too much balance, it’s that there isn’t enough. I disagree entirely with your view, Adam, and I think it’s obvious why when your opening argument is about how the press unquestionaly accepts the White House’s arguments for war; actually, it consistently argued AGAINST the war and when the recent proof came out that Iraq DID have WMDs and Saddam WAS speaking to Al Queda, they ignored it. This is not balance at all.

    I will agree on one thing; in terms of science that is not political, yes, they are completely stupid. They’ve run articles on all sorts of crock items and pereptual motion devices. This is true. And it’s also not very important. It talks about the Newman machine (infinite energy device); great, yay. Who cares? It has no relevance except to someone so dense as to not reference a second source or even ask someone who knows something about energy for their opinion. The real problems comes when they take important issues, like poverty, war, and other multi-billion dollar problems, and only show one side.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I’ve read testimonies from dozens of scientists in the last week or two alone arguing against it, as well as a handful of scientific papers (hard to find without a subscription to a journal, hence so few) that contest it directly.

    Then provide citations to some of those papers. I know you have been asked this several times before and have not answered it yet.

  • Montu

    Heh, I think BWM and I were probably trying to make the same point and didn’t realize it was getting off topic, sorry about that. It’s actually funny that you posted this today, as this weeks The Nation is dedicated to this topic. I think it’s fair to say that The Nation is very obviously left leaning, and yes, it does have its own problems, however I think with this article in particular they made a very clear point that follows these same lines. It seems that to better understand why the media will give equal “talk time” to blatantly wrong sides, thus creating a controversy where none actually exists, one has to look at who owns the news source. This is a diagram that The Nation included in its recent article that outlines the six major news/media companies in the US: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060703/mediachart To take your example of global warming, I think it’s interesting to look at General Electric which owns NBC. It is in GE’s best interest that they broadcast a controversy about global warming because GE Infrastructure would be drastically affected. And if you look at their political donation habits, you can see that they have given large sums of money to republicans over the last ten years: http://www.crp.org/orgs/summary.asp?ID=D000000125&Name=General+Electric This would be reflected down into what is and is not allowed to be broadcast on NBC, and would account for some of the absurd arguments that are given equal leverage as true scientific findings and concerns about the threat of global warming.

    This of course does not take into account the smaller issues that you mentioned like the chiropractor that can cure carpal tunnel or alternative medicine, but I think looking at this does go a long ways towards understanding why some of the bigger issues get muddied.

  • SpeirM

    I just ran across this on James Randi’s site. (http://www.randi.org/jr/2006-06/062306follow.html) He’s speaking about Michael Shermer’s book, “Why People Believe Weird Things.”

    “The depressing fact is that Shermer’s book will not sell a tiny fraction of the number of copies of books on the Bermuda triangle, dream analysis, astrology, numerology, religious miracles, etc., that fill our bookstores. Those stores now feature entire sections on the quackery of Deepak Chopra, the novels-turned-facts titled The Celestine Prophecy and The Da Vinci Code, and the saccharine platitudes of Wayne Dyer. Shermer is fighting against the sad fact that readers not only prefer this nonsense, but think they need it to make their lives bearable. It’s sad, but true.”

    This is effectively what we’ve been saying here. The media pushes what sells. What sells is what people want. What people want is anything that feeds their superstitions.

  • Azkyroth

    Reminds me of a comic D. C. Simpson of Ozy and Millie fame did a while ago, specifically citing credulous coverage of Republican accusations against Kerry as an example of a general trend.

    PS: Adam, click the link, you’ll like it :D

  • Azkyroth

    Err, what the ELF is wrong with that link? Should be this.

  • Quath

    I had to point this out since you quote Al Gore, who is currently the fringe kook (even supporters of global warming and the IPCC reports show that Gore’s position is way out of line and exagerant;

    I guess I have heard the opposite like from this article from the AP, Scientists OK Gore’s movie for accuracy which starts off, “The nation’s top climate scientists are giving ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy.”

  • SpeirM
  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Ironically, I think that that article from senate.gov is an excellent example of the kind of deceptive appeal to “controversy” I discussed in my article. Despite the article’s claim to be a “sampling” of scientific skeptics, it just quotes three well-known contrarians – similar to the way creationist press releases tout the “growing number” of scientists embracing ID while naming the same three or four year after year, and in both cases ignoring the views of the overwhelming majority of qualified scientists who support the opposite view. Let’s not forget that the party currently in control of the Senate contains several notorious global warming deniers, such as James Inhofe, who is quoted in this article and was probably responsible in part for writing it.

  • SpeirM

    ‘Despite the article’s claim to be a “sampling” of scientific skeptics, it just quotes three well-known contrarians….’

    Of course, the original AP article did about the same thing. That was the point of the .gov article.

    “Ironically, I think that that article from senate.gov is an excellent example of the kind of deceptive appeal to “controversy” I discussed in my article.”

    That’s entirely possible. You’d like to think you wouldn’t get that from the government, but who knows?

    That said, I don’t think I’d put this in the same category as Creationism or ID. The naysayers in this controvery tend to have better credentials.

    “Let’s not forget that the party currently in control of the Senate contains several notorious global warming deniers, such as James Inhofe, who is quoted in this article and was probably responsible in part for writing it.”

    “Probably”? Besides, that’s awfully close to ad hominem, isn’t it? “It’s a Senate document and, well, we all know about the Senate….”

    Hey, to be totally hick-like, I really don’t have a dog in this fight. It sure looks to me like the preponderance of those scientists qualified to speak on the subject say the globe is warming and that man is in some measure contributing to that. Still, I’ve read some analyses by others who either aren’t convinced man is the primary, or even an especially significant, factor (and, consequently, couldn’t turn back global warming if he eliminated every wisp of greenhouse gas he produces) or that, anyway, the forecast isn’t so dire as it’s being made out to be.

  • dhagrow

    I know it is cynical to say so, but despite the efforts of Al Gore and the many qualified scientists (I don’t think that’s under debate) who say that global warming is a serious problem, it is simply too great of an issue, problem or not, for there to be enough support to move things one way or another. If Al Gore is right, something bad will happen before there is any real effort to change things. That said, even if global warming isn’t a human-caused, potentially devasting problem, there are real environmental issues that have daily effects on the lives of people today, such as deforestation, over-farming, and the general, unsustainable use of resources in critical environments. Among many other problems we really should be trying to solve regardless of global warming.

    Another part of the conflict is that there are extremists on both sides of even such a recent issue as this. I personally know a scientist from NOAA who honestly believes that it is necessary to…not necessarily kill, but to let humans die in order to return the Earth to a “proper” state of balance. I’m sure his opinion is weighed in on the side of the scientists who say global warming is serious.

    To stay somewhat on topic, I see no harm in at least mentioning opposing views in the news, even if they are somewhat ridiculous. A journalist’s job is to keep the public informed, of the good and the bad, the truth and the lies. The most important thing, however, is that journalists do the research. Which is why I think journalists should, in the end, give their opinion. By the time they have considered all sides of an issue and done all the the work that, ideally, every citizen should do, they really ought to know what they’re talking about. They should present the evidence that led them to their opinion, and depending on the strength of opposing opinions, either give opposing arguments, or at least mention what the opposing positions are. Those citizens that have any interest in the matter will at least know that there’s a chance that the journalist’s conclusion is wrong, and can look into the matter themselves.

  • http://sillyhumans.blogspot.com Michael Bains

    What will it take to cut through this illusion of balance and restore true objectivity

    I think Montu’s putting the onus on the Publishers is the most accurate point of relevance for the quality of what is published.

    Some other folks mentioned the ignorance and poor critical thinking skills among readers, and this is certainly the crux most (all?) cultural issues. The Publishers, ie, those with the largest accumulations of power and energy (ie, wealth) to affect large swaths of folk and their opinions, cannot be feeding their readers/viewers slop unless those readers/viewers are unable to discern slop from quality.

    Your points about the reporters, Ebonmuse, round out the equation. It’s the Publishers who hire the reporters who tittilate the most people, regardless of truth in reporting, that leaves us all shaking our heads over the state of affairs vis-a-vis our MSM.

    And since it’s dominated this thread: The people at Real Climate are Climate Scientists. Outside of simply and lucidly reporting what is and has been happening climatologically on our Earth, their “agenda” is for our species to survive our own technological evolution. I recommend the site to folk of any, all and no opinion on this enormous issue.

    Thanks for an awesome post.

  • SpeirM

    Looks like a site worth taking some time with. I did notice that Michael Mann of the famous (infamous?) “hockey stick” is a contributor. I’ve seen numerous unfavorable critiques of his methods. But, then, Mann’s own defense of his work seem just as convincing.

    That’s the problem we laymen have to deal with. I simply haven’t the tools to tell for sure who’s got the better case. I read one side and find the reasoning compelling. Then I read the other side and discover that there are issues the first side chose not to deal with. I read yet a third, also unfavorable analysis that deals with these details. A fourth brings other things yet to light that threaten to sway me in the other direction again. Not having a thoroughgoing understanding of the field, I’m at the mercy of those who do–or claim to. Ultimately, I have to choose to come down (religiously, almost) on one side or the other or take a more agnostic position. For the time being, I’m an agnostic.

  • Philip Thomas

    Hey SpeirM, I have no knowledge of this subject whatsoever, apart from what I read in the news and on the web. Yet I beleive in Global Warming, because that seems to be the expert consensus. Much like my belief in evolution. There’s no need to be agnostic just because there are a small number of unbelievers!

  • SpeirM

    Oh, I’m certainly not agnostic as to Global Warming, per se. You’re right. There’s a near unanimity among those in the know that the Earth has been heating up over the last (fill in the blank) years. This issues in dispute seem to be 1) whether man’s contribution to the problem is significant enough that anything we do would help much and 2) whether the consequences of GW will be as dire as some predict.

    But lest we get chewed on again for going off-topic, let me reiterate how I feel this relates to the thread. Sometimes, as I think we all agree, the media feeds us what it believes will sell, the facts be, uh, dadgummed. They give us what we want to hear. They’re afraid they won’t stay in business long if they don’t.

    But there are issues that require a level of knowledge beyond most of us. When it comes to subjects so arcane as climatology, only those with years of training followed by years of actual experience will understand the details of the discussion well enough to speak authoritatively. When they don’t speak with one voice, things can get a little dicey.

    For instance, here’s an article questioning the Mann findings: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=062806F. It was written by a man with the right credentials. They are summarized this way at the bottom of the article:

    “Dr. Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.”

    You can look at his bio for further details.

    Now, one man or the other isn’t quite right. Which one?

  • http://sillyhumans.blogspot.com Michael Bains

    Hola SpeirM,

    For the time being, I’m an agnostic.

    While I’m not agnostic on the topic, I do relate really well to your point.

  • http://endless-rambling.blogspot.com BlackWizardMagus

    I was asked again, right after mentioning that I can’t do it, to show a list of articles against global warming. No one has yet actually told me how to do this, since I can’t ACCESS any journals. However, I will again post a good site to get a list of articles and info on the subject that is not just what the media shows; http://www.junkscience.com The creator has been accused of a conflict of interest; I find that to be hypocritical, but also completely irrelevant. Unless he faked the graphs and maps and made sites that LOOKED like NASA or others, but really weren’t, his own life is not important. Just look through the global warming issues and feel free to ignore anything that’s not taken from anotehr source; you’ll still get some real info.

    Just one more example of the bias; NAS just released a report that, basically, said Mann’s hockey stick is completely false, does not follow proper scientific procedures, and needs to be ignored. The media has not mentioned this at all; all they have done is cling to the aknowledgement that the earth is indeed warmer than it was 400 years ago (during the little ice age). Even then, it often replaces “400″ with “1000″ or “2000″, even though that’s not what it says.

    I do have a few quotes I saved; these were made in response to Gore’s movie, addressing specific claims of global warming scaremongers;
    “The oceans are now heading into one of their periodic phases of cooling…. Modest changes in temperature are not about to wipe them [coral] out. Neither will increased carbon dioxide, which is a fundamental chemical building block that allows coral reefs to exist at all.” — Dr. Gary D. Sharp, Center for Climate/Ocean Resources Study, Salinas, Calif.
    - – -
    “Both the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps are thickening. The temperature at the South Pole has declined by more than one degree C since 1950. And the area of sea ice around the continent has increased over the last 20 years.” — Dr. R.M. Carter, professor, Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.
    - – -
    “From data published by the Canadian Ice Service, there has been no precipitous drop-off in the amount or thickness of the ice cap since 1970 when reliable overall coverage became available for the Canadian Arctic.” — Dr./Cdr. M.R. Morgan, FRMS, formerly advisor to the World Meteorological Organization/climatology research scientist at University of Exeter, U.K.
    “I can assure Mr. Gore that no one from the South Pacific islands has fled to New Zealand because of rising seas. In fact, if Gore consults the data, he will see it shows sea level falling in some parts of the Pacific.” — Dr. Chris de Freitas, climate scientist, associate professor, University of Auckland, N.Z.
    - – -
    “We find no alarming sea level rise going on, in the Maldives, Tovalu, Venice, the Persian Gulf and even satellite altimetry, if applied properly.” — Dr. Nils-Axel Morner, emeritus professor of paleogeophysics and geodynamics, Stockholm University, Sweden.
    - – -
    “Gore is completely wrong here — malaria has been documented at an altitude of 2,500 metres — Nairobi and Harare are at altitudes of about 1,500 metres. The new altitudes of malaria are lower than those recorded 100 years ago. None of the “30 so-called new diseases” Gore references are attributable to global warming, none.” — Dr. Paul Reiter, professor, Institut Pasteur, unit of insects and infectious diseases, Paris, comments on Gore’s belief that Nairobi and Harare were founded just above the mosquito line to avoid malaria and how the mosquitoes are now moving to higher altitudes.
    - – -
    “Our information is that seven of 13 populations of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (more than half the world’s estimated total) are either stable or increasing….. Of the three that appear to be declining, only one has been shown to be affected by climate change. No one can say with certainty that climate change has not affected these other populations, but it is also true that we have no information to suggest that it has.” — Dr. Mitchell Taylor, manager, wildlife research section, Department of Environment, Igloolik, Nunavut.
    - – -
    “Mr. Gore suggests that the Greenland melt area increased considerably between 1992 and 2005. But 1992 was exceptionally cold in Greenland and the melt area of ice sheet was exceptionally low due to the cooling caused by volcanic dust emitted from Mt. Pinatubo. If, instead of 1992, Gore had chosen for comparison the year 1991, one in which the melt area was 1% higher than in 2005, he would have to conclude that the ice sheet melt area is shrinking and that perhaps a new Ice Age is just around the corner.” — Dr. Petr Chylek, adjunct professor, Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax.

    Appearing before the Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development last year, Carleton University paleoclimatologist Professor Tim Patterson testified, “There is no meaningful correlation between CO2 levels and Earth’s temperature over this [geologic] time frame. In fact, when CO2 levels were over ten times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half billion years.” Patterson asked the committee, “On the basis of this evidence, how could anyone still believe that the recent relatively small increase in CO2 levels would be the major cause of the past century’s modest warming?”
    Patterson concluded his testimony by explaining what his research and “hundreds of other studies” reveal: on all time scales, there is very good correlation between Earth’s temperature and natural celestial phenomena such changes in the brightness of the Sun.
    Dr. Boris Winterhalter, former marine researcher at the Geological Survey of Finland and professor in marine geology, University of Helsinki, takes apart Gore’s dramatic display of Antarctic glaciers collapsing into the sea. “The breaking glacier wall is a normally occurring phenomenon which is due to the normal advance of a glacier,” says Winterhalter. “In Antarctica the temperature is low enough to prohibit melting of the ice front, so if the ice is grounded, it has to break off in beautiful ice cascades. If the water is deep enough icebergs will form.”
    Dr. Wibjörn Karlén, emeritus professor, Dept. of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Sweden, admits, “Some small areas in the Antarctic Peninsula have broken up recently, just like it has done back in time. The temperature in this part of Antarctica has increased recently, probably because of a small change in the position of the low pressure systems.”
    But Karlén clarifies that the ‘mass balance’ of Antarctica is positive – more snow is accumulating than melting off. As a result, Ball explains, there is an increase in the ‘calving’ of icebergs as the ice dome of Antarctica is growing and flowing to the oceans. When Greenland and Antarctica are assessed together, “their mass balance is considered to possibly increase the sea level by 0.03 mm/year – not much of an effect,” Karlén concludes.
    The Antarctica has survived warm and cold events over millions of years. A meltdown is simply not a realistic scenario in the foreseeable future.
    Gore tells us in the film, “Starting in 1970, there was a precipitous drop-off in the amount and extent and thickness of the Arctic ice cap.” This is misleading, according to Ball: “The survey that Gore cites was a single transect across one part of the Arctic basin in the month of October during the 1960s when we were in the middle of the cooling period. The 1990 runs were done in the warmer month of September, using a wholly different technology.”
    Karlén explains that a paper published in 2003 by University of Alaska professor Igor Polyakov shows that, the region of the Arctic where rising temperature is supposedly endangering polar bears showed fluctuations since 1940 but no overall temperature rise. “For several published records it is a decrease for the last 50 years,” says Karlén
    Dr. Dick Morgan, former advisor to the World Meteorological Organization and climatology researcher at University of Exeter, U.K. gives the details, “There has been some decrease in ice thickness in the Canadian Arctic over the past 30 years but no melt down. The Canadian Ice Service records show that from 1971-1981 there was average, to above average, ice thickness. From 1981-1982 there was a sharp decrease of 15% but there was a quick recovery to average, to slightly above average, values from 1983-1995. A sharp drop of 30% occurred again 1996-1998 and since then there has been a steady increase to reach near normal conditions since 2001.”
    Concerning Gore’s beliefs about worldwide warming, Morgan points out that, in addition to the cooling in the NW Atlantic, massive areas of cooling are found in the North and South Pacific Ocean; the whole of the Amazon Valley; the north coast of South America and the Caribbean; the eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, Caucasus and Red Sea; New Zealand and even the Ganges Valley in India. Morgan explains, “Had the IPCC used the standard parameter for climate change (the 30 year average) and used an equal area projection, instead of the Mercator (which doubled the area of warming in Alaska, Siberia and the Antarctic Ocean) warming and cooling would have been almost in balance.”
    Gore’s point that 200 cities and towns in the American West set all time high temperature records is also misleading according to Dr. Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. “It is not unusual for some locations, out of the thousands of cities and towns in the U.S., to set all-time records,” he says. “The actual data shows that overall, recent temperatures in the U.S. were not unusual.”

  • Dick Veldkamp

    BlackWizardMagus,

    The JunkScience site is true to its name, it’s full of junk.

    For an introduction to the facts, try the Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change , or look here: http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics.

    If you really want to know all the details, nothing better than this site: http://www.realclimate.org/

    Global warming is real. Deal with it.

  • Beth B

    Whew! Good news for Florida. Looks like we don’t have to stock up on batteries, water or canned goods from here on out. The rest of you in other states better catch up!

    http://www.wptv.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=d725f88d-4a36-4bb3-acfa-139731de159d

  • Giselle

    this article is so true I’m surprise so few people know it. I often argue evolution teaching and most people respond “well if evolution was true that why is there any argument?” the argument is fuel by biased fundamentalist opinions, it has NO BASIS on scientific knowledge, in other words its not a he said/she said argument of any sort its he said/she knows.
    People nowadays seem to think all information available is “opinion” rather than “educated and non educated” as a result people live in a fantasy world where religion and science both have equal ground on what is real and what is fictious. And if this continues one day the United States will be as bad to live in as middle eastern contries that think religion is reality and anything else is “evil satan worshiping”.

  • Thom Paine

    @ Ian B Gibson:

    a) It’s part of the media’s job to inform the public.

    b) You expect it to be easier to to achieve an informed public than an informed media? Aside from being rather cart-before-the-horse (see above) it’s also highly improbable that 220+ Million adults would become enlightened more readily than less than 1/10th of 1% of that number of journalists, just from a statistical point of view.

    Great post, Ebonmuse. Thanks. I’ll be back.

  • Kerry

    Adam, this was an excellent article. I must confess, I had not previously contemplated the whole concept of “Balance.” I see it clearly, and in fact, I have argued against this kind of nonsense with my family about “teach the controversy” in the creation/evolution discussions. I always suggest that their theory means we should teach astrology alongside astronomy, and alchemy alongside chemistry. Of course they see that as absurd, but cannot see the fallacy of what they want taught.

    Anyway, thanks for pointing me to these articles.