Bret Stephens as a New York Times columnist


Rather a lot of fuss has been made about the hiring of Bret Stephens by the New York Times as a columnist. Because he has a reputation as a global warming agnostic, some rather prominent climate scientists went public with the withdrawal of their subscriptions as a protest and also encouraged others to do the same via the twitter hash tag #ShowYourCancellation. For some, the tipping point was not the hiring, but rather was their defence of it …

His First Opinion Piece

People sometimes write to target a specific audience and they might even express views that are not wholly and personally confident in because it panders to the target audience, so you might indeed wonder if his reputation is justified. Now that he is part of the New York Times, will common sense prevail, will he write solid evidence-based articles?

No need to wait, the time for judgement has arrived.

His first piece is out, entitled “Climate of Complete Certainty” (Apr 28th NYT), and alas the fears expressed turn out to be spot on.

I’ve taken a brief look at his article. Below you will find the main points and a couple of side notes added by myself.

  • The pollsters got the election outcome wrong, Hillary lost, hence data does not always reveal the actual outcome (Yes, you can see where this is going, he is indeed setting the scene for an article on Climate Change and is not actually discussing the election)
    • Side Notes:
      • Public opinion polls are not how we do science and work out what is and is not true. Polls do often get it wrong, this is well understood.
      • She actually did win the popular vote by several million
  • He moves on to point out the disconnect between the scientific community and the public, then asks why, if the science is settled, public opinion does not reflect that. He points to a specific pew poll and pulls this out “Just 36 percent of Americans care “a great deal” about the subject“, and this suggests that nearly 2/3 are indifferent to it all.
    • Side Notes:
      • The things that are true, remain true regardless of who or how many people believe it.
      • When all the subject matter experts are telling you something, and have evidence to back it up, and that has all been independently verified, then it is time to listen. In reality some don’t for emotional and cultural reasons.
      • Regarding the claimed 2/3 indifference, he is misrepresenting what that poll actually says by cherry picking. Here for example is what that same poll also reveals …
        • 67% think climate scientists should have a major role in policy decisions
        • 74% do actually care about climate change
  • The fact that warming is happening is not something he denies
  • However, he proceed to claim that the models used to predict what happens next are not accurate
  • He appears to be trying to strive to make a reasonable case for doubt about climate science, and respecting those who dare to doubt. He also harps back the the election results and hints that science often gets things very wrong.

The New York Times  rather wisely did not have a comments section opened under that piece.

What do Others think?

As you might imagine many others did a far better job of slicing and dicing than my brief attempt. All of it can perhaps be summed up as “You have got to be fracking kidding me“. Here are a couple of great examples …

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