Myles Allen: Why are journalists suddenly so critical?

  • Date: 12/12/09

The Guardian: It is odd that we still don’t take climate change seriously. Judging from the acres of newsprint being devoted to the subject right now, you might find that remark surprising. But look at the furore over the University of East Anglia emails: environmentalists hand-wringing as if the end of the world had suddenly been brought forward; their opponents crowing that the whole of climate science has to start again from scratch.

[…] One can understand the blogosphere reacting as it has done, but why has mainstream journalism collectively decided to treat the story in this way? The bottom line is that journalism deals not in facts, but in “narratives”. And the narrative of the fallen idol is clearly a great way to fill the airwaves – witness the reality television industry.

So the narrative journalists have collectively decided upon is that a few scientists may have manipulated their data, and either (a) it doesn’t matter because the evidence for human influence on climate is so strong or (b) this shows the whole edifice is now crumbling, depending on their editor’s predilections. And George Monbiot laments that the high priests of his climate change religion have let him down. All without any evidence that any number, anywhere, is actually wrong. Journalists, who always find numbers irritating, are revelling in the fact that they are back in the driving seat. By making the story about the individual scientists, rather than scientific results, they can go back to reporting on the story as they see fit without being constrained by scientific evidence.

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