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This item was posted on March 27, 2009, and it was categorized as Andrew Revkin, Climate, Climate Change, Climate change policy, Environmental journalism, Global Warming, Global warming skeptics, Journalism, blogging, greenhouse gases, science journalism.
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Update end of day 3/29/09: Last spring, Ted Nordhaus wrote the definitive piece on Joe Romm and like-minded environmentalists. It is headlined, “The Green Politics of Personal Destruction: Deconstructing Joe Romm.” It is a must read for anyone who is concerned about the damage this particular brand of environmental activism — characterized by demonization, conspiracy theories, and invective — is doing to efforts aimed at protecting the planet.
Update 3/29/09: Joe Romm has now decided to censor my comments at his blog: “I am putting you on permanent moderation for repeatedly engaging in such ad hominem attacks,” he wrote, and he excised much of what I said at his blog in response to his Freeman Dyson blog posting. Yes, I have said Joe Romm uses “hyperbole” and “sensationalism,” as well as “invective” and epithets.”I believe these words are accurate descriptions, not ad hominem attacks, of the language Romm routinely employs to lambast anyone who disagrees with him — language like “crackpot,” “loopy,” “slander” and “rant and rave,” which he used liberally in reference to Dyson.
Evidently, when Romm can’t win an argument using reason, logic and evidence, he resorts to censorship.
Since I’m not sure whether he’ll run it, here is the response I just tried to leave on Romm’s blog (we’ll see whether he prints it): 

Joe:

Yes, I have written that you use “hyperbole” and “sensationalism.” To that you might also add “invective” and “epithets.” These are not ad hominem attacks Joe. They are accurate descriptions of your own language. You did in fact lambast Freeman Dyson as being a “crackpot” and “loopy,” and you actually did accuse him of “slander” for daring to say that Hansen exaggerates, isn’t that right? If these are not good examples of hyperbole, sensationalism, invective, and epithets, I don’t know what are.

For the record: I am not commenting here on whether Hansen does or does not exaggerate. I am responding to the outrageous charge that Dyson “slandered” Hansen simply for disagreeing with him. [I might add here that Hansen doesn't view it as slander either — see the update immediately below.] But Joe, that is what you really think, isn’t it? Any one who dares to disagree with you is automatically “loopy” or “slandering” or a “crackpot.”

And now your readers can see just how you respond to criticism like this: Rather than engage in honest debate, you shut down free expression of ideas. If that’s not what you really mean to do, then run this comment in its entirety and respond to it. Tell us why you need to rely on epithets and invective to get your points across. While you’re at it, you should also restore my complete comment above rather than censor it. What are you afraid of Joe? That your readers may get a different point of view?

Update 3/28/09: Go here to see why James Hansen is a class act compared with Joe Romm. He evidently has a lot more respect for Freeman Dyson than Romm does. And when he takes Dyson to task, he does it with appropriate deference and civility.

 

freeman_dyson

A profile of Freeman Dyson, above, has attracted the wrath of Joe Romm

Follow the bolded words below to see what passes for intelligent discourse on Climate Progress, Joe Romm’s allegedly “indispensable blog” (as Tom Friedman inexplicably put it several weeks back):

Shame on the New York Times Magazine for publishing an extended, largely favorable profile of Freeman Dyson, a true climate crackpot …”

Shame on them for printing his scientifically unjustifiable slanders of the country’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen …”

“And shame on the NYT’s top climate science reporter, Andy Revkin for promoting this piece on his blog with not a single criticism of Dyson’s numerous anti-scientific statements and smears . . . I call on Revkin to retract his absurdly indefensible assertion that, ‘On climate, Mr. Dyson may be right . . . (see full quote at end)’” 

Romm betrays himself with the editing of Revkin’s sentence; more about that in a minute. But first…  Romm aims his wrath at the New York Times for publishing a profile of Freeman Dyson in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, and, of course, at one of his favorite whipping boys, Andy Revkin, for writing about the profile dispassionately in his DotEarth blog.  

In Joe Romm’s logic, anyone who disagrees with him is guilty of “smears” and “slander,” as opposed to simply offering an opinion, which, well, may be right or wrong. It’s not good enough for Romm to argue passionately against a point of view. For anyone with the chutzpah to advance an argument he disagrees with, Romm seems compelled to use taunts and epithets. He also frequently ties this tactic with the demand that a writer or publication “retract” what they’ve published. One gets the sense that honest debate is not Romm’s goal, but quite the opposite: the shutting down of free expression. And in my opinion, this makes him the entirely dispensable censor.

Romm reveals just how dispensable his blog really is with his editing of Revkin’s sentence — editing that was clearly intended to twist Andy’s original meaning to leave his readers with a false impression. Here is the full sentence, minus Romm’s excisions: “On climate, Mr. Dyson may be right or wrong, and pretty much admits that.”

Yes, Romm did direct his readers to Revkin’s blog to see the “full quote at end.” But how many will actually take the extra steps to do that? Not many. If Romm really was interested in truth he would have have included the six extra words in that sentence.

I suspect that something other than a pursuit of the truth and healthy debate is at work here. What might that be? Let’s string together the strong words from his post, one after the other: shame; slanders; shame; shame; smears; absurdly indefensible; loopy; famous crackpot camp; outlandish; crackpot; rant and rave; loopiness; slander-fest; uncivil, unjustified ravings; crackpots. (Did I catch them all?)

And then this: 

Shame on the NYT, shame on the reporter, Nicholas Dawidoff, for publishing this crackpot’s crap for millions to read and possibly think is credible”

I believe psychologists have a word for Romm’s unseemly behavior: “projection.” (Or possibly ”transference“?)

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This thing has 26 Comments

  1. Page van der Linden
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    This is from the “about” part of Romm’s blog, Climate Progress:

    “Climate Progress is dedicated to providing the progressive perspective on climate science, climate solutions, and climate politics. It is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.”

    If his blog posts are representative of “progressive” thinking, then I’ll gladly stop calling myself a progressive. He’s an embarrassment. Shouting into an echo chamber accomplishes exactly nothing. Progress? Solutions? More like “regress” and self-congratulatory back-patting.

    The planet is in peril. Joe Romm isn’t doing a darned thing to help. He’s the liberal equivalent of Jim Inhofe: full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  2. L. Carey
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I realize that Joe Romm gets on your nerves, but how about saying something about the larger picture here, which would appear to be the growing collapse of science reporting in the media. Nicholas Dawidoff, who wrote the NYT Magazine article on Dyson (beautifully written from a literary perspective, by the way) is a gifted writer who prefers to write about baseball and has no discernible scientific background, and particularly no background regarding climate science. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Dawidoff Accordingly, the casual reader is given very little information against which to weight what appear to be poorly informed ramblings on the part of Mr. Dyson.

    Wonk Room noted a recent spate of “science” articles for major papers being written by reporters and writers with no science background. “Top Papers Assign Golf, Baseball, And Culture Writers To The Climate Policy Beat” http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2009/03/26/clueless-culture-media/
    As Brad Johnson notes:

    “— The New York Times Magazine is publishing an 8,000-word cover article on climate denier Freeman Dyson written by Nicholas Dawidoff, a baseball writer.

    “– The New Yorker’s lead ‘Talk of the Town’ piece on the economy and global warming is written by David Owen, a golf journalist.

    “– The Wall Street Journal’s “deputy Taste editor,” Naomi Schaeffer Riley, criticizes a groundbreaking Redefining Progress report on the demographics of environmental and economic inequality as “oddly conspiratorial” and “condescension.””

    Regarding the Dot Earth coverage of the Dyson piece, as I noted in a comment on Dot Earth, it did not appear that Dyson’s confident assertions regarding a field far outside his own field of expertise merited an extended airing in the NYT Magazine, especially one that did not do a good job of conveying just how far outside the mainstream science Dyson is on this matter. And Joe Romm was not alone in feeing frustrated by Andy Revkin’s apparent fascination with extending a significant amount of coverage to “scientists” who have nothing to offer in the way of a scientific contribution to the discussion – as the most recommended comment on Revkin’s piece noted “Cato, Heartland, and now Dyson featured in Dot Earth topics. Who’s next, Lomborg or Lindzen?” So while Romm does have a tendency to hyperventilate periodically, frankly I’m more concerned about what’s going on with what passes for science coverage in the “responsible” main stream media.

  3. Posted March 27, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    L. Carey:

    Actually, Romm doesn’t “get on my nerves.” Not in the least. But I have devoted my career as a science and environmental journalist, and now a journalism educator, to improving public understanding of complex issues such as climate change. My hope is that in some small way this may help lead to better policy. Call me naive, but I still have some faith in that proposition. And that’s why I take Romm to task from time to time — because in my opinion, his use of invective, epithets and taunting does great harm to the cause I believe in.

    I don’t care whether his blogging is spot on some or even most of the time. His childish behavior undermines those of us who want to have a serious public discussion of the issues — a discussion that avoids language like “smear,” “slander,” crackpot’s crap,” “shame,” “loopy,” “slander-fest,” etc.

    As for the state of science and environmental journalism, yes, we are in trouble — all of traditional newspaper journalism is. And in different ways, I have commented on journalistic coverage of climate science and related issues many times before. A sampling:

    * A Tale of Two Stories

    * Open Notebook Project: Tips for Reporters on the Coming Climate Wars

    * Open Notebook Project: Interview With Peter Dykstra, formerly of CNN

    * Open Notebook Project: My interview with Andrew Revkin

    * Who will cover the environment if Denver papers fail?

    * Bill Broad to Al Gore: ‘Cool the hype’ (Uh oh. Do I sound like Romm in this one?

    * Al Gore: Mainstream Media Still Don’t Get It

  4. Steve Bloom
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the “right or wrong” business, the point is that Andy knows full well that Dyson is wrong but declined to make that clear. That was irresponsible.

    On the central question of what makes the non-expert pronouncements of someone like Dyson a suitable subject for science journalism (other than in a debunkimg-type story), note that Andy retracted his premise (that Dyson can be categorized in some special class of scientist) after I called him on it.

    There is clearly a remaining “human interest” angle since, as was the case with William Shockley’s non-expert views on human genetics as applied to race, there is a kind of special class of “old, eccentric and speaking out of turn,” but covering such things has to be done with much greater care than we saw in the present case.

    Ah, to be in England in the spring.

    FYI, L. Carey, Andy has “done” Lomborg on Dot Earth, albeit indirectly by defending a Tierney puff-piece.

  5. papertiger
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Andy knows full well that Dyson is wrong…
    Steve, would care to elaborate on what Andrew knows? I realize that swerves into tarot card reading territory. Never mind.
    How about something more concrete? Like what Steve Bloom thinks Freeman Dyson gets wrong.
    You see, when you stick to the issues, instead of hurling scurrilous attacks at emminent physicists – rude behavior which Dyson was prescient enough to forecast – you don’t have to tread through the quicksand of imagining what third parties are thinking in their private unspoken mindspace.

    Over to you John Edwards.

    PS do you do palms? Can I get a “reading” for less then twenty bucks?

  6. Gary Plyler
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    The article states “For anyone with the chutzpah to advance an argument he disagrees with, Romm seems compelled to use taunts and epithets. He also frequently ties this tactic with the demand that a writer or publication “retract” what they’ve published.”
    Why call for only a retraction? In true 1984 fashion, have Winston rewrite the article and put the old verion down the Memory Hole to be burned. That is the double-plus good progressive way these days.

  7. Sean Wise
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Skeptics need to stop complaining about the likes of Joe Romm and other pro AGW blogs. Their hysterics do more to push open minded people to the skeptic camp than a hundred articles in the NY Times on Freeman Dyson might ever do. (I’ve often wondered if they are really double agents secretly working for the oil companies.)

  8. deadwood
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Dyson’s area of scientific expertise does include climate science. If you read the Times magazine piece and not just Romm’s or Revkin’s derivatives you would know the he delved into that field at one time in his career.

    Dyson also knows what constitutes science and has learned in is long and illustrious career as one of the greatest scientists of our age to differentiate science from politics.

  9. Harry Mallory
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    So, Freeman Dyson might be a world renown scientist, but because he isnt specifically a “Climatologist” is opinion isnt good enough?

    I dont recall Al Gore having a background in scientific education, yet this guy gets a Nobel prize anyway.

    And for the commenter comparing Joe Romm’s invective to Jim Inhofe, you are committing the same type of slander Romm engages in. James Inhofe isnt some villian merely because you disagree with him, and Inhofe certainly isnt as unhinged as your guy Romm is.

    On a whole, I find the discourse from your side far more in keeping with Romm’s flavor than you do on the “realist” side of the house.

  10. Steve Bloom
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    Re your update, Tom, Hansen was being polite rather than deferential. There’s a difference. I think he considers the bare description of what Dyson did (attack an entire branch of science without having done the most elementary homework) to be sufficiently damning without further embellishment.

    The funny thing about this is that Andy is very much aware of the lack of primacy of models in climate science, but chose not to mention it. There’s nothing obscure about the mantra of paleo first, obs second, models third.

    And just now I see we have yet another similarly controversial effort from Andy, this one on tipping points. I suppose we’re seeing the prediction he made in the interview you did with him come to pass. The controversy, it draws the eyeballs, and Punch does have that loan shark to pay off. (This new story also went a bit off the rails, so I expect we’ll be hearing from Joe on it too.)

    Finally, did you notice that Jim made a point of saying he had been trying to avoid Andy? This whole situation is becoming quite an interesting journalistic case study. IMHO some j-school prof should look into it.

  11. Pete Spotts
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    In reading the profile and Hansen’s mailing, it doesn’t look like Dr. Hansen was trying to dodge Andy, but Nicholas Dawdoff, who wrote the piece. Hansen is apologizing for the quote in the NYT magazine profile. I could be wrong…

  12. Steve Bloom
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    I think you’re right about who was being dodged, Pete. I was thrown off by the timing (Andy’s post appearing four days prior to the print date of the magazine piece, and then Hansen waiting until yesterday to send out his email) and by the contemporaneous interview Andy did have with Hansen for the “tipping point” article that just appeared (also blogged on by Andy), regarding which I’m confident Hansen is quite unhappy. Now I wonder why he was avoiding Dawidoff, but that’s not terribly important.

  13. Thom
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see what the problem is. The New York Times is just looking for balance, right? That’s why we can expect profiles of scientists with views that also run counter to the consensus on things like gravity, the Earth not being the center of the Universe, trans fats being bad for you, etc….

    It’s all about trying to have a meaningful discussion, right Yulsman? Not as some suspect, which is the New York Times running another man bites dog story.

    I say, “Good on the New York Times for digging hard and deep and finding a guy who is not a climate scientist and does not follow the consensus view on climate science.” We need more brave journalism like this.

  14. Thom
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful updated link to the Ted Nordhaus essay on conventional wisdom. I can see we are getting some cutting edge thinking here.

  15. barryjo
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Two words come to mind when I think of Joe Romm. Vitriolic and vituperative.

  16. Aaron
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Regardless of Joe’s choice of language, he did what I think others such as Revkin should have done. Call out the NYT for IMO irresponsibly giving weight to an opinion on climate science which did a poor job to show the reader how false these statements were based on actual science.

    Thom, I have a hard time stomaching the NYT when you say they’re just looking for balance. This is where I think Joe thinks science reporting is failing, and I have to agree with him. If a new Surgeon general warning came out increasing the likelihood of getting lung cancer from smoking, why would you call in some “scientist” to lend his own views to the contrary. Regardless of how in the minority of the scientific community his views are. If the NYT were truly looking for balance they’d get actual climate scientists to counter the claims of Hansen etc. But because actual climatologists with opposing views are drastically hard to come by, they bring in people similar to Dyson. Dyson who may have done great works in his life, but state things a simple scientific literature search could rectify. This is largely how this whole ‘climate debate’ got started. The debate is not in the scientific community, but instead int he public arena. Largely to the fault of bad journalism in my opinion.

  17. Paul Penrose
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    If Freeman Dyson is not qualified to discuss climate science, then surely nobody else here is either. But somehow I doubt that will shut anybody up. So I would like to point out that climate science is not an elemental science like mathematics, but is a blend of physics, chemistry, geology, mathematics, and other disciplines. This makes someone like Freeman Dyson, one of the greatest minds of our age, uniquely qualified to comment on it. He makes Al Gore look like a moron by comparison and at his age he can still run mental circles around Jim Hansen. Feynman must be spinning in his grave to see his respected colleague treated this way.

  18. Steve Bloom
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Apparently Dyson is so very smart that Paul Penrose is unable to comprehend just how smart he really is.

    Re Nordhaus, suffice to say that he’s a comparatively unsuccessful competitor to the CAP and Joe. It’s not clear to me that the Breakthrough Institute has much of a future given that it was basically an attempt to adapt environmentalism to the Bush regime. Also, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would think twice about the views of any organization that would have RP Jr. as a fellow.

  19. Aaron
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Paul,

    Fair point, but knowledge on one or few of the subjects that make up climatology does not inherently lend you any sort of expertise. The only problem I have with Dyson and the article, is that Dyson appears to not even have read the recent literature on the subject. He offers nothing more than disproved talking points any basic search would rectify.

    I also will question the integrity of any scientist with their name on the Heartland Institutions list of climate ‘experts.’

  20. Thom
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Aaron, I was being sarcastic. There is no way that I am buying into the “man bites dog” journalism that the New York Times is selling on climate change. It’s simply garbage and people like Romm are completely within their rights to be outraged.

    At the same time, Revkin and Yulsman are completely within their rights to protect this throwback to “man bites dog” journalism. Actually, I think they should be teaching journalism courses. After all, turn of the century journalism thrived on this type of “news.”

  21. Thom
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    By the way, Yulsman. Care to address why, once again, another right-wing, corporate funded grouphas glommed on to Roger Pielke Jr.’s research to create more disinformation on climate change? I notice that you and Kloor conveniently forgot to mention this on your blogs.

    How convenient….so very, very convenient.

  22. Posted March 30, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Thom:

    You have completely twisted the point of the Realclimate Post. Here’s what they said — and what you deliberately excised:

    “But most amusing are the footnotes that they use to bolster their case. There are four: the brand new Swanson and Tsonis (GRL, 2009), Brohan et al (JGR, 2006) (which is there to provide a link to the HadCRU temperature data), Pielke et al (BAMS, 2005), and the oft-derided Douglass et al (IJoC, 2008).

    Of these papers, not one has the evidence to support the statements attributed to them in the main text.”

    Yes, Pielke’s paper is mentioned in the Cato advertisement. So are papers from other scientists, some of whom you presumably think are just fine. And the point is that Cato is trying to use those papers INAPPROPRIATELY, according to Realclimate, to support their point bogus argument. Realclimate isn’t taking Pielke to task for the paper. It is taking Cato to task for twisting the meaning of Pielke’s paper.

    But instead, you take PIELKE to task for CATO’S misdeeds. Nice try.

    This really is beyond the pale. It seems that you are so blinded by your ideology and self-righteousness that you have lost perspective and objectivity. So Thom, if you have a substantive issue with Roger Pielke, I would be happy to print it in the comments here. But please do not twist the facts, cherry pick the data, employ guilt by association, or raise any straw men or red herrings. And please, if you want people to take you seriously, be serious.

  23. Aaron
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I didn’t get the sarcasm. Sometimes its tough to tell over these posts. Thanks for clearing it up.

  24. Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Steve:

    If it is true, as you say, that Nordhaus is “a comparatively unsuccessful competitor to the CAP and Joe,” then the blogosphere must value bombast and thuggishness over reason and civility.

    And Steve, if you are trying to argue that Joe’s approach is correct simply because he has many more page views than Nordhaus, then by that logic the National Enquirer’s approach is correct because it has more readers than, say, the New York Review of Books.

  25. Steve Bloom
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I made no argument at all re page views, Tom. My comparison had to do with influence in the real world. Note that influence needs to be measured in much more than just the blogosphere. Hopefully you noticed Nordman’s admission that the BI’s views are very much in the environmental minority relative to Romm’s.

    This is not the venue for a detailed deconstruction of the BI’s errors, but I did want to highlight the following passage from Nordman’s post (written a year ago):

    “In the coming years, the climate debate will not be between skeptics who do not believe that global warming is occurring and environmentalists who do. Rather, it will be a multidimensional debate among a much larger variety of parties, all serious about addressing climate change, about what we will need to do in order to effectively address it.”

    So very wrong, so very soon.

    BTW, I agree that Joe sometimes does engage in a degree of hyperbole that he could probably stand to tone down a little. We are none of us perfect, though, and the good in this case vastly outweighs the bad. As Joe observes, it’s starting to seem likely that our descendants will look back at these times and wonder why there wasn’t a lot more shouting.

  26. Thom
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Yulsman, I was not taking Pielke to task for anything. I was just commenting on the fact that, of all the thousands of climate scientists in the world, Cato just happens to pick Pielke’s research to highlight in a disinformation flyer. Pielke, who loves to point out any minor infraction — real or unreal — and highlight it on his blog, just happens to ignore this misrepresentation. And of course, you just happen to get all overly sensitive about Pielke.

    So it’s really all just happenstance, without any real order, or pattern to any of it. Second law of thermodynamics and all. So I’m just interested in how all this just happens to happen.

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