Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Page Makes Itself a Laughingstock

For those who have not been following this story, it is a cautionary tale of what can happen when political ideology is permitted to trump sound scientific data and judgment. In May of 2010, the journal Science published a letter from 255 climate scientists, all members of the US National Academy of Sciences, decrying the political assaults on climate science and scientists, after the Wall Street Journal had declined to publish the letter as an op-ed (see here). Several months later, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by 16 scientists and engineers, only a few of whom actually are climate scientists, reassuring readers that climate change is no great cause for concern, and certainly not an issue requiring immediate attention. (I wonder how economist William Nordhaus felt about having his work, which generally calls for a slow ramp-up of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, used by this group to justify their calls for no action for the next 50 years?)

[UPDATE: Apparently, Nordhaus had a strong, negative reaction to the use of his research in the Wall Street Journal op-ed (see here).]

Peter Gleick, a scientist and contributor to a blog at Forbes.com quite correctly slammed the Journal for its "remarkable editorial bias on climate science" (see here). And he is among 38 co-authors of a letter appearing in this morning's Wall Street Journal calling on the paper to stop playing ideological games with important scientific issues. As the letter notes, the Journal's op-ed was akin to seeking the "expert" opinion on a patient's heart condition from a group of dentists.

How much credit should the Journal receive for now having published the climate scientists' rebuttal to the doubters' op-ed? Is it an indication that the Journal's editorial page really is fair after all? Not at all. There is no comparing a big-headline op-ed to a small-type letter subsequently published as a response. One can only hope that the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal suffers enough general reputational harm from the episode that subscribers and/or advertisers force it to reform its policies. Given the Journal's subscriber and advertising base, however, no one should hold her breath waiting for that to happen. At the end of the day, the Journal's staff seems to have made its respective publication decisions on both op-eds (from the 255 climate scientists and the 16 "experts") not in the interest of educating its readers, but simply to pander to their preexisting, scientifically under-informed prejudices.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. Actually, the response letter to the WSJ was signed by 38 climate scientists, not 26 -- though the number is not (of course) the point.

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