Sunday, January 21, 2007

Political Weather

Via Melanie Morgan, an interesting revelation about recent goings-on at the Weather Channel. Here’s an excerpt, but do read the whole thing:

Emotional weather forecasting?

The Weather Channel is launching a new website and broadband channel dedicated solely to global warming called “One Degree” and has a weekly program called “The Climate Code,” devoted almost entirely to liberal advocacy on climate matters.

The network is running advertisements showcasing scared and confused Americans, including children and senior citizens, wondering about the coming apocalypse caused by global warming. (You can view the ad for yourself here.)

The chief martyr for the new “emotional” approach to broadcasting at The Weather Channel is Dr. Heidi Cullen, who serves as the network’s cheerleader for global warming hysteria. Cullen’s supposed expertise on climatology includes, among other things, earning a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern religions and history from Juniata College. One must indeed have to believe in the mystical to accept anything Ms. Cullen has to say about climatology.

Writing for the One Degree blog, Ms. Cullen recently threw a hissy fit that some meteorologists are openly questioning the conclusions drawn by the Greenpeace crowd about the nature, extent, causes and even existence of global warming.

Cullen’s diatribe, titled “Junk Controversy Not Junk Science,” called on the American Meteorological Society to start requiring all meteorologists to toe the line on liberal interpretation of global warming, or else lose the organization’s certification.

George Orwell’s 1984 couldn’t have concocted a better form of thought control.

This situation at the Weather Channel is a lovely example of the challenges that face ordinary people who would like to get objective information about a controversial topic.

It’s perfectly reasonable, I think, for people to have a default expectation that a television channel called “The Weather Channel” would supply objective information about weather. Reasonable, but (as Melanie’s story shows) completely erroneous. So a credulous viewer of the Weather Channel can be forgiven for making the assumption that what’s being presented there is either factual, or is the current consensus of meteorology.

But that assumption is wrong.

Like any other commercial broadcaster whose revenues are derived from advertising, the Weather Channel chooses its programming in the manner it believes will maximize the number of viewers (because advertising rates, and therefore revenue, are determined by audience size). What view of global warming would attract the most viewers: (a) global warming is caused by mankind’s activities and disasters are imminent, or (b) we’re not sure if there even is global warming, much less what caused it or what the consequences might be. I’m pretty sure that the answer is (a) — even though that is not the consensus of meteorologists.

The Weather Channel’s best interests are not served by accurately portraying the science of meteorology. Understand that, and it’s easy to be skeptical of anything they tell you.

But it gets worse, as I’ve blogged about before. Meteorology is in a curious state at the moment; a state that is guaranteed to warp the scientific results. The problem is that the majority of funding for meteorologists is going to those who are studying global warming. Especially large amounts are going to those who are building models that can help predict future climate trends and weather events. The scientists who receive these funds are human, and they have a vested interest in having those funds continue to pour into their efforts. Any hint that global warming is a less dramatic process, or that it is caused more by Mother Nature than mankind, is a direct threat to their funding. How do you think they react to that? Of course they are defensive, and of course they will loudly proclaim the value of what they do.

So the science gets warped; always in such situations there is a bias towards that science result that generates the most funding. Right now, in meteorology, that’s global warming caused by (and fixable by) mankind.

You won’t hear that on the Weather Channel, because that doesn’t help them get more viewers.

What’s an average Joe to do? How can any observer hope to sort all this stuff out, and figure out what to believe and how to assess the relative risks? To even more specific, how’s an American citizen supposed to figure out whether it’s more important to spend tax dollars on (say) fixing the Social Security structural problems, or on addressing global warming?

I’ve only found one answer to this: to actively practice skepticism. This implies all sorts of things, but perhaps more than anything it implies a lack of credulity (i.e., don’t just believe what you’re told), an active search for opposing views, and a reliance on evidence and successful prediction.

With respect to global warming, a skeptic will find that the evidence is beyond skimpy. When you read the global warming proponents, you’ll find lots and lots of future projections and darned little solid evidence — and there are plenty of different opinions amongst scientists on the interpretation of what little evidence there is. A little searching on the web will also yield (as I have blogged about before) well-credentialed and respected meteorologists who are skeptical of the validity of the models that support global warming.

In fact, those models suffered a rather spectacular failure this year — and of course this failure was not widely reported in the mainstream media (that’s not the sort of thing that attracts new viewers). Those models predicted a terrible hurricane season this year; as bad or even worse than last year’s. Instead we had a very mild hurricane season. So, in plain English, the models that global warming advocates are relying on to support their case for the disasters that will be visited on us in the coming decades — those models failed miserably to predict something happening six months in the future. Why should we believe those models are correct?

From a skeptic’s perspective, the notion that global warming is caused by mankind’s activities is simply not a proven case. We can’t say with certainty that it’s wrong, mind you — but we for darned sure can’t say that it’s right, either. And I, for one, would like to know that the vast sums of money and resources our government proposes to spend on mitigating global warming would actually have some positive effect before we start spending it. And I’d also like to have a rational public discourse on the relative priorities of the various things the government could spend money on.

There I go, fantasizing again…

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