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Benny Peiser: Media Has A Responsibility To Publish Independent Analysis Of Climate ‘Consensus’

The integrity of Western media depends on whether they encourage critique and fault-finding analysis – or whether they will drift more and more towards gullible campaign journalism.

Should critics of renewable energy be allowed to voice their objections in the opinion pages of newspapers? Doesn’t the protest against eco-taxes or the attack on wind and solar energy subsidies (and the redistribution of wealth from poor to rich that follows), contravene the media’s core principle of “accurate, fair and balanced reporting”, as green energy lobbyists complain?

And what about climate sceptics? Should they be permitted to express their doubts in the comments pages of newspapers? After all, probing the conventional wisdom about global warming has been branded as “deliberately misleading” by green campaigners who claim that any scepticism of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consensus is violating the principle of the media’s own code of conduct.

The former climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has lamented that balanced reporting of climate change has seriously undermined the drive for political action: “If you take our mainstream media, it will often seek to provide some balance between people who base their views on the mainstream science and people who don’t. That’s a very strange sort of balance. It’s a balance of words, and not a balance of scientific authority.”

A growing number of climate scientists and environmental campaigners are conducting an organised campaign against the principles of fair and balanced journalism that epitomise open and pluralistic societies.

Political activists are concerned that any doubts, uncertainties and objections expressed in the media may hinder drastic political action. No wonder, then, that campaigners are employing strategies to discourage or intimidate editors from inviting critics to explain their objections. Occasionally, a probing editor or columnist dares to challenge these forms of coercion despite the threats of protest and intimidation. In such cases, a whole army of campaigners and bloggers will rush to assail the insubordinate journalist.

Science based on “consensus” is a tricky business. I am agnostic about it because the history of science tells us that today’s consensus can – and quite frequently is – tomorrow’s redundant theory.

There are certain types of general agreements in science that are more compelling and more durable than others. In some areas of empirical science, such as solar system astronomy, there is more agreement because the data is more robust and the methods less complex. The more complex the science and the less reliable the data, the more scientific controversy you should expect to find. On the other hand we also know that science tends to produce – and, in fact, needs – scientific paradigms, which is perhaps a better word than consensus.

So I have really no problem with the fact that a majority of climate scientists believe they fully understand the main drivers of climate change.

But science would quickly come to a dead end without the constant and necessary attempts to scrutinise and falsify the leading paradigm of the day, particularly those that are weak and based on contentious data, dodgy methodologies and flawed computer models. Indeed, some critics argue that climate science has almost reached such a cul-de-sac.

The scientific endeavour involves both the protectors and challengers of each and every paradigm. Both are essential to the health and dynamic of a highly competitive enterprise that is science. No consensus is sacrosanct.

And it is in the very nature of fair and balanced journalism that all reasonable positions and counter-arguments should be heard.

While green campaigners are trying to frame even the energy and economic debates in the traditional fashion of a conflict between consensus and dissent, the political debate is no longer about action versus inaction.

The real issue today is about the most cost-effective ways of dealing with climate change: revolutionary transformation of the global economy, as advocated by climate alarmists, or gradual adaptation and adjustment to whatever nature may throw at us in the future, as proposed by environmental moderates.

Despite the majority view among climate scientists, science organisations and governments, there is a sizeable minority of researchers, economists and political observers who are concerned about the apocalyptic nature of climate hype and the growing risk this form of collective hysteria poses for political and economic stability. Sceptical researchers will continue to publish critical papers and critical columnists will publish comments that question the so-called climate consensus.

Should the mainstream media provide a platform for these critics? Should they discuss the weight of their evidence and the validity of their arguments? Or should the media simply ignore challenges to the status quo?

The integrity of Western media depends on whether they encourage critique and fault-finding analysis – or whether they will drift more and more towards gullible campaign journalism.

Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an all-party and non-party think tank based in London.

The Australian, 2 June 2012