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Donna Laframboise: Polar Bears & The Sleazy New York Times

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Donna Laframboise, No Frakking Consensus

SPOTLIGHT: Journalistic professionalism evaporates in front of our eyes. TOP TAKEAWAY: Environmental reporting at the New York Times is a disgrace.

BIG PICTURE: When historians document the demise of the mainstream media, an article published this week by the New York Times will make an excellent case study. Titled “Climate Change Denialists Say Polar Bears Are Fine. Scientists Are Pushing Back,” it’s written by Erica Goode who isn’t just any journalist. She’s a former Environment Editor of the Times. In 2009, she “founded and led a cluster of reporters dedicated to environmental reporting.” Currently, she’s a visiting professor at Syracuse University.

Out here in the real world, a debate exists about polar bears. Will they be adversely affected by climate change or will they continue to adapt as they have historically?

Since the future hasn’t yet arrived, it’s impossible to know whose opinions will turn out to be correct. But rather than presenting a range of perspectives to her readers, Goode takes sides. Apparently clairvoyant, she knows that experts concerned about the long term prospects of polar bears are correct. She knows that dissenting voices are wrong. No other possibility is conceivable within the confines of her exceedingly narrow mind.

She doesn’t tell us that researchers with significant academic records and decades of experience can be found on both sides of this question. Instead, in the first sentence of her article, Goode negates all possibility that a legitimate debate might be in progress. Climate “denialists,” she declares, are “capitalizing” on the iconic status of polar bears “to spread doubts about the threat of global warming.”

Goode knows the dissenters are playing politics. She knows their motives are profane. With a wave of her hand, she thus relieves herself of the obligation to take seriously these alternative viewpoints.

People who think polar bears are currently doing well – a separate question from how they might fare in the future – are similarly labeled “climate denialists” by Goode in paragraph four. Individuals on the other side of the fence, meanwhile, are portrayed as “real experts” and “mainstream scientists.”

Last November, a shocking paper was published online. It has now appeared in the print edition of the journal BioScience. Titled “Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate Change Denial by Proxy,” the PDF version fills five pages of text, followed by two pages of references. This is an assault by a gang of 14 authors on an individual scholar.

The target is Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist and adjunct professor with more than 35 years experience in her field. As the author of PolarBearScience.com, Crockford performs a public service. She encourages us to look past activist spin and media hype. Not everything we’re told about polar bears, she says, rests on a solid foundation.

While it’s appropriate for these 14 people to challenge Crockford’s assertions, their tone is anything but scholarly. This is five pages of name-calling. PolarBearScience.com is labeled a “denier blog” at the outset. So are online venues that cite Crockford’s work. The term ‘denial’ is used 9 times. ‘Denier’ 18 times. ‘Deniers’ 12 times.

The entire exercise is brazenly political.

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