Wall Street Journal: Selectively Pro-Science
“Rigorous scientific studies have not identified links between autism and either thimerosal-containing vaccine or the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine” (Miller and Reynolds, 2009). The scientific community also tells us that the world is round, that smoking is strongly linked to lung cancer, and that humans are causing global warming. Recently, there were multiple editorials and op-eds in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) bemoaning the fact that people have not believed the scientific community on the question of vaccine safety.
Unfortunately, while the WSJ touts accurate science with regard to vaccines, the WSJ is anti-science when it comes to climate change. Read on for an analysis of the WSJ’s coverage of climate change and to read an excellent Letter to the Editor that was never published.
The WSJ has an archive of editorials and op-eds in a category labeled Climate Change that is only available to subscribers. (Non-subscribers can see a few lines of content for each opinion piece but not the entire piece.) Between October 2008 and January 25, 2011 there were a total of 86 items in the archive. I decided to sign up for a one-year subscription ($103) that featured a two-week free trial period. After reading all 86 items, I canceled via phone and was not charged.
I scored eachopinion piece using the following criteria:
PRO: Supported the scientific consensus.
CON: Did not support the scientific consensus, mocked or attacked the science or scientists, or cherry-picked data to cast doubt.
MISSING: Ignored any mention of human activities as a cause of climate change but did not misinform otherwise.
N/A: About non-science issues such as the pros and cons of cap and trade, carbon tax, political strategies, etc.
Figure 1 below shows the results:
There were only 4 op-eds (no editorials) that were pro-science!
Figure 2 below is the result of removing the 29 N/A pieces and combining the CON and MISSING pieces into one category.
Figure 3 below shows a pie chart of the WSJ’s opinion of climate science. It is the OPPOSITE of the scientific consensus!
97% of climate science experts and every international scientific organization endorses the conclusion that human activities are primarily responsible for modern global warming. An honest newspaper should reflect that consensus.
Why does the WSJ mis-report climate science 93% of the time?
After reading the editorials and op-eds it becomes clear that the WSJ does not like the SOLUTIONS to climate change so they attack, misinform, and ignore the science in the hope of avoiding or delaying dealing with the issue. A more honest approach would be to accept and explain the science of climate change and then debate how best to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Why did the WSJ side with science in its autism/vaccine articles and not with climate change science? The most likely answer is that they were protecting the pharmaceutical industry that profits from producing vaccines and other medicines while also protecting the fossil fuel-based industries that profits from the current carbon status quo.
The WSJ should be telling its readers what they NEED to hear and not what they WANT to hear.
They have an obligation to report the overwhelming consensus on scientific issues so that their subscribers can make informed decisions, especially when those decisions have great financial consequences.
When considering future investments, WSJ readers cannot peer into the crystal ball if their heads are buried in the sand.
Dr. A. J. Dessler wrote a letter to the WSJ pointing out the irony of coverage of climate change science which he has allowed me to post here. The letter was not published by WSJ:
Your Editorial, “The Autism Hoax” Jan 8-9, 2011, highlights the failure of the medical scientific community to quickly put down an errant 1998 publication in The Lancet that blamed childhood vaccines for a coincident rise in diagnoses of autism. An explanation for this extended time for resolution can be offered by considering a parallel with what is happening with the present scientific findings on global warming. The Editorial states, “Researchers have all the while continued to churn out studies disproving the vaccine-autism link”, but nothing much happened for a decade. Similarly the atmospheric science community continues to “churn out studies” proving that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are largely responsible for global warming. Professional scientific organizations have collected, condensed, and synthesized these studies to estimate a range of climate consequences that can be expected.
However, the media, sensationalizing the inevitable contrary work by a negligible minority of the qualified scientific community, has caused doubt to pervade public perception. It is perhaps puzzling that statements on global warming by, for example, the American Academy of Sciences, American Meteorological Society, and America Physical Society, have not dominated media reporting. But the media usually gives roughly equal weight to the skeptical ideas of a small number of qualified scientists. As in the vaccine-autism debate, this has inflated the ideas of only a few to produce conflict in public thinking. It is important that the media not exaggerate skeptical ideas of a few individuals over the considered work of many hundreds of qualified researchers, lest the vaccine-autism circus be repeated.
A.J. Dessler holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Duke University and is presently and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University.