Sunday, August 05, 2007

Is There More Information/Less Truth?

In an article called The Truth About Denial for Newsweek, Sharon Begley reports:

Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change.

Draw your own conclusions about the truth or falsehood of global warming. The move to "Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate" as Mulder once put it on the X-Files is what concerns me.

It's not limited to the global warming debate. Of late, and yeah it may make me sound paranoid, I've detected an agenda in seemingly random comments in the Web 2.0 world, on blogs and op-eds, not in the immediate blog circle but in the blogosphere at large.

Never mind the topics. You can probably figure out the issues I follow by a browse through the archives, but specifics are irrelevant.

If it's happening on one issue, it's happening on others. Commenters with a particular point of view seem to converge on blogs, espousing similar ideas, just like a politician with a couple of talking points.

I guess the consistency of a message is the best way to recognize a questionable ripple in the pond.

It all seems a little more murky than whichever bias you believe the media might hold. Media outlets recently fired a lot of reporters when disclosures revealed they had contributed to candidates of any stripe.

Pulling at the ethics thread
Journalism in general has a high code of ethics. Higher than most professions. Lawyers after all are often in the business of constructing believable fiction which becomes real to the blind eyes of justice if the fiction is sold to the party of 12 in the jury box. Junk science doesn't have to hold up to peer review if 12 laymen accept it. (Addendum: Perhaps this is an oversimplification of how the legal system and lawyers work, but my thought is that it's more about selling hypotheses to a jury than dealing with empirical data.)

The blogosphere, however, hasn't developed a similar code for citizen journalists. The perspective of many blogs is obvious, yet there's definitely no code random commenters who might be averge Joes or Jolenes or marketing shills.

We have access to more information than ever, yet the truth is more elusive than ever before.

There are liars, and I think there are more damned liars out there than ever before. What a shame they're littering the information super highway.


Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, my response to this article is that this person is on a crusade that has nothing to do with truth. Her use of terms like "deniers" to link those who disagree with her agenda to the holocaust is a clear illustration of this. She doesn't want facts, she wants hysterically to act against the evils of global warming and to blame humans for the problem.

I just heard the former chief meterologist for Louisiana speak on this yesterday and he contradicted everything this woman has written with hard data and a more reasonable rhetoric.

The facts are, as I understand them.
1. The earth has warmed over the past couple of decades and I don't know personally ANY scientist that has denied this.

2. "Some" of the rapid warming in the last decade is probably being exacerbated by human fossil fuel burning.

3. No one has taken a close look at sun activity as correlated with the warning, even as most scientists agree that the sun has become more variable in output during the recent few decades.

4. Everyone in the media focuses on CO2 when water vapor, and other greenhouse gases are at least if not more important.

5. Some climate models have been predicting this warming for fifty years as a natural cycle of "inter-ice age effects.

6. in the 70s, many areas of the world actually experience a mini cold spell that lasted years.

7. while heat averages have gone up in much of the US during the past decade, they've actually gone down in southern areas such as Louisiana, alabama, Georgia, mississippi.

8. and so on and so on.

The problem is that some of the folks who argue for global warming are proselytizing for it as if it's a new religion instead of investigating it as a scientific question. The first thing that should not be done is to call scientists who disgree with some or most elements of the global warming concept nasty names. The fellow who spoke yesterday told me that he knew two state meterologists who were censured by their governors for speaking out against some elements of the global warming hypothesis because the governor's "constituents" wanted "action" on global warming taken. In other words, deny your own scientific integrity in the service of politics.

Sidney said...

Charles, I'll stipulate to your points about global warming and greenhouse gases and varying opinions from scientists.

I probably didn't articulate it well, but it's not one issue that concerns me but that there is, and probably has been, a "viral" effort on a host of issues orchestrated by marketing firms/lobbyists etc.

Somebody says blah, blah in a blog post.

Commenter A is an average web surfer and offers an opinion.

Commenter B and C however are staff members from a marketing firm who post "opinions" reiterating talking points on an issue.

It's a cynical use of the free exchange that blogs are.

Erik Donald France said...

All very interesting. . .

Documentation provides some accountability, at least.

The worst offenders for any message are "spokespeople" and "press secretaries." Why anyone ever takes them seriously is beyond me. As for blog-bombing, I'll keep an eye out for it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oh I'm agreeing with your points about the "confusion" of the truth. I think you're right on. I think the global warming issue does illustrate that pretty well. Unfortunately for the reader trying to make sense of things, the obfuscation too often comes from both sides of the picture.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

I have been watching Moyers' program on how the media was manipulated by the politics of 9-11 to give the administration a free pass regarding the conflicting intelligence on Iraq. The most important thing Moyers has communicated is that journalists have given into pressure, surrendering their ethics and journalistic integrity to corporate and political agendas.

I think whether we are talking about global warming or privatization of the military, we need a choir of voices out there who are able to dispassionately and intelligently study an issue,

Hey, I may be a left wing crazy, but when I read a story that supports my point of view, I have to immediately check it against two or three sources. I'm tired of feeling manipulated by the press and our government. And my dogs. But at least the dogs are cute.

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