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#################### Geoff Seidner
Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Will Barbeau: It’s wrong to challenge senator on climate
In his Nov. 10 Commentary piece (“Senator wrong on climate, free speech”), Herbert E. Stevens of North Kingstown questions the actions of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to keep global warming high on the world’s agenda.
Known as “The Skiing Weatherman,” Stevens sells weather forecasting to ski areas and golf courses. In 2009, he demanded removal of Michael Mann from the Penn State faculty, his alma mater. Professor Mann was a lead writer of the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming and currently is distinguished professor of meteorology and director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center. Stevens holds a B.A. in meteorology from Penn State. He seems to have a bee in his bonnet about global warming.
Stevens is unmoved that 97 percent of the world’s climate researchers believe humans cause most global warming. That includes 200 worldwide scientific organizations, intergovernmental bodies such as the IPCC panel, U.S. government agencies, and 18 U.S. scientific associations.
Yet The Skiing Weatherman, facing this global army of environmental Ph.Ds, can’t resist trying to destroy somebody’s career. He demanded removal of a Penn State faculty member, and in his attack on the senator suggests that Rhode Island voters should have second thoughts about sending their distinguished senator back to Washington.
Which brings us to why The Journal ran this eruption from a modestly qualified person against a solid political figure on an issue scientists now consider closed as a “debate.” The newspaper justifies this under the high journalistic principle of permitting discussion on an important issue.
Back in the mid-1950s public relations guru John Hill was hired to defend the tobacco industry against data showing that tobacco killed people. Hill succeeded by duping editors with their own standard. He convinced them they should cover both sides of the issue. His purpose was to create doubt about the science. It worked. Doubting smokers died early.
The public relations profession found a lucrative source of new business working for “science deniers.” There is now so much science denial activity that a Stanford University group studies it under the leadership of Robert Proctor. They call it “Agnotology” and have a book and website explaining their research.
I asked the Public Relations Society of America if denying science was considered an ethical activity for its members. The answer came back: No, it isn’t ethical. I forwarded that response to Mr. Proctor.
Meanwhile, who can teach editors that the “other side” of science can only be more science? Or that the “other side” of opinion can only be more opinion? Opinion versus science is fraud and does not qualify under the worthy journalistic standard of covering both sides of an issue.
Accusing the senator of trying to limit free speech was interesting. There is now serious reconsideration among leading journalists about publishing the claims of climate deniers. The Los Angeles Times no longer publishes letters claiming that man does not cause climate change.
Whitehouse will long be remembered for seeking to protect future generations from consequences of today’s distractions. Fifteen years ago, he did the same thing for Rhode Island’s problem with corruption.
A new book, “Secrets and Scandals,” by Common Cause Rhode Island’s former executive director Phil West, describes how Whitehouse guided him to the fact that the “deep root” of corruption in Rhode Island was the absence of “separation of powers” among the three branches of government. Common Cause set up a task force that helped make the needed changes to the state’s Constitution. I served on that task force.
Rhode Island sent a star to Washington. He is thinking about tomorrow’s world. For that, he deserves all of the support and respect we can give him.