A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, March 11, 2005

British blogging, 'global warming' and the media.....

Recognition of the importance of the burgeoning blogosphere has been much slower in the UK than in America and, accordingly, its major media scalps have been fewer in number. But mainstream British journalists are at last beginning to wake up to the fact that their stranglehold on opinion and comment is now under significant threat - witness the somewhat tremulous piece in today's The Times by no less a luminary of the op.ed. than Sir Simon Jenkins:
"Earlier threats to the press came from new conduits of news and information. Today’s goes to the heart of my trade. It peddles opinion. I can pretend to occupy a higher plane. I can try pleading factual accuracy, consistency, incorruptibility and a quote or two from Shakespeare. But in truth I too am a blogger, snatching at some item of passing news to argue a case and persuade. And I charge for it. The blogger does it for nothing. I am on my mettle as never before."

One or two British journalists have already responded to this perceived threat by establishing their own thriving blogs, although these tend to masquerade as more sophisticated web sites and diaries. A classic example of such output is MelaniePhillips.com, which publishes a daily 'Diary' of opinion, as well as Melanie's mainstream columns for The Daily Mail and The Jewish Chronicle. Unquestionably, Melanie has benefited from developing this site, which has provided international recognition and enabled her to break free from the parochial constraints of her Daily Mail readership. It has also liberated her from the dictates of editors, who tend to lay down the topics for comment. During a recent lunch with another eminent woman journalist, the question of Melanie's blog was raised and I have a feeling that some of her colleagues may now be considering emulating this pioneering lead.

In the UK, the rise of the blogosphere is thus at last challenging the mainstream media, but in ways that may be subtly different from those in America and in other parts of the world. First, it is abundantly clear that many British bloggers are infinitely better and more penetrating commentators than their journalistic counterparts. Both 'Norman Geras' and 'Harry's Place', for example, are widely recognised as being in a different league from most mainstream commentators (I often read these before the press), while Scott Burgess at 'The Daily Ablution' is excoriating in his brilliant debunking of elite liberal twaddle from such newspapers as The Guardian and The Independent. At times, his blog is cruel in its exposure of prejudice masking as 'science'. And just read what Scott does to Simon Jenkins on blogging!

Secondly, bloggers are often in advance of the formal news, with even this site, for example, having reported the defection of Chris Landsea from the IPCC days before it was picked up by the media (see: 'Scientist resigns from IPCC over alleged politicization', January 17).

But thirdly, and more importantly, the British blogosphere is breaking the PC-stanglehold on media such as the BBC and ITV. The chattering classes are, somewhat paradoxically, under threat from a new chattering class, which they cannot so easily control and manage. No longer can stories be ignored because they do not fit pre-conceived editorial norms. No longer can inconvenient arguments and facts be damned by clever journalistic tricks without any chance of riposte. No longer can producers get away with an idea of 'balance' that includes, say, on a panel of four, one sceptic, for that sceptic, and others, may strike back swiftly through a blog. And it is no longer quite so easy for, say, 'Newsnight' to run an absolutely dreadful and uncritical programme on China and the environment (as it did this week) without somebody pointing out on the web how poor the report really was. To put it at its simplest: bloggers are no longer confined to trying to get a 'Letter to the Editor' published, with a 1-in-50 chance and a near certainty that, if it is ever published, it will be edited out of all recognition.

This is why the blogosphere is vital for any proper discussion of controversial topics such as 'global warming' and climate change. The British media have been so mesmerized by the drama of a doomed world ('Horizon' et al.) that they have abandoned their normal journalistic critical senses. Moreover, many producers tend to be natural sympathisers with The Guardian-style agenda behind the politics of 'global warming', i.e. anti-America, anti-Bush, anti-big corporations, anti-car, anti-capitalism, anti-industry, anti-development, anti-Iraq war, anti-Israel, etc., ad nauseam.

But we bloggers, "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" (put in to please Sir Simon), are having an effect, so much so that I'm amazed to hear demands for censorship from some commentators, and even from some scientists who should know better. And what precisely did Sir Simon mean by this little aside? "They have rebuilt the Tower of Babel and put microphones on top of it. Amid the noise, a still small voice of reason will still be heard. But it may require the help of Microsoft, not dead trees." Hm!

Blogging is at last challenging the control of newspaper magnates, of editors, of producers, and of those who only wish to pay lip-service to the true shuttlecock of free and open debate, because they, consciously or subconsciously, believe that they are an elite of their day. Oh! How often have I encountered the sin of Saruman amongst our media, that all-too-smug 'we-who-know-best' syndrome.

And how Galileo Galilei would surely have loved to have been able to blog from his house arrest at the villa "Il Goiello" in Arcetri, just outside Florence.

Blogging is the true democracy of comment against all the imprimatur of the world, and the excluded voices can no longer be cabin'd, cribb'd and confin'd by their 'betters'. All those deemed to be suffering from 'false consciousness' can now openly challenge the Sarumans who wish to think for them.

Philip, a poor blogger, but mine own. Lunch.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

An interview with Miss Jenny Wren.....

Exclusive to EnviroSpin

"Jenny Wren speaks out on 'global warming'"

Interviewed by our Hedgerow Correspondent, Berry Blackthorn:

Although extra-busy foraging beneath a nearby Cotoneaster shrub, Miss Jenny Wren (aged 3) still found time between catching insects and trilling the odd note to give us this brief interview:

B.B.: "Jenny, how has winter been for you so far this year?"

Jenny: "Tit-tit-tit...ccccc! Terrible, Berry. 'Roost Today' was telling us all the time that spring was going to be early through this so-called 'global warming' thing, and then, of course, we have had three weeks of nothing but freezing winds, snow, blizzards and ice. The hedge was so cold. Global warming's all twitter-twaddle. And we little birds feel it the worst, you know. With our teeny brown bodies, we can't keep in the heat, you see, and we had already used up our government SRHE [Special Roost Heating Allowance - 60 birds or more]. So it has been truly grim. Tit-tit-tit.... Uncle Winterkoning wrote to say that it had also been bad over in Germany - he lives at Roosthaus. And, of course, no apology from the BBC [Bird Broadcasting Corporation]. One funny thing, though. They were having a survey to show how early spring was becoming - not a tweet about this for the last four weeks. That really caused me to churrr."

B.B.: "I thought I hadn't heard you about so much this season?"

Jenny, grabbing an itinerant spider: "Yes, that's right. We should have started singing at the end of February, but only one or two of the hardiest made it out-hedge, even though we all want to be sure of our spring spaces. I suppose one good thing is that there have been fewer scuffles and squabbles than usual. The Chief Wren - Mr. Blaird - has hardly had to issue an ASBO [Anti-Social Bird Order] yet. Still, I hope it warms up soon - we have to make up for temp perdu, as Marcel Roost put it - by the way, in those freezing dusks, I have been enjoying the recent adaptation of Roost's work on 'Nestbook at Night'. At least that has been some compensation for all the silly broadcasting about 'global warming'..... Quite ruffled my feathers."

B.B.: "So what do you really think about climate change and the weather, Jenny?"

Jenny: "Well, we birds all know, of course, that the weather and climate are never the same from one year to the next. Great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great uncle Troglodyte (who was born in France) says in his 'Nest Diary' that it was terrible in the late 1940s and 50s, following a much nicer period. He lived to be 7 or 8! Amazing. We just take it as it comes, and adapt as best we can. That's all we birds can do. And double insulating your nest won't do a blind thing about it - not to mention stopping birds oiling their feathers. And as for wind farms? Ban the lot, I say. I hope everybody is going to support the campaign against those terrible things in the latest issue of Red Kite Magazine. We birds hate them.

Sorry, I must fly now as a distant cousin, Miss Gardsmyg, is popping over from Sweden and I have to meet her by the winter jasmine. Tit, tit. tit..... Bye!"

And with that, Jenny whirred off directly for Jasminerow Birdport.

Tomorrow: Berry Blackthorn interviews H. Sparrow of Laburnum Heights.

Philip, all a twitter. Time, coffee in hand, to see if Jenny is up-and-about in the garden.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A weighty issue: measuring the distance between Europe and America.....

One of the world's great mysteries is why the US never adopted the revolutionary and republican new system of weights and measures developed during the French Revolution, namely the Metric, or CGS, system based on the centimetre, gram and second. You would have thought that this would have been the perfect opportunity to demonstrate real democratic and revolutionary fervour and to shed all those remaining pounds from the heavy British legacy, the Imperial, or FPS, system of foot, pound and second.

But no! The US has doggedly (and ostrich-like) stuck with the remnants of an imperial past, despite the fact that, since 1960 and the universal adoption of the International System of Units (SI), metres, kilograms and seconds rule the Earth.

Now, although I'm with America on issues like 'global warming', the stubborn refusal to play measure-for-measure is surely a comedy of errors. And, what is worse, in the US, 'ton' (tn, or T) comes in two different measures of weight, namely, a 'long ton' and a 'short ton'. The 'long ton' is the old British Imperial measure of 2,240lb = 1.016t, but this was then adjusted in the US and Canada to the 'short ton', a measure of 2,000lb = 0.907t. All jolly helpful, guys. I never guessed that Lexington and Concord were about maintaining a foothold on those bridges. Then, just so the confusion is utter, the 'long ton' has been maintained in the US for the displacement of ships. I'm sunk. Miles too difficult for me.

So, come on you lot over the pond. It's time to shed that imperial past. If Liberty Bushwhacker really wants to mend some of the broken fences with Europe, why don't you just get up-to-date (at last!) (and logical) and join the rest us, yea, by the 10s, nay the 100s, nay the 1,000s, nay the 1,000,000s, nay en mass (kg)?

You did it for your currency, after all. And just think, if it wasn't for Paul Revere, you'd still be putting pounds shillings and pence in the collection plate of Boston Old North Church. Ding, dong.

Philip, foot-slogging to lose those pounds every second. A litre of coffee, mate?

Monday, March 07, 2005

On prizing my role as an independent academic.....

The following story in yesterday's The Observer highlights one of the prime reasons why I value so highly my complete independence as a free academic: '"Denial lobby" turns up the heat' (The Observer, March 6). Just examine for a moment this passage taken from the piece:
"Connections have already been established between some British sceptical organisations and their US cousins. The UK-based Scientific Alliance, which organised the meeting of sceptics in London last month, recently published a joint report with America's George C Marshall Institute, a think-tank which has received donations from Exxon."

You will notice that this employs the standard activist (and journalistic) conceit of trying to besmirch one group of people by asserting a long-distance association with another (more hated) organisation: thus, the very thoughtful UK-based Scientific Alliance is linked by just one report to America's George C. Marshall Institute, and then, by a wonderful sleight of hand, to, of course, who else, but Exxon.

I should thus be most grateful if readers would note that I am no longer a member of any organisation, from Greenpeace to Exxon (and not even of the Scientific Alliance), precisely so that I can maintain an absolute independence of opinion and a necessary freedom from all such attenuated journalistic slights. Thus, if you ever see, or hear, of attempts to link me with any group whatsoever, I should be most grateful if you would try to correct the error for me. Thank you so much.

Moreover, I have written for The Guardian, for The Times and for The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, I will write for any reasonable outlet, so long as it permits me to express my own views without editorial distortion. Only last year, however, I had to withdraw a piece from a magazine because the editor wished to alter the meaning of what I wanted to say.

If, therefore, my comments have any value at all, it is because I receive no payments or support from any vested interests. I very much hope that folk will remember this when I am in discussion on the radio or on television with a representative of a Green pressure group or with someone from industry, both of whom have vested interests. In such situations, I am, for good or ill, the only independent person under interview, and I can assure you that, right or wrong, I make up my own mind on all the evidence available. And, if that happens to make me a 'global warming' sceptic, so be it. But, at least, I trust people will do me the honour of accepting that I have arrived at my position through my own, honest endeavours.

Philip, all too well aware that the politics of science has become a very dirty game. But remember, truth is what matters, however much we only perceive it through a glass darkly. And what we do not know is so often the greater truth. Off to London to broadcast - independently.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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