Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

AP's Values in Action

I mentioned earlier that the AP has a values statement which is supposed to govern its work.

Well, here's a recent example of the Associated Press's value statement in action. I quote the article in question in full only because doing so is necessary to give the full flavor of the article, and to avoid allegations of cherry-picking phrases. My editorial comments are bracketed:

Government scientists detailed a rising death toll from heat waves, wildfires, disease and smog caused by global warming in an analysis the White House buried so it could avoid regulating greenhouse gases.

[Well, right here in the opening paragraph, the AP has managed to violate a fair number of their value statements. For example, we have obvious bias via the (so far) unwarranted attribution of impure motives to the White House, as evidenced by words such as "buried" and "avoid". How can the AP presume to know that the White House "buried" the analysis, or that it did so to "avoid regulating greenhouse gases"? Do they have a source for either of these assertions? Well, let's read on and see.]

In a 149-page document released Monday, the experts laid out for the first time the scientific case for the grave risks that global warming poses to people, and to the food, energy and water on which society depends.

[Okay, who exactly are "the experts"? What makes them so? How are they qualified to offer a scientific opinion on the effects of global warming? Well, we don't know because we are not told. This failure to identify the specific source seemingly conflicts with the AP's policy of always striving "to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information – not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable." Instead, we are simply assured by the AP that the anonymous bureaucrats who authored the report are "experts."]

"Risk (to human health, society and the environment) increases with increases in both the rate and magnitude of climate change," scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency said. Global warming, they wrote, is "unequivocal" and humans are to blame.

[Now this is most definitely an opinion, and one that a great many scientist challenge. The AP makes no effort to be fair or unbiased by offering up contradictory evidence or other "experts" who would dispute the findings--experts like Richard Lindzen of MIT; former Colorado State climatologist Roger Pielke, Sr.; the University of Alabama’s Roy Spencer and John Christy; Virginia State Climatologist Patrick Michaels; Colorado State University’s William Gray; atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer; Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Oregon State climatologist George Taylor; and astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas, to name just a few.]

The document suggests that extreme weather events and diseases carried by ticks and other organisms could kill more people as temperatures rise.

[Again, no attempt to be fair here. Many scientist and economists have noted that global warming will provide significant benefits which may more than outweigh its costs--benefits like longer growing seasons, increased crop yields, decreased famine, more efficient shipping lanes, and a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths due to cold (which greatly exceed those due to heat). But the AP doesn't seem to care about any of this despite the fact that a simple Google search produces numerous articles like this one.]

Allergies could worsen because climate change could produce more pollen. Smog, a leading cause of respiratory illness and lung disease, could become more severe in many parts of the country. At the same time, global warming could mean fewer illnesses and deaths due to cold.

[Ah, at last we have a reluctant one sentence admission that global warming would have some benefits, but no attempt to detail them or quantify them or place them in relation to the predicted devastation of global warming].

"This document inescapably, unmistakably shows that global warming pollution not only threatens human health and welfare, but it is adversely impacting human health and welfare today," said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. "What this document demonstrates is that the imperative for action is now."

[Okay, so here we are offered an opinion from an obviously biased source, the deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. To be fair, one would expect that the AP would now offer a quote from a competing expert, right? Maybe someone from Heartland.org. Well, no. Instead, they attempt to portray the Bush administration as a lonely global warming denier motivated solely by political considerations.]

While the science pointed to a link between public health and climate change, the Bush administration has worked to discourage such a connection. To acknowledge one would compel the government to regulate greenhouse gases.

The administration on Friday dismissed the scientists' findings when it made clear that the Clean Air Act was the wrong tool to control global warming pollution. Instead, the administration asked for public comment on a range of ways to reduce greenhouse gases from cars, airplanes, trains and smokestacks under the 1970 law.


[How did the administration "dismiss" the findings? Why did it do so? Was it reasonable in doing so? Did it have access to contradictory science that would give it pause? Well, we aren't told.]

A better solution, the EPA said, would have Congress writing a law aimed just at global warming.

Jonathan Shradar, a spokesman for EPA chief Stephen Johnson, said that while the administrator knows that "the science is clear and that climate change is a significant issue", Johnson did not want to make a "rash decision under the wrong law."

"Once there is an endangerment finding, then the Clean Air Act is activated and regulation may begin," Shradar said..


[Why would the EPA be motivated to make such a finding? Is it reasonable to assume that the EPA is motivated purely by the public interest? Could it have political motivations that would taint its "science"? Well, we don't know, and the UP certainly isn't going to ask]

In December, the White House refused to open an e-mail from the EPA that included the finding that climate change endangered public welfare. The determination was based on an earlier, and similar version of the document released Monday. At the time, the White House insisted on removing all references to the science, according to Jason K. Burnett, a former adviser to Johnson on climate issues.

Burnett, a Democrat, has charged that Vice President Dick Cheney's office deleted portions of congressional testimony last October prepared by the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that made similar assertions on the health effects of global warming. The White House contends the testimony was changed because of doubts about the science

After the release of the EPA analysis, industry representatives suggested the link between climate change and health was weak.

"The question is not a scientific one. It is a legal and political question, of how much impact justifies the extraordinary use of the Clean Air Act," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of power companies.

While no one doubts that more people die in a heat wave, the question is whether that death is "related to man made greenhouse gas emissions," he said.


[More people die in a heat wave than in WHAT? If the implication is that more people die from heat than from cold, that implication is clearly false. As noted scientist Bjorn Lomborg has demonstrated, just in the last 10 years about 15 million people in Europe alone died from cold. That's more than 400 times the number of people who died from heat during the much publicized heatwave of 2003. Additionally, he notes that the biggest cross-European temperature study concludes that, with an increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the average European temperatures "any increase in mortality due to increased temperatures would be outweighed by much larger short-term declines in cold-related mortalities."

Does the AP mention any of this? Of course not.]

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