Saturday, March 29, 2014

From Bad to Worse:Kochs to Steyers, May to Green, RPJ to Krugman/Mann

Villains and other villains, and press wars, and useful idiots.

The blog has been quiet - probably due to a combination of an interminably long winter locally and far too many related articles which are interesting not particularly because to the content, but because of the fight.
To honour 'earth hour' appropriately - here's some nastiness.

Re: the weather.  Saw a Tom Burke article in the Guardian only because it starts with that great political quote on what sets agendas: "Events, dear boy, events."  Burke figures extreme weather have put climate change back on some agendas.

The weather is setting my mood, if not my agenda.  I made an outdoor rink for several years - each year hoping that maybe weather would permit it before the Christmas holidays (it didn't) - hoping some freak warm spell wouldn't wipe it out in January (usually did) ... and that maybe it would hold on through the kids' March school break (never happened). This year our local temperature went below freezing about 3 weeks into November, and the river is still frozen over with about 2 feet of snow on the ground.

Burke ain't appealing to me today.
Bring the heat.

Things that have my attention 1: WaPo/Powerline (Steiner/Koch?) and May/Green

The Washington Post ran an article on March 20th, by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin with the enormous title, "The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers." I won't quote from it, because apparently it was very poor - assuming as factual statements in a short report from a wingnut group, taken from the same group's report the prior year.

When I say wingnut I mean their works of the past few years, broken down to single word summaries, are: Koch, Billionaires, Kochs, Billionaires, nuclear, climate.

You know the type

I noticed the article because of a Powerline blog rebuttal: Washington Post Falls for Left-Wing Fraud, Embarrasses Itself.  More correctly, I'd never heard of the Kochs in the oil sands so I read a rebuttal after the normal twits were spreading the normal smears in a slightly original manner.

More entertaining, for a blogger, is that the Washington Post then posted a response to the Powerline debunking of their first piece: Why we wrote about the Koch Industries and its leases in Canada's oil sands (by the same writers as the first piece).  That rebuttal included:
The Powerline article itself, and its tone, is strong evidence that issues surrounding the Koch brothers’ political and business interests will stir and inflame public debate in this election year. That’s why we wrote the piece.
That's probably not why, as Powerline noted in responding to the response
So in the Post’s view, it is acceptable to publish articles that are both literally false ... and massively misleading ... if by doing so the paper can “stir and inflame public debate in this election year.
Now another Washington paper is picking up on implications from the Powerline pieces that the big funding opposing KXL is from Tom Steyer - a billionaire either fighting climate change or manipulating opponents to enrich himself ... in stark contrast to the Posts decisions to brand KXL with the billionaire Kochs who fund political groups as does Steyer  - although ones with rather different policy aims.

WaPo's claim that publishing crap is great if it stimulates discussion is not the only recent time I've seen the justification of publishing highly questionable statements as the presentation of an incentive to seek ultimate truth.

Elizabeth May, leader of Germany's Green Party in Canada, recently blogged "4 facts about Keystone XL"; considering the first point was "Keystone hurts the Canadian economy" it came as no surprise there was a response to the idiocy, including, from the Fraser Institute's Kenneth P. Green, Elizabeth May's Fact Sheet Is More of an Opinion Sheet.  The interesting point, to me, was May's response to the critic included:
From reviewing Mr. Green’s piece, it seems he never actually read my letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. In an effort to draw interest to the letter, a simplified version was circulated by the Green Party as an email message, summarizing some of the points, but including the link to the full submission. Mr. Green seems to have only gotten as far as the short email.
Maybe May shouldn't have tried to entice the reading of the full letter by first asking, in the brief summary, that the U.S.go against the wishes of the Canadian government on the basis of, among other things, it being in the best interest of Canadians -if only we stupid northeners knew what was good for us.

Interesting communication strategy - one I should probably have said something about when I saw Michael E. Mann's New York Times op-ed, If You See Something, Say Something.  I saw somebody well known for a graph showing exponential growth in the temperature growth rate many years ago - coinciding with the cessation of growth in temperatures in my world (which is, admittedly, a pretty limited area).
However, the damage from Sandy was still fresh enough for the "events, dear boy" opportunity to spin - presumably Mann sees that event as indicative of something.

NY Times' spin might be partially attributable to Nate Silver decision to move away from that publication to the promise of data-driven objective information being presented at  The premise that new approach would be well received took a big hit after the site carried Roger Pielke Jr.'s Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change.

I like RPJ, in no small part because he has an interest in statistics and sports that transcends this climate/energy intelligence trap so much of my writing is about.  Soccer, speed skating equipment, predicting Olympic hockey outcomes; all neat things that can provide, I think, teaching opportunities for people like my sons - lessons that by paying attention to what information is available something can be learned ... something that doesn't involve f'in Armageddon.

RPJ is apparently hated, by the Manns and Krugmans and other Yankee group thinkers, for something or other to do with climate or something.  FiveThirtyEight is going to commission a response to his article - not sure when as their "No. 1 choice is traveling" - something those really concerned with climate change do a lot of.

Washington Posts wonk blog ex-star, Ezra Klein, seems to be getting no easier ride than FiveThirtyEight's Silver.  With all due respect to both (and they deserve a lot of it), New Statesman hits the right concern with; On Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight: is it possible for a data-driven journalist to tell a good story?
... does maths matter when crafting a narrative? In the backlash against FiveThirtyEight, a few themes have emerged. There’s the idea that all the data analysis in the world can’t always tell a good story – sometimes the numbers don’t offer any space for strong conclusions. There’s the idea that data can never tell the whole story – that the reader needs more to grab onto than the aggregate. Silver speaks of the difficulty in telling stories from “generalisations” that aren’t steeped in data; I’d argue it’s an enormous challenge to tell any story with only generalisations.
Perhaps there needs to be more collaboration between traditional journalists and statisticians, rather than each team going it alone or a push for the next crop of journalists to try to master both skills. Right now, there’s just something lacking in the questions a lot of data-driven journalists are asking – and, for now, at least, there’s still something lacking in the way they present the answers. I’m reminded of Choire Sicha’s fantastic line to the tech bros whose start-up manifestos clogged Medium in its early months: “Words are like code. You have to put them in the right order for things to work.” Numbers can’t be treated like words, but there’s clearly a need for both of them in journalism. We just need to find a better way for them to live side by side.
Which returns me to some regret at not commenting on "If you see something say something" by Michael Mann - which I didn't read, and I'm not ever likely to read anything by Michael Mann.  I'm not proud of that - but there's billions of people on the earth and I don't  need to pay attention to all of them. Mann patterned a graph that hasn't been true: science might support him, but if it does surely he can co-ordinate with skilled communicators to get the message out without the baggage of his unseemly self.

If you see something, and you really feel that a message needs to be communicated about it, you should find a communicator to spin a tale that communicates the message.

I should end there, but...
Events dear boy, events... and data ... and communication ... and integrity.

Events are nice to talk about - and for provoking discussion - but I don't believe much of the criticism of Roger Pielke Jr. was warranted, and alleged scientists aren't who I'd trust to judge how much disasters cost.

For the money men, the alarmist's alarmism presents one thing to the most astute: the opportunity to write policies.
Events, dear boy, make chumps.

If I'm going to receive an opinion on the costs of climate change, it may as well be from the guy owning a big chunk of the global insurance business.

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