The View from Nowhere Interviews Trenberth

Kevin Trenberth handles a discussion of the ongoing anomalies with his usual aplomb, but to my mind the most interesting aspect of this interview is the interviewer. You can practically see the journalistic mind operating against the human soul in this interview if you watch the interviewer as well as the interviewee.

First of all, kudos are to PBS for resisting the temptation to make this into a debate between a leading scientist and some politically motivated yahoo.

When Trenberth calls the current situation “without precedent”, Woodruff is journalist enough to call him on it. Trenberth does a good job of defending the claim, with reference to the context of the past few summers (East Australia, Russia, Texas). This goes well, too. A careful and unbiased listener, I think, ought to come away with a reasonably balanced view of the situation.

The problem arises when Woodruff struggles for an appropriate closing. You can see that she is horrified by what Trenberth is saying – she can see the apocalyptic implications of the calm, sober, and restrained scientific language. But her journalistic training causes her to avoid any reaction. She says this is all “something to keep you scientists busy”.

Let’s leave aside how confused a view of science this reveals. We do wish science journalists had a better idea of scientific practice, but it’s not an easy thing to convey.

What’s really interesting is her refusal to own the problem. Journalists own no problems and take no responsibility. This is a classic example of Jay Rosen’s View from Nowhere, and how it affects reporting on subjects of consequence. Trenberth really shines in rising to the occasion, and rejecting Woodruff’s rejection of the problem.

Scientists do not worry about severe events for a living. It is sort of a hobby for us.

The people who should worry about these things for a living are the press (and once the public is properly engaged, the policy sector). But the ideology of the press makes it impossible. This clip demonstrates it perfectly. We see Woodruff the human appalled by what Trenberth is saying, and yet we hear her as journalist robotically erecting defenses. And finally, we see Trenberth rising to the occasion and taking two seconds to not let her get away with it entirely.


  1. You needn't have fear that the PBS NewsHour is going to suddenly show any semblance of 'fair and balanced' reporting on global warming. As a two decade+ NewsHour viewer, I find it almost comical to see commenters at is online segment transcript pages of the broadcasts worrying themselves to a frenzy over alleged 'oil funding of the program' skewing its reporting.

    This is Kevin Trenberth's 3rd appearance on the program, the late Stephen Schneider was on 3 times, Michael Oppenheimer was on 8 times, Joel Smith was on once. All IPCC scientists. But if you check out the broadcast archives, not one skeptic scientist ever appeared to debate with the IPCC scientists, and none have been allowed to be interviewed in singular fashion like the IPCC scientists were, when it comes to giving climate assessments. Not one. EVER.

    Sure, Pat Michaels was on once in a taped March 2010 piece to offer some protest over the ClimateGate situation.... 4 months after it happened. And, George Taylor was on in June 2007, but that was more to explain the politics of his dismissal as Oregon's state climatologist. The only lengthy mention of skeptic science viewpoints I can find in all its online archives going back to 1996 was when Margaret Warner interviewed Western Fuels Association CEO Fred Palmer in-studio in Dec 1997. And her final question was, "I guess what I’m asking, why should the American people think you all are right about the future versus them?"

    The NewsHour's view of man-caused global warming as settled science is unmistakable, and I'd challenge anyone to prove that otherwise. So why worry?

    (Ps. belated thanks to Michael for fixing an admin problem back in my March Planet3 comments.)

    P3 also does not discuss so-called "skeptic" views of this sort either, and will not unless or until somebody comes up with something to substantially change the balance of evidence. There is a role for quality control in science-informed conversation every bit as much as in science itself. Indeed, more so, as the attempts to inject noise are lower cost and more prominent. -mt

  2. This story deserves the services of a Hersey or <a href=" or Gellhorn. After the dust of each day's destruction clears it's the wreckage of lives that will compel a response from citizens and their governments. A special touch is needed to convey both kinds of facts.

  3. She gave Trenberth the floor, and he took it, and (IMO) was the more convincing, for her not expressing her opinion.

    What would the ideal journalist do differently here?

    (I agree that if at the end she'd asked Trenberth for the big picture, that'd be better. But still, if the interviewees learn to volunteer it the way Trenberth did, they'll convey it just as well.)

    > [journalistic detachment &] how it affects reporting on subjects of consequence.

    OK then (& to rephrase and extend my Q), what does climate change "solution journalism" (link) look like? How do you assess its quality, and how do you preserve its independence? What are some good examples?

  4. She could have refrained from expressing her opinion without trying so hard to duck responsibility. "Thank you Mister (sic) Trenberth, you have given us a lot to think about." would have been so much less irritating than "Well, I guess this gives you folks a lot to think about".

    We (with my scientist hat on) would have plenty to think about even if the climate were not changing. It's not scientists that need to start thinking about this.

    As to your harder question, it's harder.

  5. Jeff Masters from Tuesday's post:

    "July is traditionally the hottest month of the year, and July 2012 is likely to set more all-time heat records. The latest predictions from the GFS and ECMWF models show that a ridge of high pressure and dry conditions will dominate the weather over about 80 - 90% of the country during the next two weeks, except for the Pacific Northwest and New England. This will bring wicked hot conditions to most of the nation, but no all-time heat records are likely to fall. However, around July 11, a sharp ridge of high pressure is expected to build in over the Western U.S., bringing the potential for crazy-hot conditions capable of toppling all-time heat records in many western states.

    "The intense heat and lack of rain, combined with soils that dried out early in the year due to lack of snowfall, have led to widespread areas of moderate to extreme drought over much of the nation's grain growing regions, from Kansas to Indiana. The USDA is reporting steadily deteriorating crop conditions for corn and soybeans, and it is likely that a multi-billion dollar drought disaster is underway in the Midwest."

    Two things:

    I don't recall ever hearing him use a superlative like "crazy-hot" before.

    The general picture is starting to bear a striking resemblance to Russia 2010.

  6. Over the years I've had quite a niggle over what just now came to me is the study of communication as it relates to ignorance. I'm watching PBS Newshour on the Higgs boson now and thinking about commentary as it now proliferates on the internet. If you think about it, the percentage of the population who don't find the "god particle" material evidence for science's irrelevance to their daily lives and an excuse to avoid and ignore is is very small.

    Those who understand and appreciate science and knowledge are pretty much unified in understanding, but more of the population is engaged in a battle with that knowledge. I think there's an element of lower school dislike and fear which has been enabled in recent years by constant access to distraction and multiplication of sites that promote anti-knowledge, such as WUWT and Curry. Being popular and conforming was always important, but doing well with studies used to be a lot more important before the promotion of self-promotion.

    This is exacerbated by knowledgeable people who waste a lot of energy in the circular firing squad, one has to assume partly because of frustration with being unable to reach people who refuse knowledge. It's much easier to find fault with Trenberth and Woodruff than to try to reach over the footlights to addicts of spectacle who keep the TV on all day and choose Fox News.

    As an aside, I have become horrified by the more bigger aspect of the annual fireworks competition, and was interested today to see a high proportion of fires are caused by target practice and random shooting. As expected, the commentary on this informative item over at ABC was uniformly negative, castigating the facts as phony and agenda-biased. Since I hadn't either known of or thought about the information, it was clear that our massive and violence-prone weaponizers are very interested in keeping us from knowing this additional danger from the excessive use and acquisition of firepower.

  7. Pingback: The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 6th, 2012) - Newspaper Templates & Design

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