Independent, Invariable Alarmism

Posted by Ben Pile on January 10, 2011
Jan 102011

Bishop Hill points to Steve Connor in the Independent, who urges:

Don’t believe the hype over climate headlines

Connor is complaining about the story run in the Independent a decade ago, claiming that

Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past

Three years of cold winters have caused sceptics to revisit claims about the UK’s winter climate and climate change.

Connors defence of the Indy’s headlines is that

Headlines are meant to draw people into a story and have to conform to quite rigid restrictions on space in the printed medium – where this headline first appeared. They are meant to be accurate, but they can never do full justice to the nuances of reporting. This is even more true when it comes to the more complex nuances of science.

Gosh, the Indy are worried about scientific nuance being lost in the headlines…

But the original article had indeed said what the headline said.

According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.

“Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.

and

David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes – or eventually “feel” virtual cold.

So while, Connor may be right to claim that

The headline in this case is not what the story itself said, as Dr Viner made clear. The story was about the frequency of snowfalls, and how “snow is starting to disappear from our lives”, which the it stated clearly.

He is only half right… And the fact is that the journalist, Charles Onians, incredulously reported the claims, giving emphasis to their shock value. Nonetheless, Connor blames the sub:

A more accurate headline would be something like: “Snowfalls are becoming less frequent in our little corner of the world but that doesn’t necessarily mean that snow will disappear from our lives completely and forever.” Unfortunately, any sub-editor who would suggest such a tediously long headline is unlikely to last very long.

Hmm. Yeah. Blame the sub… who, presumably also worked up this little gem from the delicate, scientific nuance contained in the story

Who does Connor think he’s kidding? The Independent is just about as alarmist as it is possible to be. And that’s why things like this happen:

  6 Responses to “Independent, Invariable Alarmism”

  1. I used to read the Indy because I naively believed it to be “independent” of polar British politics. Their environmental editorial policy not only frustrated me it really bored me. The Guardian may publish smug and obviously partisan articles, but at least it is interesting to read and the environmental rubbish isn’t on the front page every day lecturing me.

  2. I used to enjoy reading the Independent in its earlier broadsheet days… and found it to be a refreshing change from the serial whinging I’d grown weary of in the Guardian. But then, I still remember the morning (years ago) I was reading the umpteenth alarming article – this one, about how some virus was going to wipe out all humankind within 5 years – and I reached my tipping point. I can distinctly recall how the familiar morose frame of mind the story induced in me evaporated, a broad smile replaced it and I suddenly began to enjoy my cornflakes again. I read the article one more time and its absurdity (and the unintelligence of the person who could write such stuff) shone out like the sun bursting through the clouds.

    When I was younger I used to enjoy watching ‘What the Papers Say’ on TV – and was especially entertained by the caricature voices often used to read out the featured newspaper quotes… a device which always had the effect of simultaneously exposing and deflating the pompousness with which many of them were written. I must admit, I have at times employed this technique myself (in my mind’s ear) and it has had the same result of humanising and making-subjective the newspaper articles being read. Giving an imaginary voice and frame of mind to the author of the words – one that is tailored to be in keeping with the general tenor of the piece – ADDS to my capacity to place a value on the message it wishes to convey.

    I think what happened with the Independent is that is ceased to be able or willing to include any scepticism of the messages it was delivering. This dereliction of its role dumped the need for scepticism back onto the reader. And, of course, when the reader eventually does finds his or her scepticism, it is not directed at the content of the articles – but at the newspaper’s ability to deliver news. The reader withdraws the benefit of their doubt.

    I never bought another copy of the Independent again after that day. And judging by the circulation figures, I am not alone.

  3. That’s what I like about you, Ben, you do the research. Of course, that is what is needed but the public has already got the main message – for the political ends of ‘environmentalism’, if that’s right, any means is right and correct. Not ‘science’, which, unfortunately, even the ‘scientists’ have lost faith in, but the advocation of some kind of confused and unthought nihilism!

  4. Which, reminds me, that, probably, Nietzsche was right, not Marx, when he predicted the general, global, progress of ‘European Nihilism’!

  5. [...] The decline of the Independent’s circulation was something observed on this blog back in 2009. [...]

  6. [...] The decline of the Independent’s circulation was something observed on this blog back in 2009. [...]

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