Friday, February 23, 2007

Ezra Klein: Why Punditry S----

This is nothing personal to Jonah, but why is he going on NPR today to talk about global warming? Does he actually, uh, know anything about global warming? Forget whether his opinion on it is accurate, given the universe of possible participants in a debate about climatological science, a generalist political journalist from The National Review doesn't sound like the most enlightening choice. Indeed, I shouldn't be on talking about global warming either. Not only haven't I read, but I can't even understand, most of the scientific literature on the issue. NPR's listeners deserve better.

This is, in fact, a pretty generalized problem. I was on CNBC recently talking about the President's health care proposals, and not only did the host have no clue what she was talking about, but the generic political consultant I was matched against was similarly out of his element. The difference between a standard deduction and a tax credit seemed totally misunderstood, and no one had any clue what reform plans were floating around Congress. It was embarrassing. There's no way the audience was elevated by that discussion. And yet, these shows can attract experts. And they can choose journalists, non-profiteers, and others who focus in the relevant issue area. But all too often, they just choose...anybody. Balance overwhelms expertise, media skills -- a function of being repeatedly broadcast on the media -- trump analytical ones. It's a shame.


Anonymous said...

I happened to hear part of that show. The basis of it was a column Goldberg wrote for the LA Times. His misunderstanding (disunderstanding?) of the whole phenomenon of global warming is utterly mindboggling. After six years of Bush I really didn't expect to have my head explode - again - but it did.

Marc said...

I listened to the show, and wondered the same thing you did -- where were the subject experts? But since I'm experienced with the science (former meteorologist) I have a handle on the terms of climate versus weather. Lots of folks don't.

The models that are used for forecasting are very good, but they are not perfect, mainly due to the fact that the earth is constantly changing. But folks expect that forecasts are an easily done thing, with static problem sets. With solar radiation being reflected, absorbed, and shifted into other wavelengths constantly, on a spinning orb that wobbles in space, we've done reasonably well.

Many people don't understand how much energy it takes to raise the temperature of the earth by one degree. One degree does not sound like much. But on a global scale it is huge (so to speak). Undoing the changes caused by one degree will be harder than preventing it. As one example; the melting of ice (which reflects solar radiation well) exposes rock (which does not) and feeds into the warming loop. Just how do you get polar ice and glaciers to re-form? (The cynic in me replies “nuclear winter” but that isn’t feasible for survival of the human race.)

NOAA, NASA, and I’m sure a few other agencies have experts that could talk on the subject. Heck, turn on the weather channel, and I'm sure you'd see someone who can discuss the science and findings on climate models that would be accessible to most every listener in terms of understandability. I'm sure that they'd be able to explain it with very few technical terms, and could probably illustrate the probable outcomes of a shift in global weather patterns due to warming.