Credit where due: Bill Keller gets it right!

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2011

At long last, a big scribe goes meta: We didn’t know Bill Keller in high school; he had to go to Serra (click here). In fairness, so did Lynn Swann, Barry Bonds and Tom Brady in the years which followed.

Offering that full disclosure, we strongly recommend Keller’s piece from yesterday’s New York Times. We plan to discuss his piece next week, but it’s worth reading right now.

We have some quibbles, but they can wait. It’s rare that a major journalist goes this “meta” about our nation’s crumbling intellectual culture. We liberals will sometimes note how dumb “they” are. Keller takes in a larger picture.

Yesterday, we cited the passage where Keller quotes PolitiFact’s Bill Adair. Our culture is growing exceptionally dumb. Although we have a few objections, Keller’s piece pokes around at some of the big reasons why.

Good lord: Keller even takes a swipe at his newspaper's Deeply Entrenched Dowdism. No, he doesn't name any names. But there it is, quite early on!

21 comments:

  1. Another problem with news reporting is that most reporters are ignorant, when it comes to technical subjects. Two examples from Keller's article:

    Keller disparages those who, he says, claim that, "Global warming is a hoax!" There are few if any such people. Keller doesn't even know what the debate is about. Virtually everyone agrees that the globe has warmed. The debate is really over the magnitude of the impact of man's activities and over the reliability of various models.

    Keller takes it as gospel that stimulus saved 2 million jobs, because the CBO says so. However, unknown to Keller, the CBO's conclusion is hypothetical. It comes from running the same model that predicted that the stimulus saved all those jobs. In other words, the CBO conclusion isn't really a comparision of an actual result to a prediction. It's essentially a re-statement of the prediction. The CBO is more-or-less saying, "The model predicted that stimulus saved 2 million jobs, so we conclude that it did save 2 million jobs."

    I'm not saying the CBO is necessarily wrong. I'm saying that it's not unreasonable for some economists to hold a different view.

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  2. Keller describes a chronic illness in the media, the same one Bob Somerby has been writing about for many years.

    I started reading more carefully after this seminal article by Paul Krugman:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/03/opinion/reading-the-script.html?scp=2&sq=reading+from+the+same+script&st=nyt

    I suggest all Howler fans read it.

    I don't think I have missed a Howler column or a Krugman article since then.
    Of course there are many other good sources that debunk the scripts.
    Here are some more.

    http://www.fair.org/index.php
    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/
    http://www.thenation.com/
    http://baselinescenario.com/
    http://www.cepr.net/index.php/beat-the-press/
    http://robertreich.org/
    http://www.factcheck.org/
    http://mediamatters.org/
    http://www.frumforum.com/ (Don't Laugh!)
    Check in on Robert Samuelson of WAPO occasionally. He has actually learned things lately.
    If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't. Don't let tribal instincts cloud your judgment. Check it out!

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  3. David is well scripted.

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  4. "David" is *very* well scripted. The idea that this guy is a disinterested retired actuary is pretty funny.

    The question is, who does he (or more likely, they) work for? Or is disinformation his joy and his hobby?

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  5. Whatever the case, the daily right wing cant gets too painful to read and too tiresome to respond to.

    I saw Keller's column a few days ago and agree he's right about cable news.

    I'd like to see Mr. Somerby's take on the fact that poll after poll shows frequent viewers of the "most watched cable news channel" know less about the news than people who watch no news shows at all.

    That's the real story of the last decade or so rather than this obsession with Dowd and the NY TImes.

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  6. It's interesting that Mr. Somerby did not mention, perhaps out of kindness, that Bill Keller presided over the steadily increasing dumbing-down of the New York Times, and has since stepping down as editor in chief published several columns so dumb they have attracted a good deal of negative commentary on the Times' comments pages.

    I guess we should cut Keller some slack, though; he is a wealthy scion (his father was CEO of Chevron, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out not long ago), and his perspective is that of someone who need not ever think about the various problems buffeting the mass majority of Americans. It really is all a game to him, Collins, Dowd, and the rest of this gilded elite.

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  7. Real Anonymous ISTM that these poll are problematic, because liberals and conservatives often disagree about basic facts. E.g., does stimulus create or reduce employment? Is catastrophic anthropogenic global warming definitely proved? Do minimum wage laws help or hurt poor people?

    I suppose one could stick to objective questions, like, Who is the Vice President? Or How big is the National Debt? Or, How many members sit on the Supreme Court?

    However, I don't think the polls you're referring to did that. At least the ones I saw treated liberal positions as "facts" and failure to agree with them as ignorance.

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  8. "In vanquishing the conventional wisdom, sometimes it seems we have vanquished wisdom itself " What an apt description of how tribal talking points become mainstream...

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  9. I don't quite see what Bob Somerby sees in the Bill Keller piece. I was underwhelmed. However, David in Cal is working a little too hard when he says:
    " Keller disparages those who, he says, claim that, "Global warming is a hoax!" There are few if any such people. "

    A quick google will pull up the names of Republican Senators, popular conservative pundits and more than a few serious articles that say exactly that - global warming is a hoax.

    David in Cal goes on to say:
    " Virtually everyone agrees that the globe has warmed. The debate is really over the magnitude of the impact of man's activities and over the reliability of various models. "
    Well, yes that is the debate and right now the preponderance of evidence seems to support those who think the magnitude of man's input is pretty large and the consequences very serious. So, a question for David in Cal - when you hear Rush Limbaugh or Senator Inhofe arguing that man made global warming is a sham, do you think they've gone out and examined the evidence, mulled over the models and made their best analytical judgement or do you think they just don't want to believe it because it might undermine the rest of their worldview ? Or perhaps you just think that a good chunk of the Republican Party and popular infotainers like Rush have no impact on the national discourse?

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  10. "David in Cal said...

    Real Anonymous ISTM that these poll are problematic, because liberals and conservatives often disagree about basic facts."

    The polls I'm referring to are about facts, basic information a person should be getting from a "news" channel.

    In poll after poll, people who say the "most watched cable news channel" is their main source for news answer basic fact based questions correctly less often than people who say they watch no news at all.

    You can make excuses, spin it any way you want to, but that's a fact and can't be argued.

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  11. TRA, do you have links to any of these polls?

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  12. Anonymous, I don't know what Rush Limbaugh and Sen. Inhofe say about global warming. I get my information from scientists like Judith Curry, Roger Pielke, Sr., Roger Pielke, Jr, Steve Mcintyre, Anthony Watts, and the many other scientists who comment on their blogs. The comments tend to be high level technical discussions. All these scientists have indeed gone out and examined the evidence, mulled over the models and made their best analytical judgement.

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  13. "David in Cal said...
    TRA, do you have links to any of these polls?"

    If you haven't seen them then what is your basis for criticizing them?

    Are you talking through your hat about the kinds of questions they contain since you need a link to see what questions are really being asked?

    Stop wasting my time by commenting about things you clearly know nothing about.

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  14. "David in Cal said...

    Anonymous, I don't know what Rush Limbaugh and Sen. Inhofe say about global warming. I get my information from scientists like Judith Curry, Roger Pielke, Sr., Roger Pielke, Jr, Steve Mcintyre, Anthony Watts, and the many other scientists who comment on their blogs."

    If you don't know what conservatives like Inhofe and Limbaugh are saying then how can you possibly claim that there are very few claiming climate change is a hoax?

    Regarding Judith Curry:

    "Climate skeptics have seized on Curry’s statements to cast doubt on the basic science of climate change. So it is important to emphasize that nothing she encountered led her to question the science; she still has no doubt that the planet is warming, that human-generated greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are in large part to blame, or that the plausible worst-case scenario could be catastrophic. "

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=climate-heretic&page=3


    Regarding Roger Pielke, Sr.:

    "Pielke has a somewhat nuanced position on climate change, which is sometimes taken for skepticism, a label that he explicitly renounces. He has said:

    the evidence of a human fingerprint on the global and regional climate is incontrovertible as clearly illustrated in the National Research Council report and in our research papers (e.g. see [http://blue.atmos.colostate.edu/publications/pdf/R-258.pdf])."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_A._Pielke

    Pielke believes CO2 may not be the most significant human related reason for climate change but believes other human related causes are equally or more important than CO2.

    Regarding Roger Pielke, Jr.:

    "His views on climate science are difficult to determine. On the one hand he has written that he accepts the IPCC view of the underlying science:

    The IPCC has concluded that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity are an important driver of changes in climate. And on this basis alone I am personally convinced that it makes sense to take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_A._Pielke,_Jr.

    Stephen McIntyre is one of those people you claim don't exist: someone who denies climate change is occurring at all, that the data are corrupt.

    Anthony Watts, a tv weatherman not a climate scientist, is another who claims climate change is a hoax, that the way the data are collected tends to inflate temperatures.

    He has been proven wrong by two studies:

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/about/response-v2.pdf

    http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ushcn/v2/monthly/menne-etal2010.pdf

    Clearly the sources you claim to get your information from aren't saying what you claim they are.

    Three aren't skeptics about the human causes for climate change at all and the other two don't say climate change is occurring but humans aren't responsible. Those two claim there is no climate change at all, the data are wrong.

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  15. @The Real Anonymous:

    "Stop wasting my time by commenting about things you [David in Cal] clearly know nothing about."

    But that's the point! He *wants* to waste your time. Throw dirt, create diversions and try to confuse as many people as possible.

    So what does he do? He criticizes polls, but only until it becomes rhetorical advantageous to claim he's never seen them! He cite sources which don't make the claims you say they do! He insists, implausibly (but when convenient!), that he doesn't know what leading lights of his political party say about the world.

    And when you catch him in all this, what does he do? Disappears or changes the subject!

    Ordinary people with a presumptive interest in the truth, however blinkered their world view, don't amass this kind of talk-points database. We are, quite clearly, being "played" here.

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  16. TRA, I don't have links to the any FNC-related poll that I recall. Apparently you're in the same boat. Too bad. If either of us could find such links, we could carry the discussion one step farther by evaluating the polls' validity.

    Watts has extensive education in meteorology, demonstrated by his AMS Seal of Approval. The minimal requirements of meteorological courses including hydrology, basic meteorology & thermodynamic meteorology including at least 20 core college credits must have been taken first before applying (ensuring that the forecaster has at least a minimal required education in the field).

    Watts operates a weather technology and content business. Weather measurement and weather presentation technology is Watts' specialty. He also provides weather stations and custom weather monitoring solutions.

    Anon, you quote the positions of some of the blogger/scientists I mentioned. I don't necessarily focus on their positions. It's not a question of simply believing this expert or that expert. I read their discussions and try to figure out for myself what makes sense.

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  17. "Anon, you quote the positions of some of the blogger/scientists I mentioned. I don't necessarily focus on their positions. It's not a question of simply believing this expert or that expert. I read their discussions and try to figure out for myself what makes sense."
    You believe yourself quite slippery, don't you?

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  18. This is off the thread of scripting on cable news, but it seems to be the new thread.
    As a science nerd in 1958, I read articles in journals about greenhouse gasses and climate cycles. Scientists were concerned in the FIFTIES!
    In the 70's, as an automotive technician, I had to learn about exhaust emissions and emission controls.
    As an auto emissions inspector for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, I was required to attend seminars on the effects of Freon in the ozone layer, and the effects of CO, CO2, and NOX on our atmosphere.
    Global warming is real. Global warming and climate change are the same thing (to climatologists).
    Global warming has been immensely accelerated in recent years by human activity pumping carbon compounds into the atmosphere.
    Already, wars are being fought over arable land along our Equator.
    Entire populations are being displaced.
    Global warming is a fact, and the naysayers are fools.

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  19. gravymeister, yes the earth has surely warmed. The recent BEST study showed warming of 2 degrees C in the last 200 years. And, CO2 is a greenhouse gas which has likely contributed to the recent global warming. However, many other factors have also affected global temperature, and I don't think they're fully understood.

    Look at this chart of global temperature Global temperature rose from 1900 to 1940, sank from 1940 to 1975 and rose from 1975 to 2000. The various climate models assume or show that CO2 levels have only been high enough to have a major impact on temperature for the last 30 or 40 years. So, we really don't know what caused the temperature trends prior to 1975.

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  20. David, your chart is irrelevant. Forget the anti-warming arguments.
    The Earth was able to return to a state of equilibrium over and over for eons, despite minor fluctuations.

    It no longer can.

    That is because human activities release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually, with steady increases, while at the same time slashing and burning forests and killing algae in our seas.

    Affluent Indians and Chinese want cars, and they can afford them.
    And they will buy them and they will drive them.
    Those are the facts.

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