Great news: This commentary appears in The Weekend Australian today (in a slightly different edited version). Below was what I submitted, before the edits, with the links intact. Comments are open at The Australian. I’ll be posting less often over the Southern Summer, possibly quite irregularly, so if you want to get an email from me and find out when the more important posts go up, please add your email to my list (top right, see “register”).
In the print edition the headline is “Journalists who think Newspapers should lead the country”*
Here’s a UNSW “Senior Research Fellow” in journalism who contradicts himself, fails by his own reasoning, does little research, breaks at least three laws of logic, and rests his entire argument on an assumption that he provides no evidence for. Most disturbingly — like a crack through the façade of Western intellectual vigour — he actually asserts that the role of a national newspaper is to “give leadership”. Bask for a moment in the inanity of this declaration that newspapers “are our leaders”. Last time I looked at our ballot papers, none of the people running to lead our nation had a name like “Sir Sydney Morning Herald”. Didn’t he notice that we live in a country that chooses its leaders through elections?
The role of a national newspaper is to report all the substantiated arguments and filter out the poorly reasoned ones (like his), so the readers can make up their own minds.
“The swelling ranks of sceptical scientists is now the largest whistle-blowing cohort in science ever seen…”
The point of the “free press” is surely for the press to be free to ask the most searching questions on any topic. Yet here is a supposed authority on journalism attacking The Australian for printing views of scientists? And these scientists that McKnight wants to silence are not just the odd rare heretic. The swelling ranks of sceptical scientists is now the largest whistle-blowing cohort in science ever seen. It includes some of the brightest: 2 with Nobel Prizes in Physics, 4 NASA astronauts, 9000 PhD’s in science, and another 20,000 science graduates to cap it off. A recent Senate Minority Report contained 1000 names of eminent scientists who are skeptical, and the term “professor” pops up over 500 times in that list. These are the people that McKnight, an Arts PhD, calls “deniers”.
Just because thousands of scientists support the skeptical view doesn’t prove they’re right, but it proves it is nothing like the “tobacco” sceptics campaign that McKnight compares them to, in a transparent attempt to smear commentators he disagrees with.
Ponder the irony that McKnight-the-journalism-lecturer is demanding The Australian adopt the policy espoused by the dominant paradigm, the Establishment, and censor the views of the independent whistleblowers? He thinks repeating government PR is journalism, the rest of us know it as propaganda.
McKnight has so little evidence to base his assumptions on, that he resorts to name-calling —“denier”. He doesn’t name any scientific paper that any skeptic denies, instead it’s just a pre-emptive bully boy technique designed to stop people even discussing the evidence about the climate.
McKnight’s research starts with the assumption that a UN committee, which was funded to find a crisis, has really found one, and that they are above question. He probably has no idea that there are thousands of ivy league physics, geology and engineering specialists who are sceptical. His investigation appears to amount to comparing articles in Fairfax versus Murdoch papers, as if the key to radiative transfer and cumulative atmospheric feedbacks lies in counting op-ed pieces.
If he had made the most basic enquiry, McKnight might also have found out that the entire case for the man-made threat to the climate rests on just the word of 60 scientists who reviewed Chapter Nine of the Fourth Assessment Report. He’d also know that the people he calls deniers, far from being recipients of thousands of regular Exxon cheques, are mostly self-funded, many are retirees, and that Exxon’s paltry $23 million for 1990 – 2007 was outdone by more than 3000 to 1 by the US government alone which paid $79 billion to the Climate Industry during 1989 – 2009.
Just suppose, hypothetically, that the government employed many scientists on one side of a theory, and none of the other. McKnight’s method of “knowing” who is right involves counting up the institutions and authorities who support the grants… I mean, the theory. If science were exploited this way, McKnight would fall victim every time…
So “sharp” is McKnight’s analysis that he calls the independent unfunded scientists “a global PR campaign originating from coal and oil companies”, all while he is oblivious to the real billion dollar PR campaign that is waged from government departments, a UN agency, financial houses like Deutsche Bank, the renewable energy industry, the nuclear industry, and the multi hundred-million dollar corporations like WWF. Here’s a man who thinks David is Goliath.
The people in power, and many major banks, are telling us to be worried about a particular gas. Isn’t the point of an investigative journalist to err… investigate that? Not so, says McKnight. The job of a newspaper is to decide which scientist is right about atmospheric physics. Is Phil Jones from the East Anglia CRU right, or is Richard Lindzen — prize winning MIT meteorologist right? Add that to the new list of duties for aspiring national editors. Tough job, eh?
McKnight’s main error, “Argument from Authority”, has been known for 2000 years, and his entire synopsis is built around this fallacy. Just suppose, hypothetically, that the government employed many scientists on one side of a theory, and none of the other. McKnight’s method of “knowing” who is right involves counting up the institutions and authorities who support the grants… I mean, the theory. If science were exploited this way, McKnight would fall victim every time — blindly supporting the establishment. That doesn’t prove he’s wrong, but it proves he can’t think and that his methodology can be scammed. If he’s right, it could only be by accident. Why is the taxpayer supporting his work, when a random coin toss would do the same job for a fraction of the expense?
His muddy analysis is confused at every level. He claims The Australian has zig zagged from acceptance to denial, but then later, accuses the Australian’s columnists of repeating “the dominant editorial line”. But which editorial line would be dominant … the zig type or the zag? Doesn’t it destroy the whole meaning of “dominant” if something changes regularly?
For someone who claims to be an authority on history, McKnight can’t tell the difference between science and religion. In science, evidence is the only thing that counts, not opinion. McKnight-the-follower-of-funded-opinions has the gall to question The Australian’s standards of evidence, but the only evidence he offers is only a collection of opinions.
Given that McKnight paints himself as an authority on journalism, yet fails to investigate his base assumption, research the targets of his scorn, or understand the role the free press: he is his own best example of why argument from authority is a fallacy.
If our journalism lecturers are feeding students with grandiose ideas of their own “leadership” roles, how decrepit is the institution where students are not even taught that the highest aim of a journalist is to ask the most penetrating questions, and leave no stone unturned, so that the people they serve might have the best information?
Such is the modern delusion of the trumped up activist-journo: McKnight wants to be the “leader” — to dictate what the public can “think” and to direct where public spending goes — but he doesn’t want to bother running for office or to expose his claim to open debate. He’s nothing more than a totalitarian in disguise.
*This is their headline, not mine.
UPDATE: [I'm very much enjoying the comments at Watts Up on this! Anthony has done a good job of summarizing this media war.]
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I wrote previously about the media war going on here where The Australian is feeling the pressure and being attacked by Fairfax and the ABC.
Other articles published by Jo Nova in mainstream media.