PBS Relies on Non-Scientist to Rebut Scientists on Climate Science

The media’s climate change head-scratcher du jour involves a pretty abnormal suspect: the usually intelligent Public Broadcasting Service. In a segment that aired Monday, PBS explored the conversion of a prominent former climate skeptic, the University of California physicist Richard Muller. Muller made headlines recently by pulling a complete 180, announcing that his most recent and most comprehensive study showed, conclusively, that climate change is very, very real and humans are “almost entirely the cause.”

Polar bears are not fans of PBS right now (photo: flickr/ucumari)
Seeking to “balance” this viewpoint, PBS decided to feature an interview with the notorious climate denier Anthony Watts, giving him almost ten minutes to pollute the airwaves with his half-baked, uneducated “science,” and pseudo-psychology. Watts, it should be noted, is a tv meteorologist, does not hold a graduate degree in any field, and it’s even unclear if he graduated from college — yet he has become one of the Denier Movement’s biggest stars. It was as if The Wall Street Journal turned over its business section to Bernie Madoff for a day, or if the Food Network let your ramen noodle-burning college roommate have his own cooking show.

Climate change is the single biggest crisis facing our planet’s wildlife and our children’s future, and we can’t afford to ignore the 99.9% of all scientists who tell us we need to take swift, decisive action to prevent disaster.

According to Bud Ward over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, even PBS’ in-house expert was boxed out:

[Science correspondent Miles] O’Brien said in a phone interview that he is a freelancer with a contract to do 15 science stories a year for NewsHour…specifically excluding climate science. “I’m not in the loop on climate stories,” O’Brien said, characterizing the recent NewsHour broadcast as “a horrible, horrible thing” that he fears reflects badly both on the program and, indirectly, on himself.

And Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman (the person responsible for making sure the station sticks to its journalistic principles) is already investigating.

If the station expects to be taken seriously on this issue, it should follow up with some real, fact-based reporting. Maybe, instead of Alan Watts and his ilk, they should check in with:

  • A homeowner impacted by western wildfires
  • A rancher who had to sell cattle because of drought
  • A biologist who’s watched coral disappear due to ocean acidification
  • Or even (gasp!) a climatologist. You know, the people who study this stuff professionally and have a legitimate degree in the relevant scientific field. The people who, unlike Alan Watts, don’t just point at a weather map on tv for a living.

Especially during this election season, climate change needs to be front and center. Fortunately, PBS gets a chance to hit the reset button: PBS’s Jim Lehrer will be moderating one of the upcoming presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Tell him to include a hard-hitting question on climate change, so we can see how the candidates propose to solve the climate crisis!

Take ActionStand up for people and wildlife affected by climate change. Demand that the presidential debates include a question on global warming!

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Published: September 21, 2012