After reviewing the latest evidence from a major climate change report -- released in full on Monday -- the prominent consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that climate change is the "mother of all risks." But while many businesses recognize climate risks, the media often cloud these risks by framing climate change in terms of "uncertainty," according to a recent study. This can lead to a disconnect between scientific understanding and public perception, and a misguided contentment with inaction.
"What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists"
The lead author of the University of Oxford study on media framing clarified, "the general public finds scientific uncertainty difficult to understand and confuses it with ignorance." In fact, as Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein explained on Tuesday, in an article headlined "What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists," the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report's finding that scientists are 95 percent certain about manmade global warming reflects a certainty analogous to scientific fact:
Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.
They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.
They'll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn't 100 percent. It's 95 percent.
And for some non-scientists, that's just not good enough.
But in science, 95 percent certainty is often considered the gold standard for certainty.
"Uncertainty is inherent in every scientific judgment," said Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Thomas Burke.
What 95% Certainty Means To Businesses
The disconnect between how the public and scientists view uncertainty may lead some people to come to the misguided conclusion that we should wait to act until the science is "certain." Fox News host Neil Cavuto, for instance, once said that "whether there is or not [a consensus among scientists on climate change], you want to make 100% sure before you plunk down trillions on something." But for a purported business expert, Cavuto seems to have little concept of risk management. As PricewaterhouseCooper's Will Day explained, hedging against catastrophic climate change now is only sensible:
Fox News misrepresented the TRUST Act, a California immigration bill that would limit law enforcement's ability to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation, claiming the legislation will allow criminals to go free. In fact, the bill is aimed at shielding undocumented victims and witnesses to crimes, as well as those who have committed only minor offenses, from deportation. It also seeks to stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants for the sole civil offense of being in the country illegally.
The bill, formally known as Assembly Bill 4, was passed by the California state legislature on September 10. Gov. Jerry Brown has until October 17 to sign it into law. The bill states:
This bill would prohibit a law enforcement official, as defined, from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless, at the time that the individual becomes eligible for release from custody, certain conditions are met, including, among other things, that the individual has been convicted of specified crimes.
The bill lists some of the crimes that would prompt law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants for the 48-hour immigration hold, including violent and serious felonies such as rape, assault, robbery, and selling drugs.
The bill also argues that Secure Communities (S-Comm) -- the controversial and widely criticized program under which law enforcement can detain undocumented immigrants for deportation -- "and immigration detainers harm community policing efforts because immigrant residents who are victims of or witnesses to crime, including domestic violence, are less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement when any contact with law enforcement could result in deportation." The text continues:
The program can result in a person being held and transferred into immigration detention without regard to whether the arrest is the result of a mistake, or merely a routine practice of questioning individuals involved in a dispute without pressing charges. Victims or witnesses to crimes may otherwise have recourse to lawful status (such as U-visas or T-visas) that detention resulting from the Secure Communities program obstructs.
In an article on the S-Comm program, California's KPBS reported that in the city of Escondido, "collaboration between the city's police and federal immigration activists has caused tension in the city's Latino communities for years." The article continued:
Agents have been present at the police department's driver's license and sobriety checkpoints, and in the city's jails.
Activists say this kind collaboration diminishes public safety because immigrants are less likely to trust police or report crime if they fear that interacting with police could get them deported.
But in a segment on the TRUST Act for Fox News' Special Report, correspondent William La Jeunesse suggested the bill would allow violent criminals to go free and avoid deportation if they are in the country illegally. His report included Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle saying, "If you or I were victimized by someone stealing our identity, or selling drugs in our community, or burglarizing our homes or embezzling our money, that that's OK. That's a minor crime."
A recent incident in which 7,500 songbirds died after flying over a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has been ignored by the same conservative media outlets that often exaggerate the danger posed to birds by wind turbines, including hyping an incident in which a single bird was killed in Scotland.
The birds killed by the LNG facility, which may have included some endangered species, were headed south for the winter when a routine "flare" release at the Canaport LNG facility in Canada, used to burn off excess natural gas, drew them in. Though company officials apologized for the episode and said they are modifying equipment to reduce flaring, one manager at the plant admitted "At the moment there's not a whole lot I can do to resolve it in the short term." The dead reportedly included "a large number of red-eyed vireos" (see photo above).
Three months prior, another migrating bird, the white-throated needletail, died after flying into a wind turbine off Scotland. The needletail is not endangered or threatened, but it is sighted only rarely in the United Kingdom.
Can you guess how conservative media covered these two cases?
Searches of Nexis, Google and an internal video database indicate that the thousands of birds that died after flying into a Canadian gas flare have not been mentioned by any U.S. conservative outlet to date (or any major U.S. outlet other than the environmental sites Treehugger and National Geographic).
Conversely, the single bird that flew into a wind turbine became a big story in the conservative media bubble. Right-wing outlets used the episode to smear green energy, sometimes betraying sheer glee, as when National Review Online blogger Greg Pollowitz wrote "Your [sic] laughing as you read this, aren't you?" or Rush Limbaugh remarked "[a] bunch of environmentalist whackos watched a precious windmill kill a rare bird."
Conservative media's fixation on a single bird death -- albeit regrettable -- while completely ignoring thousands more seems to let slip that feigning an interest in conservation is simply a convenient way for these outlets to attack wind power, which they have depicted as an agent of "mass slaughter " or an "open-ended aviary holocaust," while overlooking far more elementary, existential threats to wildlife, including climate change. Lest we forget, conservative media figures have regularly mocked those who are concerned about the impact that humans are having on animals -- one Fox News contributor declared "lots of species may be about to leave the planet, and I don't care" -- and attacked conservation efforts for endangered species from lizards to polar bears.
After the Daily Mail falsely accused scientists of "cover[ing] up" temperature data based on leaked comments to the world's preeminent climate report, conservative media, including the Daily Caller, are once again adopting the British tabloid's misinformation verbatim. However, the comments actually showed scientists and governments making the same points privately that they have made publicly about why the slightly slower rate of warming in the last 15 years doesn't undermine the overwhelming science showing long-term climate change.
A recent Associated Press article showed that leaked private comments on the upcoming comprehensive U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report reflect what scientists have been saying publicly: despite experiencing the warmest decade on record from 2000-2010, the planet is heating up at a slightly slower rate -- but this in no way undermines the science demonstrating manmade climate change is occurring. What the AP report -- which FoxNews.com tried to turn into "Climategate II" -- described was a debate over how to best explain this to the public. During the exchange in question, representatives of various governments pointed out that cherry-picking 1998 as a starting point for global temperatures trends is misleading because that year had record warmth, and this short time period does not undermine the long-term warming trend.
Somehow, the Daily Mail used this to say that "it is claimed" that scientists producing the IPCC report "were urged to cover up the fact that the world's temperature hasn't risen for the last 15 years." The paper didn't actually provide anyone who has alleged this.
The draft report and comments also show several experts pointing out that scientists are conducting ongoing research about the extent to which this phenomenon is based on heat being trapped in the oceans or various temporary natural cooling factors in order to better project the exact future impacts of climate change.
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes is falsely warning that the USDA is bullying Christian organizations that distribute food to low-income individuals into "choos[ing] between Jesus and cheese," ignoring that religious organizations are allowed to provide social services as long as they comply with federal law.
In a September 9 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes said that the USDA threatened to revoke federal financial assistance from the Christian Service Center, a Christian ministry in Florida, unless the group "removed portraits of Christ, the Ten Commandments, a banner that read 'Jesus is Lord' and stop[ped] giving Bibles to the needy." The sensationalist claim is already being repeated by other right-wing media outlets. From FoxNews.com:
For the past 31 years, the Christian ministry has been providing food to the hungry in Lake City, Fla. without any problems. But all that changed when they said a state government worker showed up to negotiate a new contract.
"The (person) told us there was a slight change in the contract," [Christian Service Center Executive Director Kay] Daly told me. "They said we could no longer have religious information where the USDA food is being distributed. They told us we had to take that stuff down."
Daly said it's no secret that the Christian Service Center is a Christian ministry.
"We've got pictures of Christ on more than one wall," she said. "It's very clear we are not social services. We are a Christian ministry."
[T]he Christian Service Center had a choice: choose God or the government cheese.
So in a spirit of Christian love and fellowship, Daly politely told the government what they could do with their cheese.
"We decided to eliminate the USDA food and we're going to trust God to provide," she told me. "If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry."
But Starnes is setting up a false choice and one that the ministry is not facing.
Conservatives are still turning to British tabloids for their climate science, most recently treating a single year's Arctic sea ice -- which is still far below previous and long-term averages -- to claim that the region is not melting.
The latest instance of tabloid-reviewed science began when the The Mail on Sunday -- a sister newspaper to serial climate misinformer the Daily Mail* -- published an article titled "And now it's global COOLING!" suggesting that an increase in Arctic sea ice cover between September 2012 and August 2013 is among "mounting evidence that Arctic ice levels are cyclical." The story was summarily picked up by other British tabloids and a variety of conservative outlets, all to cast doubt on climate change. Notably, Rush Limbaugh used the report to claim "the Arctic ice sheet is at a record size for this time of year. They told us the ice was melting in the Arctic Ice Sheet. It's not."
Actually, Arctic sea ice is nowhere near "a record size." A graph from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) illustrates that 2013 Arctic sea ice extent minimum (beige line), while not as low as last year's record (dotted line), is still tracking well below the 1979-2000 average (as have the minimum extents of every year since 1997). It is on track to be the sixth-lowest in satellite annals:
As 2012 was a record low, it is not terribly surprising that 2013 looks like it will be higher. This is due to a phenomenon known as regression to the mean, eloquently illustrated by this Skeptical Science graphic:
Fox News security analyst K.T. McFarland attacked President Obama as "egoistical but incompetent" and claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for throwing "Obama a lifeline" on Syria.
In a September 10 column on FoxNews.com, McFarland credited Putin with offering Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry "a way out of the mess they'd created" for the proposal to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control. MacFarland went on to say "the world knows that Vladimir Putin is the one who really deserves that Nobel Peace Prize" for saving "the world from near-certain disaster":
The fact is Obama seemed headed for an attack on Syria that no one wanted and few thought would succeed. Most thought it would only end in disaster, either with the U.S. drawn into an attack/retaliation cycle of escalation that could go on for years and spread into a regional war, or result in the overthrow of President Assad by an Al Qaeda affiliated rebels.
While the Russians may have toyed with the idea of letting American get bogged down in yet another losing Middle East war, they didn't want to risk a war that might pull them in, or lose control of the Assad government to radical Sunni jihadists.
So Putin stepped in and threw Obama a lifeline.
The Washington press corps will no doubt believe him, as usual, and lavish their usual praise.
But the world knows that Vladimir Putin is the one who really deserves that Nobel Peace Prize.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes blasted "militant homosexuals" for opposing businesses that discriminate against gay customers, baselessly attacking anti-discrimination laws as assaults on First Amendment rights.
Willamette Week, an alternative weekly based in Portland, Oregon, reported on September 1 that Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a local bakery that came under fire in February for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, closed its storefront and will instead operate out of an "in home bakery." The move comes after the couple at the center of the controversy filed a complaint against the bakery for violating the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which prohibits discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Starnes did not take kindly to the news. In a September 3 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes condemned the "vicious boycott by militant homosexual activists" for "forc[ing]" the business to close its storefront. Even as the bakery owners decried the "sin" of homosexuality and lamented the "LGBT attacks" against their discriminatory business practices, Starnes uncritically noted their assertion that they have "nothing against homosexuals." Starnes then argued that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay people, as "God's law" should trump "man's law":
[Co-owner Aaron] Klein tells me he has nothing against homosexuals -- but because of their religious faith, the family simply cannot take part in gay wedding events.
"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "I don't want to help somebody celebrate a commitment to a lifetime of sin."
Commissioner Brad Avakian told The Oregonian that he was committed to a fair and thorough investigation to determine whether the bakery discriminated against the lesbians.
"Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn't mean that folks have the right to discriminate," he told the newspaper. "The goal is to rehabilitate. For those who do violate the law, we want them to learn from that experience and have a good, successful business in Oregon."
In other words, Christians who live and work in Oregon must follow man's law instead of God's law. But in a show of benevolence, the state is willing to rehabilitate and reeducate Christian business owners like the Kleins.
Klein said it's becoming clear that Christians do not have the "right to believe what we believe."
In other words, gay rights trump religious rights.
From the August 14 edition of FoxNews.com's DEFCON 3:
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Right-wing media have baselessly smeared the White House's new Behavioral Insights Team, labeling it "propaganda," "mind control," and "Orwellian." In reality, the Behavioral Insights Team is modeled off a similar unit in Britain that has proven effective in encouraging timely tax payment and reducing energy bills and consumption.
Conservative media seized on White House plans to create a Behavioral Insights Team on July 30, when FoxNews.com obtained a document describing the program and its search for behavioral scientists.
Breitbart.com quickly jumped on the story, suggesting that the Obama administration will use the program to push a social agenda: "The Obama administration has not been shy about attempting to use its influence - or taxpayer money - to push enthusiasm for its agenda, including Obamacare, nutrition, and gay rights."
Fox stoked fears by hyping the program on multiple shows with little mention of its benefits. On the July 30 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs commented on FoxNews.com's report on the program, saying, "To many, that sounds purely like propaganda and mind control."
Continuing Fox News' long tradition of transphobia, a FoxNews.com article on transgender protections in a California school district relied on quotations from rabidly transphobic activists and repeatedly misidentified the gender of the student at the center of the story.
In a July 27 article, Fox News' Michael Roppolo examined a recent federal civil rights settlement with a suburban Los Angeles school district, where a transgender male student sought to use facilities that corresponded to his gender identity. Roppolo promoted the claim that the settlement shows how civil rights protections have gone too far:
The U.S. Department of Justice's latest cause - fighting for a transgendered California ninth-grader's right to use the boy's room at school - has conservative groups wondering just how far Washington will go in the name of civil rights.
Roppolo's story proceeded to quote no fewer than four anti-transgender activists and spokespersons. While he included one quotation from a school district official defending the settlement, Roppolo did not quote a single spokesperson from a transgender rights organization. The result was a story framed by hyperbolic and medically ignorant transphobic arguments.
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes revived the right-wing canard that churches will face lawsuits and even criminal charges unless they begin performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.
In a July 15 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes continued his push to frame LGBT rights as a dire threat to religious liberty, quoting a pastor who warns that "it's just a matter of time" before it's a crime to preach that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage should only be between a man and a woman:
Joe Carr believes a day is fast approaching when pastors will be charged with hate crimes for preaching that homosexuality is a sin and churches will face lawsuits for refusing to host same-sex weddings.
"It's just a matter of time," said Carr, the pastor of Waynesville Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia. "What's happening in Europe - we're going to see happen here and we're going to see it happen sooner rather than later I'm afraid."
Fox News contributor and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas has joined the chorus of right-wing commentators proclaiming national doom in the wake of the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decisions last week.
In a July 1 column for FoxNews.com, Thomas condemned the high court for its rulings striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissing the Proposition 8 case on the grounds that its supporters lacked standing. Like his Fox colleague Todd Starnes - who tweeted that the Supreme Court had "overrule[d] God" - Thomas accused the Court of poking its finger in the eye of the Almighty
The Supreme Court has narrowly, but effectively, removed another standard on the way to full acceptance of its right to redefine marriage and raise itself to a level higher than the Creator.
What or who is to stop them? Various religious-political groups formed over many years to confront cultural erosion are in retreat and increasingly ineffective.
Thomas then proceeded to reprise his claim that a nation that embraces marriage equality will soon condone polygamy and pedophilia:
Polygamist groups have made it known they wish to be next in line to enjoy full constitutional protection for their lifestyle. Utah was forced to outlaw polygamy before admission to the Union. Can it, should it, revert to its previous practice and who has the authority to say "no"?
There are people who favor sex and marriage between adults and children. On what basis should they be denied their "right to happiness"?
Today's "that goes too far" easily becomes tomorrow's "right" with a morally vacuous media leading the charge and a morally exhausted people who are afraid to say "stop," for fear they'll be labeled "bigots."
Among the developments Thomas cites as the basis for the nation descending a slippery slope into accepting polygamy and pedophilia: "The New York Times recently editorialized in favor of transgender rights."
In Thomas' estimation, the advance of equal rights for LGBT citizens will lead to nothing less than civilizational collapse: "History is full of examples of empires that collapsed from within before they were conquered from without."
While Fox's relatively tame reaction to the Court's rulings suggested that the network was wary of leading a crusade against marriage equality, its willingness to grant moral scolds like Thomas a platform indicates that bigotry and anti-gay misinformation still enjoy an outlet there.
Fox News' Keith Ablow wrote that serial killer Ted Kaczynski's crimes were "reprehensible" but promoted claims made in Kaczynski's manifesto that liberals are "psychologically disordered."
In a June 26 FoxNews.com column, Ablow claimed that while Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, committed "reprehensible" crimes, he was "precisely correct in many of his ideas." Ablow went on to claim that Kaczynski "must wonder what it will take for Americans to wake up" after "what constitutes the core of a human life" was being threatened by "technology and leftist political leaders." Ablow concluded by promoting Kaczynski's manifesto, claiming "it is time for people to read 'Industrial Society and its Future,' by convicted serial killer Ted Kaczynski" [emphasis original]:
He saw the political "left" as embracing these technologies with special fervor, because they were in keeping with the "leftist" ideology that centralized power was the way to govern men.
He saw these "leftists" as psychologically disordered--seeking to compensate for deep feelings of personal disempowerment by banding together and seeking extraordinary means of control in society.
Well, Kaczynski, while reprehensible for murdering and maiming people, was precisely correct in many of his ideas.
And having seen Barack Obama elected, in part, by mastering the use of the Internet as a campaign tool, then watching his administration preside over eavesdropping on the American public, monitoring their emails and tapping their phones, denying them their due process and privacy, and making a play to disarm them, Kaczynski, must wonder what it will take for Americans to wake up to the fact that their individuality and autonomy--indeed, what constitutes the core of a human life--is under siege (by the very forces he predicted--technology and leftist political leaders).
What the Unabomber did was reprehensible. And he was wrong: Killing people to bring attention to his ideas ended up making most people lock up his ideas, along with him. They became unmentionable, for politically correct folks.
Well, I would rather be correct, than politically correct. And it is time for people to read "Industrial Society and its Future," by convicted serial killer Ted Kaczynski. His work, despite his deeds, deserves a place alongside "Brave New World," by Aldous Huxley, and "1984," by George Orwell.
Fox News continued its campaign to demonize welfare benefits, this time hyping improper payments made by a Massachusetts program even though those payments made up only a minimal amount of all benefits paid by the state.
On Fox & Friends First, co-host Patti Ann Browne hyped a report that Massachusetts welfare agencies had improperly continued to provide a total of $2.39 million in assistance to 1,164 deceased recipients, calling the figures "ugly." On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade mocked the report, claiming, "More than 2 million dollars. That's the amount of welfare benefits paid out recently to nearly 1200 dead people in Massachusetts. They could not be reached for comment." A FoxNews.com article called the audit of the agencies "damning."
But according to the audit, improper payments to deceased individuals made up only a tiny amount of total assistance payments made by the state. Massachusetts' Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) spent more than $1.7 billion in benefits in fiscal year 2012 alone for a variety of financial assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP, or food stamps) and emergency aid to people with disabilities and children. The audit found only $2.39 million dollars improperly paid to deceased recipients for the entire time period from July 2010 to December 2012.
Furthermore, the audit found that Massachusetts has already taken steps to reduce the small number of improper payments in these programs, and according to the official press release, the auditor was "encouraged" by DTA's actions.
Fox News has a history of attacking programs for Americans in need. Fox News hosts have tied government assistance programs to the terror attacks committed at the Boston Marathon, mocked food stamps as a diet plan, claimed all individuals who receive government disability benefits are faking their disabilities, and even asked whether children should have to work in exchange for free school meals.