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James Taylor

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  • New Book Provides Illustrated Guide To Media-Fueled “Madhouse” Of Climate Change Denial

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Sometimes even the world’s most serious problems are best handled with a little bit of humor.

    Case in point: The Madhouse Effect (Columbia University Press), a new book by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, which lays out a plan for media, politicians, and the public at large to “escape the madhouse” of climate change denial before it’s too late.

    There is no shortage of books about climate change. But what makes this one unique is the way it combines Mann’s science communication skills, which help succinctly describe the roots, methods, and implications of climate science denial, and Toles’ illustrations, which provide an equally biting and amusing perspective on the dynamics the book describes. The book speaks to both our left and right brains, with the hope that it will motivate many to push for climate action -- and maybe even convert a few deniers along the way.

    The Madhouse Effect is also a book about media, and it dissects many common media failings that we frequently analyze and write about here at Media Matters.

    First among them is false balance, which the book describes as giving false industry-friendly claims about climate change “an equal place on the media stage with actual science.” As we documented in a recent study of newspaper opinion pages, one place where this problem is alive and well is USA Today, which often pairs scientifically accurate editorials about climate change with “opposing view” op-eds that flatly deny climate change is happening or that it's caused by human activities.

    Several of these climate science-denying “opposing views” in USA Today were written by Republican members of Congress, exemplifying another point Mann and Toles make in the book: False balance is “greatly exacerbated by the increasing polarization of our public discourse.” This can also be seen in print and TV news coverage of GOP presidential candidates’ climate denial, which frequently failed to indicate that the candidates' statements about climate change conflicted with the scientific consensus on the issue.

    Mann and Toles argue that false balance has been further worsened by the decentralization of news sources, particularly the rise of the “right-wing echo chamber” led (at least in the U.S.) by Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, climate science denial remains a staple of both outlets, with the Journal editorial board and Journal columnist Holman Jenkins peddling every denialist trope imaginable, and Fox News recently erasing all mentions of climate change (and coincidentally, Mann) from an Associated Press article about Tropical Storm Hermine.

    The Madhouse Effect also pinpoints where these denialist talking points often originate, detailing many of the fossil fuel front groups whose representatives frequently mislead about climate change in major print and TV media without disclosing their glaring conflicts of interest. Among them are leading opponents of climate action such as Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), all of which have received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    The book exposes many of the individual industry-funded operatives known for misinforming about climate change, too, including the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, Heartland’s Fred Singer and James Taylor, Junkscience.com editor Steve Milloy, ClimateDepot’s Marc Morano, and CEI’s Chris Horner and Myron Ebell.

    Mann and Toles give special attention to Bjorn Lomborg, a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today:

    Of Lomborg’s particular style of misinformation, they write:

    Lomborg’s arguments often have a veneer of credibility, but scratch the surface, and you witness a sleight of hand, where climate projections are lowballed; climate change impacts, damages, and costs are underestimated; and the huge current subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, both direct and indirect, are ignored.

    (Unfortunately, after Mann and Toles wrote a September 16 op-ed in the Washington Post profiling Lomborg and other members of the book’s climate “deniers club,” the Post opted to publish its first Lomborg op-ed in nearly two years on its website on September 19.)

    Thankfully, The Madhouse Effect debunks many of the top climate falsehoods promoted by these industry operatives -- and conservative media. These include claiming that addressing climate change will keep the poor in “energy poverty”; citing the global warming “hiatus” or “pause” to dismiss concerns about climate change; pointing to changes in the climate hundreds or thousands of years ago to deny that the current warming is caused by humans; alleging that unmitigated climate change will be a good thing; disputing that climate change is accelerating sea level rise; and denying that climate change is making weather disasters more costly.

    And Mann and Toles detail some of the climate connections that major media outlets often ignore, such as the counterintuitive role of climate change in the winter snowstorms that blanketed the Northeast in early 2015, and the impacts of climate change on national security, the economy, and public health. In part, they attribute this lack of coverage to a modern media environment where very few stories can survive more than a few 24-hour news cycles, which is “prohibitive for raising awareness about slowly growing threats such as climate change.”

    The book concludes with a call to action for readers to “leave the madhouse” and help lead the fight against climate change. The authors convey a sense of urgency, writing: “We will not, we cannot, wreck this planet. There is no Planet B.” As with so much else in The Madhouse Effect, that sentiment is also expressed in cartoon-form, via Toles’ illustration of a thermometer for a chapter titled, “Why should I give a damn?”:

  • The Right-Wing Media's Most Unhinged Reactions To The EPA's Historic Climate Plan


    Right-wing media have reacted to the unveiling of the final version of President Obama's historic Clean Power Plan with claims that it will hurt America, denials that it will benefit public health, and personal attacks on the president and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. Here's a sampling of the conservative media's most unhinged, over-the-top reactions.

  • How The Merchants Of Doubt Push Climate Denial On Your Television

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Merchants of Doubt

    A new documentary shows how a "professional class of deceivers" has been paid by the fossil fuel industry to cast doubt on the science of climate change, in an effort akin to that from the tobacco industry, which for decades used deceitful tactics to deny the scientific evidence that cigarettes are harmful to human health. The film, Merchants of Doubt, explores how many of the same people that once lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry are now employed in the climate denial game.

    An infamous 1969 memo from a tobacco executive read: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." Using similar tactics, a very small set of people have had immense influence in sowing doubt on the scientific consensus of manmade climate change in recent years.

    Merchants of Doubt features five prominent climate science deniers who have been particularly influential in deceiving the public and blocking climate action. Their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry are not hard to uncover. Yet major U.S. television networks* -- CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, and PBS -- have given most of these deniers prominent exposure over the past several years. 

    Merchant of Doubt

    Number of TV Appearances, 2009-2014

    Marc Morano


    James Taylor


    Fred Singer


    Tim Phillips


    Now that these Merchants of Doubt have been exposed, the major cable and network news programs need to keep them off the airwaves, a sentiment echoed by Forecast the Facts, which recently launched a petition demanding that news directors do just that.

  • USA TODAY's Editorial Format Requires Climate Denial

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Opinion Vs Fact

    USA TODAY has chosen to propagate the noxious Heartland Institute's climate misinformation once again, pointing to a larger failing in their "Our View"/"Their View" editorial format: whenever the board writes an editorial acknowledging global warming as fact, it attempts to "balance" the facts with denial.

    On January 31, USA TODAY published an editorial titled "Baby, it's cold outside, but globe is warming." The board correctly pointed out that the recent cold weather snap and rare southern snowstorm do not contradict long-term data showing the climate is warming, driven by human activities. But the paper also ran an opposing op-ed from the Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who claimed that "[t]his winter shows that global warming is not changing our climate severely."

    The Heartland Institute is possibly the worst of the worst climate "skeptic" think tanks, yet USA TODAY chose it once again to "balance" its editorial. The fossil fuel-funded organization is infamous for its attacks on climate science, previously comparing those who accept climate change to a domestic terrorist in a billboard campaign. James Taylor, a lawyer with no scientific background, is one of the Institute's most prominent media figures and a primary instigator of spreading misinformation as a regular contributor to Forbes.com.

    Heartland Global Warming

    Taylor claimed that global warming will "benefit, rather than harm, human health and welfare." But economic studies show that the impacts of global warming driven by carbon emissions will result in net negatives -- even one from Bjorn Lomborg, an economist who opposes large-scale climate action. Lomborg's study estimating the economic damage caused by climate change found that "after year 2070, global warming will become a net cost to the world, justifying cost-effective climate action." Other studies have found that the costs of climate change will be much higher.

    USA TODAY's editorial format, requiring two sides to every issue, is concerning -- particularly when one "side" is truth and the other is misinformation. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which is composed of hundreds of scientists, stated in its most recent report that scientists are 95 percent certain that the majority of recent warming is manmade, or about as certain as they are that cigarettes kill. Interestingly, the Heartland Institute also denied that cigarettes kill, stating that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects." USA TODAY likely wouldn't run an op-ed from the Heartland Institute espousing this "view" -- so why did they do so with climate denial?

    UPDATE (2/3/14): James Taylor bragged about his USA TODAY op-ed on the Heartland Institute's website in an article titled "USA Today Gets it Right, Nature Gets it Wrong," elated that "a mainstream media organ acknowledge[d] the existence of scientific debate on the climate change issue."  

  • Myths And Facts About Nuclear Power

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.

  • Did Conservative Media Get Anything Right About The IPCC Report?

    ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.

  • Scientist Rebukes Latest "Factually Wrong" Attempt To Deny Climate Change

    News That Rising Emissions Could Lead To Dire Warming Should Prompt Action, Not Denial

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    A scientist who spearheaded findings of rising greenhouse gas emissions is rebuking a Forbes columnist who incorrectly claimed that temperatures have been "flat" to question the manmade causes of climate change.

    Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data showed a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2012. Pieter Tans, who heads NOAA's greenhouse gas measurement group, told AP that "The prospects of keeping climate change below" 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100, as world leaders agreed to do, "are fading away." He added that the carbon jump is "just a testament to human influence being dominant."

    Rather than using the news to evaluate the costs associated with our addiction to fossil fuel and discuss the steps we must take to avert the worst consequences of climate change, James Taylor of the industry-funded Heartland Institute used it to deny science. Taylor claimed that global temperatures are "essentially the same today" as they were in 1995 despite a contemporaneous rise in carbon emissions, and that this was a "devastating rebuke to assertions that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing a global warming crisis."

    But Tans told Media Matters in an email that Taylor is "factually wrong" even using his short-term example -- 2012 was actually warmer than 1995 by about 0.16°C -- and that Taylor cherry-picked a date that had higher temperatures than surrounding years:

    Taylor is factually wrong about the global temperature. According to the NASA GISS web site the year 1995 was 0.16 deg.C cooler than 2012. He could have compared to 1994 or 1996, in which case the difference from 2012 would have been 0.31 and 0.25 C cooler respectively. Therefore it makes sense to not compare individual years, but to take a 10-year smoothed average. In that case 1995 was cooler than 2012 by about 0.28 C. The second decimal depends a little on your smoothing technique.

    In any case, long-term temperatures trends, a far more relevant indicator of climate change, aren't "flat" at all: each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record. But Taylor obscured the long-term temperature rise by using a short period of data, as seen in this graphic from Skeptical Science:

  • Meet The Climate Denial Machine

    Blog ››› ››› JILL FITZSIMMONS

    Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.

    Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.

    Heartland Institute And James Taylor

    The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."

    Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.

    Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.

  • Antarctic Sea Ice And The Art Of Climate Distraction

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    In order to distract from the announcement this week that Arctic sea ice is at a record low, right-wing media are pointing to Antarctic sea ice as proof that climate change isn't occurring. But Antarctic sea ice gains have been slight, whereas Arctic ice decline -- a key indicator of climate change -- has been extreme. Furthermore, scientists have long expected the Arctic to experience the first impacts of climate change, and still project that in the long run, sea ice in both regions will decline as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

    On September 16, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year and the lowest seasonal minimum measured since record keeping began in 1979. But in a blog post published the day of that record low, climate contrarian Steven Goddard changed the subject, asserting that Antarctic ice on "day 256" (September 12 in a leap year) was the highest ever recorded for that date, and the eighth highest daily recording ever. A few days earlier, contrarian Anthony Watts cited satellite readings showing "mass gains of the Antarctic ice sheet" to similar end.

    Heartland Institute fellow and Forbes contributor James Taylor quickly seized on the argument, complaining that instead of covering the Antarctic, news reporters were "breathlessly spreading fear and warning of calamity because Arctic sea ice recently set a 33-year low." Investor's Business Daily used the Antarctic ice growth to pass judgment on "global warming alarmists" for noting record summer temperatures across much of the U.S. and concluded " The alarmists' bible has turned out to be full of false prophets."

    But the low Arctic sea ice came on the heels of a "record-breaking summer," and it is lower than any since observation began "by a wide margin." According to a NASA release on the record, the difference between the new Arctic sea ice extent and the old mark is larger than the state of Texas, whereas, as National Snow & Ice Date Center [NSIDC] Director Mark Serreze told LiveScience, "Antarctic sea ice hasn't seen these big reductions we've seen in the Arctic."

    Indeed, the daily sea ice extent for the Arctic is well outside of two standard deviations from the 1997-2000 average, while the Antarctic daily sea ice extent is only slightly outside of this range for 2012:

    And according to a study published in Nature of 69 sites around the Arctic, the drop in late summer sea ice in the Arctic is unprecedented in over a thousand years:

  • Myths And Facts About Natural Gas

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Natural gas can help the U.S. transition away from reliance on coal in the near-term if it is produced responsibly. But conservative media have dismissed the risks involved with the rapid spread of natural gas extraction to push for deregulation, attack the Obama administration, and ignore the need for a comprehensive energy policy to transition to renewable energy.

  • Forbes Still Publishing Heartland's Climate Nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    Forbes Heartland InstituteA recent Forbes column alleges that federal scientists are "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the last 12-month period was the warmest on record for the continental U.S.

    But what the column paints as a nefarious conspiracy is actually just proper science -- NOAA painstakingly applies peer-reviewed adjustments to account for errors and gaps in the raw data from thousands of temperature stations across the country. The resulting temperature record has been independently evaluated and corroborated.

    The column is by James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, the libertarian group that recently made headlines with a short-lived billboard campaign tastelessly invoking the Unabomber. This is not the first time Taylor has used his platform at Forbes to malign scientists and spread bad information about climate research.

    At issue are the corrections NOAA uses to eliminate errors and known sources of bias from the raw weather station data (which Taylor likes to call "the real-world data"). Keep in mind that the U.S. represents just 2% of the Earth's surface so the data we're talking about are a small part of the evidence of global climate change.

    The scientists (Taylor calls them "bureaucrats") know that the raw data have flaws -- stations are moved, natural disasters knock stations offline, measuring instruments change -- so NOAA performs quality control using methods that are published in peer-reviewed papers. Taylor concedes that "it is, of course, possible that certain factors can influence the real-world temperature readings such that a correction in real-world temperature data may be justified." But when he doesn't like the results, he concludes that the adjustments aren't valid corrections but "doctored data."

  • Billboards Illustrate Heartland's Approach To Science

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    (UPDATE 4:31PM: The Heartland Institute tells the Washington Post that the billboard will be taken down today. Heartland CEO Joseph Bast said: "The Heartland Institute knew this was a risk when deciding to test it, but decided it was a necessary price to make an emotional appeal to people who otherwise aren't following the climate change debate.")

    As the evidence continues to mount that humans are changing the climate with serious consequences, the libertarian Heartland Institute is becoming increasingly desperate to recast concern about climate change as "radical." This week the organization, usually so sensitive about logical fallacies, launched a billboard campaign in Chicago associating "belief" in global warming with murderers and tyrants, including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro.

    Heartland Unabomber billboard

    "The point" of the billboards, according to Heartland, "is that believing in global warming is not 'mainstream,' smart or sophisticated" and "the people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society."

    The message is an uphill climb for Heartland, to say the least. Basic physics indicates that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations will cause warming, confirmed by decades of research. And surveys show that a vast majority of scientists, and particularly those who specialize in fields related to climate, have concluded that human-induced warming is occurring, along with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and every other major scientific body.

    By Heartland's standard, the "radical fringe of society" also includes the Pope, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, Evangelical Christian leaders and Republican climate scientists.

  • "Climategate" Redux: Conservative Media Distort Hacked Emails ... Again


    Anonymous hackers recently released another batch of emails taken from a climate research group at the University of East Anglia in 2009, along with a document containing numbered excerpts of purportedly incriminating material. Many of these selections have been cropped in a way that completely distorts their meaning, but they were nonetheless repeated by conservative media outlets who believe climate change is a "hoax" and a "conspiracy."

  • Straw Men And The Little Ice Age

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    The Heartland Institute's James Taylor is on the defensive after an independent study undermined critics of the temperature records establishing global warming. In his most recent Forbes.com column, Taylor accuses media outlets of knocking down a straw man in their reports on the study. But in doing so, Taylor himself advances a bad argument which misconstrues the basic physics of the climate.

    Forbes/HeartlandDismissing as old news the warming trend confirmed by the study, Taylor writes that temperatures have increased because the climate is "recovering from the Little Ice Age":

    Very few if any skeptics assert that the earth is still in the Little Ice Age. While the Little Ice Age raged from approximately 1300 to 1900 AD, it is pretty well accepted that the Little Ice Age did indeed end by approximately 1900 AD. The mere fact that the Little Ice Age ended a little over 100 years ago, and that temperatures have warmed during the course of recovering from the Little Ice Age, tells us absolutely nothing about the remaining components necessary to support an assertion that humans are creating a global warming crisis.

    This is not the first time Taylor has claimed in his weekly Forbes column that "the earth continues to recover from the abnormally cold conditions of the centuries-long Little Ice Age" and that "there was little room for temperatures to go at the time but up." But it's an entirely hollow argument.

    "Recovery" from the Little Ice Age is not an explanation for warming any more than "recovery from falling" is an explanation for why a basketball bounces. University of Arizona climatologist Malcolm Hughes said via email that Taylor's claim is "as unscientific and uninformative as that other old chestnut, that 'climate has always varied,'" adding, "Science is about how things work."

  • At Fox News, Planet Earth Is Sponsored By ExxonMobil

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    We noted in June that Fox News' iPad app was sponsored exclusively by ExxonMobil, a corporation known for paying think tanks to obfuscate the scientific consensus on climate change. Now FoxNews.com's "Planet Earth" section is also brought to you by the oil giant:

    foxnews.com screengrab

    In fact, FoxNews.com's entire Science & Technology section and their opinion page appear to be sponsored by ExxonMobil; the other sections of their website are not.