Here’s an interesting tale of two spins. Both of these articles are reporting on the same event, findings released by a Dutch environmental agency that agree with the IPCC conclusions. Strangely though, the two articles are clearly intended to present a very different image.
There are two main points from the findings of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
1) The IPCC is generally correct that global warming caused by humans already is happening and is threatening the lives and well-being of millions of people.
2) There are some minor errors, including typographical errors in specific predictions of the IPCC, that “do not affect the whole construction [of the IPCC report].”
So why am I writing a post about two articles that agree in the details and stating that the spin is totally different? Well, let’s start with the titles below (and please click through to the actual articles for yourself).
Let’s assume for the moment that most people, including not only readers of this blog, but readers of the NY Times and the BBC as well, will not click through to the article (as I will be able to tell from my wordpress dashboard) and that of those who do, most will read the first paragraph and skim the rest (please correct me if you believe this to be incorrect).
People who see the first headline will assume that the Dutch agency has confirmed the data in the IPCC report. People who see the second, will assume that the panel has found the IPCC in error and will believe that climate change is far from proven, despite the fact that the body of both articles make it quite clear that climate change is indeed real and will have serious consequences for millions of people.
I’m going to assume that the authors of both of these articles had exactly those agenda in mind when they wrote those articles. So, the AP writer here in the U.S., despite accurately printing the information, has made sure that what stands out are the minor inconsistencies in a few of the details rather than the overwhelming evidence that global warming is real and severe.
Since I have already been convinced of this for quite some time, I would have a very difficult case pointing to the spin in the case of the BBC article. It appears to me to accurately point out that the important point is that climate change is real and severe. The AP article, reprinted quite thoughtlessly in the NY Times as evidenced by the identical article in every detail down to punctuation can be found in no fewer than 100 publications via a quick google search for an entire paragraph of the text, leaves one with the impression that there are glaring errors in the IPCC report.
It says so right in the headline.
Or does it?
If one carefully reads the text, one will find that the IPCC report is largely upheld. One will also see that a single error from the IPCC actually came from the Dutch agency itself. So, what is really being said here is that the agency is admitting fault for one of the 35 insubstantial errors in the IPCC report.
Meanwhile, even the AP article states quite clearly, if one gets passed the headline and first paragraph:
But the review by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency claimed that none of the errors effected the fundamental conclusion by U.N. panel of scientists: that global warming caused by humans already is happening and is threatening the lives and well-being of millions of people.
I would have considered that the most important point in the article. I probably would have made a headline out of that. But, AP would rather have us concentrate on the phrase “mistake in climate report”.
That is spin.
BBC on the other hand, in addition to a title that states the important point that the IPCC report has been upheld, put a first paragraph in bold, for people who only read the first paragraph before their mind wanders.
A Dutch inquiry into the UN’s climate science panel has found “no errors that would undermine the main conclusions” on probable impacts of climate change.
That’s nice and clear. Would that we could send such clear messages here in the U.S.