One of the most well-known teachings in the field of journalism is a simple explanation as to what makes for a good story: “Man bites dog.” The logic is that a dog biting a man is such a common occurrence that it does not warrant retelling. But a man biting a dog is much less common, which makes it both interesting and newsworthy.
I’ve thought about that lately while reading a new batch of stories of well-educated or otherwise well-informed people who now say that they are no longer skeptical of Climate Change. In an Op-Ed published on July 30 in The New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” University of California-Berkeley physics professor, and noted Climate Change skeptic, Richard A. Muller laid out why he had changed his mind:
CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
I suppose it is nice that Muller decided to come forward and declare himself another un-denier, but why is this newsworthy?
Last November a report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noted that more than 97% of climate scientists agree with widespread evidence that Climate Change is indeed real and is indeed happening. Yet all too often we still see another news story about a professor or politician who comes out and declares that he or she is no longer a Climate Change denier. That isn’t news. It’s ‘dog bites man.’
When the media announces that another scientist or politico has looked outside and realized that Climate Change is not just a scary bedtime story told by liberals, it creates the impression that this is somehow new or groundbreaking. It builds on an idea that there must be real doubt among the scientific community if someone is willing to speak out. But none of this is true.
The real story – the “man bites dog” story – is the tale of someone like Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, a noted Climate Change denier who points to the Bible as his evidence of a great hoax. The story isn’t about those few stragglers who are coming to terms with Climate Change, but about the Inhofe’s of the world who still can’t see otherwise.
Climate Change will probably always have its deniers, no matter the size of the pile of evidence, but that isn’t unique to this issue. The Flat Earth Society, a group “dedicated to unraveling the true mysteries of the universe and demonstrating that the earth is flat and that Round Earth doctrine is little more than an elaborate hoax” are proof of that. The first question listed under the Society’s own Q&A page tells you all you need to know:
Q: “Is this site a joke?”
A: This site is not a joke. There are people who seriously believe the earth is flat. However, there are also people who do not.
There are still people who do not believe that Climate Change is real, but the media and others should stop ringing a bell every time someone new decides that they can no longer deny reality.
It’s not news when an influential person first speaks out about the threat of Climate Change.
It’s news when they don’t.