Friday, April 28, 2017

It Makes No Diference; New York Times Columnist Addition

Recently the New York Times decided to "diversify" it's editorial page by hiring Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal. This led to a lot of liberal outcry that a person like Stephens was a terrible choice for the Times. The arguments are many but let me try to sum them up:
  • The Times' columnists are already largley older white men, adding another one isn't helpful.
  • There's already two "Never Trump" conservative writers with columns, Douthat and Brooks why do we need another one?
  • If you really want "balance" give the column to a left wing type or a paleoconservative type.
  • The "Greatest Newspaper In The World" has never had a Hispanic columnist.
  • Stephens is a bit of a climate change denier, why give him a platform?
  • Why, as a liberal person, does the paper I subscribe to give yet another column to someone who will write columns about why I'm terrible?
Jeff Stein at Vox had a big Q and A with Stephens about everything from Black Lives Matter to sexual violence on college campuses to global warming. Read the whole thing, as the kids says, but I was struck by Stephens's "climate change may or may not be real" line of argument.

This isn't completely his fault, Jonathan Bernstein pointed this out back in 2013 that being a conservative columnist for the Times is basically impossible. Why? Well because a conservative columnist you can either chose to embrace the nonsense or quickly become a heretic, it wasn't always like this but:
And in normal times, in the era of William Safire, it worked just fine. Safire could defend most of what the GOP did, dissent on particular issues (and even there he’d have some Republican support) and generally help readers of the Times who were otherwise cocooned to know what’s going on with conservatives...
But the Republican Party of the Reagan era are around any more. And that makes the job impossible.
Bernstein goes on to point out the conclusion to talk about climate change as a political issue, but let me say it in my own words. The "conservative" position when seems to be that changes in the Earth's atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution are not real; or rather the whole idea of changes is either not real or is a diabolical plot cooked up by American liberals, environmentalists, the United Nations, 99% of scientists, and the Pope. Why are they doing this? Well it's not clear, but liberalism is somehow to blame.

Anyway Stephen's first column gives us a sort of greatest hits of these sorts of thing. Right out of the gate Stephen's tells us that Hillary Clinton Was Stupid And So Was Robby Mook Her Stupid Campaign Manager, but then moves on to more important things:
There’s a lesson here. We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.
With me so far? Good. 
Let’s turn to climate change.
Seems like a bad lesson to me, but here we go:
Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future.  
By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. They shouldn’t, because there’s another lesson here — this one for anyone who wants to advance the cause of good climate policy. As Revkin wisely noted, hyperbole about climate “not only didn’t fit the science at the time but could even be counterproductive if the hope was to engage a distracted public.”
For what it's worth my head is not "exploding", it's just annoyed that I have to push back at this sort of nonsense from the editorial page of The New York Times.  (Seriously if the concepts is to confusing for you here's David Robert explaining it in a video).

On a certain level Stephens is correct, environmentalists like me should probably stop yakking so much about "science" and focus on this like how coal power puts mercury in our water, and how our communities benefit from renewable energy, and how we can create lots of jobs in places like Minnesota that don't have coal mines.

As penitence for my sins as an environmentalist I will now go hang my head in shame. But I'd like to point out that most liberals skepticism was warranted. His first column was about why us environmentalists need to shut up about climate change for God's sake.

Pundits are gonna pundit, but honestly why on earth did the New York Times give him a column? The Band summed this up pretty well.

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