Climate report too quickly embraced by journalists

Post columnist, others strangely unskeptical

Feb. 10, 2007

by David Kopel

Denver Postcolumnist Diane Carman is usually scrupulous about her facts, but not so in last Sunday's column about global warming. According to Carman, the recent, highly-publicized report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "is not a political document."

Yet the very name of the group tells you that it is produced by governments. As the IPCC's Web site details, IPCC scientists are picked by governments (or by organizations which have been approved by governments), and IPCC drafts must go through two stages of "peer review" by government bureaucrats.

Many government leaders, such as France's Jacques Chirac, have gained political advantage in hyping global warming, and subordinate bureaucrats would be foolish to risk their careers by challenging the official orthodoxy.

Carman also touted the document as a "consensus interpretation" by "hundreds of scientists from all over the world." True enough, but, as noted by The Wall Street Journalon Monday, one reason the government-picked IPCC scientists had such an easy time agreeing with each other was the exclusion of scientists who might disagree, such as Paul Reiter, head of the Insects and Infectious Diseases unit of the Pasteur Institute. Reiter writes that policy advocates have fabricated a connection between malaria and global warming.

Like Carman, most of the other Denver journalists who covered the IPCC were excessively credulous. Readers looking for a broader view could start with the Fraser Institute's new analysis of the IPCC's work, which provides extensive evidence that the IPCC has vastly overstated the degree of certainty about climate change and its consequences. The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian research organization whose self-described mission is to analyze the "impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals" (www.fraserinstitute.ca).

The Colorado legislature is considering a bill that would require sixth-grade girls to get a vaccination against human papilloma viruses (HPV), sexually-transmitted viruses which can cause cervical cancer.

Unfortunately, the Rocky Mountain Newsand the Postdid an incomplete job reporting important facts about the vaccine; for example, neither paper noted in its news columns that there are no data about whether the vaccine is effective after more than five years. The papers did note that, based on clinical trials, no serious safety problems have been uncovered; but the papers should have also informed readers that side effects are often not discovered until a vaccine is used beyond the clinical setting.

While reporting that there is an opt-out provision for the mandatory HPV vaccine, neither paper reported that the opt-out would be stricter than for other vaccines, requiring the parent or guardian to receive pro-vaccine information from a health-care provider before being allowed to opt out.

As reported by both papers, the push for mandatory vaccines is coming from the pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck, which produces the only HPV vaccine currently on the market. The three-dose vaccine costs $350. A Feb. 1 article in the Newsstated that the sponsor of the mandatory vaccines bill, Sen. Suzanne Williams, "downplayed the \[Merck] connection, saying that by next year other companies are expected to have cervical cancer vaccines on the market."

A better article would have found out whether Williams was correct. Actually, only a single other company, GlaxoSmithKline, is working on a similar product, and Glaxo has not yet even filed for approval to market its product, Cervarix, in the United States.

Last Monday, Post opinion columnist Julia Martinez wrote that "The head of the Colorado Coalition against Sexual Assault" said that "less than 2 percent of reported rapes are false." Martinez should have followed the advice of the 1997 Columbia Journalism Reviewarticle titled "The Elusive Numbers on False Rape." That article advised: "For the reporter, the conclusion is clear. Don't rely on one source" (archives.cjr .org/year/9 7/6/rape.asp).

As the article explained, the 2 percent figure, although widely repeated, has little empirical support. In scholarly studies, the range of false reporting is as low as 1 percent and as high as at least 41 percent (the latter based on a study of one jurisdiction where every rape claim was always investigated and 41 percent of the complainants recanted). The "2 percent" factoid was simply picked by a pair of influential authors who made it the de facto "official" number among some advocates. The FBI's data show a false reporting rate of 8 percent.

According to The Mini Page's series on the Bill of Rights, "During the Revolutionary War, some colonies had laws" stating that women "and members of certain religions could not own guns."

Actually, there have never been such laws in the United States, during the Revolution or thereafter. The Mini Page, a weekly syndicated newspaper insert aimed at children, was probably an indirect victim of a hoax perpetrated by the now-disgraced Michael Bellesiles, in his book Arming America.Bellesiles' extensive research misconduct led to his forced resignation from his job at Emory University, and the publisher withdrew the book from the marketplace.  

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