Business Week Deceiving Readers

04/02/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • A. Siegel Energy, Environmental Blogger,

Poor misunderstood (former) GM executive Bob Lutz.

How dare Lutz be castigated for stating that "Global warming is a crock of s*%t!" After all, he follow this with ""Don't misunderstand me, I'm not a climate denier" while fundamentally rejecting science about climate change. But, poor Lutz ...

This is, in essence, the opening for an atrociously error-filled Business Week column by Ed Wallace that piles misrepresentation on top of misrepresentation on top of factual error on top of factual error.

Considering this article leads to this question:

How can any of Business Week's analysis of business and statistics and finances be trusted if such false and misleading material is published without, evidently, the slightest effort to actually do fact checking?

This is not just about the science

Lets start with a non-science misrepresentation. About Lutz' comment, Wallace writes:

It was at a small private luncheon at Cacharel in Arlington, Tex., when Lutz uttered those words.

"Small private luncheon" suggests that reporting of Lutz' comment was somehow distasteful, unethical practice. Hmmm ... Perhaps Wallace's readers might have a different understanding of the situation if he had explained that this was a "small private luncheon" that was for media, on-the-record set up, as I understand it, by General Motors' public affairs staff.

Thus, Wallace's opening begins with something almost certainly designed to mislead his readers which is a perfect start to a piece that blatantly misrepresents.

Turning to science

Wallace's misrepresentation of science is hard to exaggerate.

Let us take one example:

On the last day of 2009, Wolfgang Knorr of the Earth Sciences Dept. at the University of Bristol released new research showing the possibility that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not risen in the past 160 years. Maybe he's wrong, but at least he published his views for peer review in the Geophysical Research Letters.

Wallace utterly misrepresents Prof Knorr's work and publication. Knorr's published work ("Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?"), which Wallace cites, does not argue that the "carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not risen in the past 160 years". This is an utter misrepresentation of Knorr's words and work, suggesting that Wallace relies on Fox News rather than Knorr for his sourcing.

What Knorr's work examines is whether the fraction of CO2 emitted (both from natural and manmade paths) that is absorbed in the oceans, land, and remaining the atmosphere is changing. Knorr's work suggests that the relative amount (the fraction) of CO2 staying in the atmosphere has been stable. To be clear, Knorr's work is at odds with what others have concluded and is a good example of how science advances through open analysis of data, critiques / responses, and corrections/changes. Honestly, I do not know whether Knorr's work is correct but it is without doubt that Wallace utterly misrepresents it. Knorr absolutely did not suggest, anywhere, that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have not changed over the past 160 or 60 or 20 or 10 years.

This is just one of many utter misrepresentations by Wallace in this column. The two paragraphs following Wallace's misrepresentation of Professor Knorr's work misrepresents the discussion of global cooling 30 years ago, happily cites from Exxon-Mobil funded climate skeptics, accuses scientists of distorting their work purposefully, etc ...,

Let's provide another example.

The fact is that no one can even agree on whether or not the highest temperatures recorded in modern times came in the 1990s or during the Dust Bowl days of 1934

Okay, the uncertainty seems to be whether the highest US temperatures were in 1934 or in the past decade. In case Mr Wallace and Business Week's editors have forgotten, this is "Global Warming" (not regional, U.S. or my backyard warming) we're talking about.There is no uncertainty in the scientific community that the hottest 10 years (and, hottest 12 years) in the 150 years of modern temperature records have all come from 1998 to the present.

This column is filled with mistatements of fact (FACT) (such as what people stated, about scientific measurements, etc ...) The column is filled with a myriad of misrepresentations of the state of scientific discussion that distort the state of the science. It misrepresents, with Faux News worthy truthiness, the costs and benefits of action on climate change. And, it opens with a deceptive description suggesting that quoting from an on-the-record media event was somehow inappropriate.

Perhaps the scariest portion of this error-filled monstrosity? The note that ends it:

This is the first of a multipart series of columns on global warming.

We can hope, perhaps without reason, that Business Week might actually do some fact checking of the coming columns.

It is sad that Business Week is so willing to publish a commentary that is so systematically distorting of openly published material. This leads to a basic question that any and all of the magazine's readers consider:

How can any of Business Week's analysis of business and statistics and finances be trusted if such false and misleading material is published without, evidently, the slightest effort to actually do fact checking?

NOTE: For a more comprehensive and heavily linked dissection of Wallace's misrepresentations, see Joe Romm, Is Ed Wallace's Business Week Column a "Crock of S--t"?, Climate Progress