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What The Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight Have in Common on Climate Change

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Fred Hiatt and Nate Silver have the same climate problem. Hiatt, editor of the Washington Post's editorial page, routinely signs off on outright denial of the scientific reality of climate change from George Will and Charles Krauthammer without ever correcting their exaggerations, distortions or mischaracterizations. Krauthammer, for instance, likes to say that the planet has stopped warming. The science says otherwise.

Silver is now in hot water after his new FiveThirtyEight.com published a post from Roger Pielke, Jr, a CU-Boulder professor who is infamous for downplaying the threats of climate change and attacking the motives of climate scientists.

Pielke's piece said there is no connection between the rising costs of cleaning up after storms and the warming of the planet. Silver received an avalanche of criticisms on the post from the public and climate scientists. Even Jon Stewart took him to task.

Silver, saying that he heard the criticisms, took the extraordinary step of commissioning a rebuttal. In it, MIT researcher Kerry Emanuel dismantled Pielke's arguments and showed what the scientific community has long understood. The rising costs from disasters are linked to climate change. Writes Emanuel:

I'm not comfortable with Pielke's assertion that climate change has played no role in the observed increase in damages from natural hazards; I don't see how the data he cites support such a confident assertion.

The journalistic question for both Silver and Hiatt is what should they do when one of their writers pens something that is flat-out wrong? The rules that govern The Post's opinion page are different from those that govern Silver's website, right? Or is Silver's FiveThirtyEight an opinion site as well, where writers can play fast and loose with data.

The remedies to their common problem should be the same for both The Post and FiveThirtyEight. Both must correct the record and be forceful when they do. This means publishing a correction connected to the original piece. Hiatt has never corrected Will and Krauthammer when they are wrong on climate change. There is more hope for Silver, whose new venture is still writing its own rules.

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