Dec 12, 2009

Al Gore: Not This Thinking Woman's Thinking Man

How about that Al Gore? The "Thinking Man's Thinking Man" and the "Eco-Prophet" (as dubbed by Newsweek last month.) Or Al Gore the Christ (Time magazine's implication in May 2007).

Attention fawning media outlets: your environmental savior with the supposedly high-octane intellect is looking rather shabby. I mean, an intellectual researches things a tad before making public pronouncements, doesn't he?

So what are we to make of the interview Mr. Gore gave to Slate magazine four days ago? He was asked about the 1,073 e-mails that comprise part of the ClimateGate documents leaked/hacked last month. These e-mails reveal prominent climate scientists discussing amongst themselves oh-so-unscientific behavior like evading Freedom of Information requests, deleting select e-mails, and boycotting journals that publish articles they disagree with.

Mr. Gore is asked by Slate how "damaging to [his] argument" he feels the e-mails are. His reply:
To paraphrase Shakespeare, it's sound and fury signifying nothing. I haven't read all the e-mails, but the most recent one is more than 10 years old. [bold added by me]
The journalist says the e-mails suggest "that data was hidden and hoarded" and points out this runs counter to the apparent claim in Mr. Gore's latest book that there's been "an open and fair debate" about climate change. Mr. Gore's reply:
I think it's been taken wildly out of e-mail exchange more than 10 years ago... [my bold]
Two sentences further on, he makes this assertion one more time:
What we're seeing is a set of changes worldwide that just make this discussion over 10-year-old e-mails kind of silly. [my bold]
Well, here's the problem. The "thinking man's thinking man" appears to have left planet Earth during his Slate interview and the journalist, I'm sorry to report, apparently didn't notice. Even a liberal-arts-major like me can do this math. Mr. Gore may be stuck in a 1999 time warp, but
  • 44% of these e-mails are from 2006 or later
  • only 1 in 7 are ten years old or older
The e-mails are listed here, 25 to a page. There's nearly 10 full pages from the last two years alone. The most recent one, rather than being written a decade ago as Mr. Gore claims, was authored less than four weeks before the Slate interview.

These e-mails, penned by some of the scientists who produce the United Nations' climate Bible - the IPCC reports (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) - are not old news. They are not obscured by the sands of time and cannot be dismissed as being, in essence, "silly old things."

But the journalist didn't point that out. Perhaps he chose - more wisely than did Mr. Gore - to not go there since he wasn't entirely sure. Slate later inserted astericks after each of the above quotes which all link to this interesting addendum:
In the interview, Al Gore said that the e-mails printed from researchers at the University of East Anglia were 10 years old. They are more recent than that, including many from 2009. In response, Gore has issued a statement: "The e-mail exchanges that I focused on are approximately 10 years old. Some of the e-mail exchanges cited by others are more recent. None of them change the scientific consensus in any way."
There's a website out there called Honestly, I think its name is unfortunate. I prefer to believe that people make mistakes, that they get carried away in the heat of the moment, that their mouths overtake their brain on occasion. I think it's rude to accuse someone of being a liar.

But if Mr. Gore isn't intellectually impaired and he isn't an outright liar what are we left with?

Option A: He's a salesman. He apparently doesn't care whether his remarks are accurate. He appears not to have read these e-mails and seems unlikely to do so. For him, facts are beside the point.

Mr. Gore may simply be interested in selling stuff: his books, his film, his speeches ($175,000 per) and his photo standing beside you (for the equivalent of $1,200). And let's not even talk about the various green ventures in which he's financially involved.

Option B: He's grown complacent and lazy. Mr. Gore has gotten used to having his ring kissed by the media. (CBS news anchor Katie Couric gushed last month that she was "honored" to be giving Mr. Gore, the "Godfather of Green [and] the King of Conservation," publicity for his new book.)

That's not the kind of milieu that keeps one sharp. Once you've been declared the "thinking man's thinking man" maybe you start to believe that any assertion that comes out of your mouth will be treated like gospel, so why sweat it.

It seems to me the mainstream media now faces a choice. It can start doing its job - which used to be understood as helping ensure the little folk aren't victimized by wealthy, powerful, famous ones pushing schemes designed to enrich themselves. It can start writing stories that represent the checks and balances the press is supposed to supply in a democratic society.

Or it can carry on being the public relations arm of I-can't-be-bothered-to-get-basic-facts-right politicians like Al Gore. In that case, the sooner such "journalists" are relegated to the dustbin of history the better.