OpinionOpinion L.A.

On letters from climate-change deniers

Environmental IssuesWeatherScienceConservationEcosystemsJon HealeyGlobal Warming

A piece this weekend debunking the claim that Congress and the president are exempted from Obamacare has drawn a harsh reaction from some readers and conservative bloggers. But their umbrage wasn't with the piece's explanation of why letters making this claim do not get published.

Rather, they were upset by the statement that letters "[saying] there's no sign humans have caused climate change" do not get printed. Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters blogged about it over the weekend:

"It's one thing for a news outlet to advance the as yet unproven theory of anthropogenic global warming; it's quite another to admit that you won't publish views that oppose it.

"As amazing as it may seem, that's exactly what the Los Angeles Times did Saturday in an article by editorial writer Jon Healey....

"So letters to the editor 'that say there's no sign humans have caused climate change ... do not get printed.'

"That's quite a statement coming from an editorial writer not named Al Gore."

Point of order: Jon Healey didn't write that intro, and neither did Al Gore; as The Times' letters editor, I did. It ran without a byline because it was intended to be a straightforward editor's note introducing the piece; my apologies if that caused any confusion. Healey was responsible for everything beneath the boldface subhead, "Editorial writer Jon Healey explains why this claim in the debate over the healthcare law is off-base."

As for letters on climate change, we do get plenty from those who deny global warming. And to say they "deny" it might be an understatement: Many say climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.

Before going into some detail about why these letters don't make it into our pages, I'll concede that, aside from my easily passing the Advanced Placement biology exam in high school, my science credentials are lacking. I'm no expert when it comes to our planet's complex climate processes or any scientific field. Consequently, when deciding which letters should run among hundreds on such weighty matters as climate change, I must rely on the experts -- in other words, those scientists with advanced degrees who undertake tedious research and rigorous peer review.

And those scientists have provided ample evidence that human activity is indeed linked to climate change. Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- a body made up of the world's top climate scientists -- said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn't whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us.

Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying "there's no sign humans have caused climate change" is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy.

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Follow Paul Thornton on Twitter @PaulMThornton

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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