Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


So letters that have an untrue basis... do not get printed
October 22, 2013 12:16 PM   Subscribe

On October 8, the LA Times' Letter Editor, Paul Thornton published a piece entitled, "On letters from climate-change deniers" following up on a claim in an earlier article that said, " Simply put, this objection to the president's healthcare law is based on a falsehood, and letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there's no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed."

The Guardian: Should newspapers ban letters from climate science deniers?: If we see them as a place where statements of fact need to backed by evidence, which Paul Thornton and the LA Times clearly does, then it's hard to argue against banning letters claiming there's no evidence for human caused climate change.

But if you see the letters pages of newspapers as a reflection of what the community of readers believe - which presumably some newspaper editors do - then it's clearly OK to run views by readers who find it hard, for whatever reason, to accept the existence of mountains of evidence.


Mother Jones: How 9 Major Papers Deal With Climate-Denying Letters

Fox News: Los Angeles Times endorses censorship with ban on letters from climate skeptics

Previously on Metafilter
posted by roomthreeseventeen (73 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is no reason to enable these people to help them re-affirm their inability to understand science and accept observed facts.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:19 PM on October 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


What do they do with letters from perpetual motion machine inventors?

THE SECOND LAW iS A LiE.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:25 PM on October 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


So, someone at the paper determines what's true and untrue...or, do they ask scientists?
Or, are they like anyone else with an agenda....like all websites?
posted by eggtooth at 12:25 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, I hope they compost them rather than burning them.
posted by dowcrag at 12:26 PM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


There are two sides to every issue. So if one side says 2+2=4 and the other side says 2+2=6 then both sides deserve equal time in my hometown's shitty newspaper.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:27 PM on October 22, 2013 [77 favorites]


Silly. 2+2 is 22. TEACH THE CONTROVERSY.
posted by JHarris at 12:30 PM on October 22, 2013 [53 favorites]


LA Times didn't outright ban climate denialism from the paper, only the standard denialist debunked junk. There can be new legitimate arguments published. This notion that there are "believers" and "doubters" is false, among scientists they are all open to scrutiny and doubt that is how science works, scientists are not "true believers" regardless of evidence to the contrary (unlike the denialists).
posted by stbalbach at 12:30 PM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


eggtooth: "or, do they ask scientists?"

Yes, they ask scientists. When there is a visible, strong and overwhelming consensus in the scientific community on a previously controversial issue then there is no longer 2 sides to the issue and (informed) debate moves on to the finer grained details where there may still be disagreement.

Continuing to give space and time to "both sides" of the issue at that point is neither fair nor balanced. It's lazy and an utter waste of time.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:30 PM on October 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


So, someone at the paper determines what's true and untrue...or, do they ask scientists?
Or, are they like anyone else with an agenda....like all websites?



From TFA:
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.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:30 PM on October 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


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.
This seems like a sensible and straightforward policy. The editor does his best to do his job. He has no more responsibility to publish letters that express opinions about the fact of man-made climate change than he does to publish letters that opine on whether or not the earth is flat.
posted by muddgirl at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Stewart: But isn’t that the end of the story? I mean, you’ve seen the records, haven’t you? What’s your opinion?

Corddry: I’m sorry, “my opinion”? I don’t have opinions. I’m a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called “objectivity” — might want to look it up some day.

Stewart: Doesn’t objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what’s credible and what isn’t?

Corddry: Whoa-ho! Sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! Listen, buddy: Not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.
posted by Beardman at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2013 [42 favorites]


So if one side says 2+2=4 and the other side says 2+2=6 then both sides deserve equal time in my hometown's shitty newspaper.

Duh, they're both true. Just depends on which Z you're working in.
posted by kmz at 12:35 PM on October 22, 2013


There are two sides to every issue. So if one side says 2+2=4 and the other side says 2+2=6 then both sides deserve equal time in my hometown's shitty newspaper.

And, of course, the truth is always in the middle. So the new math says that 2+2=5. Thanks Overton Window!
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2013 [26 favorites]


This all reminds me of the original FSM letter.
posted by MoxieProxy at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2013


As much as I mock climate change deniers, and don't want to see their letters printed in newspapers, I worry about what other opinions will be banned down the line, using this first step as a justification. This is easy when it's an issue that's clear cut, and messy as hell when it's an issue that's not.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The idea of newspapers being arbiters of truth is... Well, it's amusing.
posted by Segundus at 12:37 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes - but there's no slippery slope here. There really really isn't any reason to listen to the other side. They are loons - or worse.

This not a question like what's the best age for starting school or should a 90 year old be treated for prostate cancer.

If you don't know this, you are not working in the real world with language and science and the paper should spare their readers your nonsense in the same way they should spare their readers when people send in stained clothing or used food wrappers.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:43 PM on October 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


Beautiful thing is that there is absolutely nothing preventing these backwards right-wing idiots from starting up their own newspaper (or, if you're like, Ruper Murdoch or the Koch Brothers or something, from buying them out)... Then you can print as much baloney as you want.

That's the glory of the free press. Those with more money have more freedom (freedom for a larger audience) than others with less money. We don't have a minitrue - no propaganda dept... We let it all flow and so the paper has the right to refuse to print. And other papers have the right to refuse other points of view.

And Liberal Democracy has won again! huzzah (I am not sure why I am saying this with any sense of sarcasm, but clearly I am. But I don't mean to.)
posted by symbioid at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I worry about what other opinions ......

In general, an opinion is a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about matters commonly considered to be subjective.....
posted by HuronBob at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I worry about what other opinions will be banned down the line ...

That horse is out of the barn. Try finding msm articles on Chomsky or Palestine ... or ... well, ask someone old enough to have marched in one of the many (never covered) anti-war gatherings or - even more to the point - in climate change rallies.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


NotMyselfRightNow: "I worry about what other opinions will be banned down the line"

This sounds like a slippery slope argument to me in that a stable middle ground is already established. Only a small portion of letters to newspapers ever end up printed and a lot of those are edited for length and/or content. Censorship and editing of letters written to newspapers is not new and dangerous, it's accepted standard routine.
Thus the decision of individual papers to filter letters by criteria such as the content contradicting evidence based scientific consensus is not really starting a trend in a bad direction. It's utilizing the existing procedures and mechanisms for something that's overall productive and increases quality of information.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:46 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


As much as I mock climate change deniers, and don't want to see their letters printed in newspapers, I worry about what other opinions will be banned down the line, using this first step as a justification.

There is a huge difference between a paper refusing to publish an opinion, and refusing to publish something as a fact when it is not so.

There's a place for opinions in newspapers. It is called "the opinion pages". The rest of the paper is supposed to be factual, and refusing to print statements that are not factual as if they carried the same weight and deserved the same consideration as factual statements is a refreshing breath of journalistic integrity.
posted by eriko at 12:46 PM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


The worrisome thing shouldn't be what this means for the future; it's that somebody at a major publication had to explain why they weren't publishing bullshit, and even still, the point is open for discussion.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:47 PM on October 22, 2013 [28 favorites]


The idea of newspapers being arbiters of truth is... Well, it's amusing.

They do, as a field and profession, stake their legitimacy on reproducing facts. They don't claim to have any special access to Truth, but they are in the business of discovering and reporting facts about the world for the public. Clearly, standards vary greatly between different publications, but we should not lose sight of the fact that journalists and editors have a responsibility (in the ethical sense, as they are actually an indispensable but unofficial part of functioning democracy) to disperse empirical facts and properly-informed analyses about the world to readers. Just because some media empires are clearly in the pocket of special interests doesn't mean we should abandon the high standards that have been set forth for journalism by its practitioners over the years.
posted by clockzero at 12:48 PM on October 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


dEAR Newpsapper,

It si My opnion tHat the LIZZERD PEEPLE ar pUttnig MNID CONTORL CHEMTARILS in The Air

Signed,
The Slippery Slope Towards Not Printing Everything That Anyone Considers To Be An Opinion
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


"as they are actually an indispensable but unofficial part of functioning democracy) to disperse empirical facts and properly-informed analyses about the world ."

Agreed. But who says we have a functioning democracy?
posted by eggtooth at 12:59 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I personally like the Metafilter solution: "get your own blog"
posted by chavenet at 1:00 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless we're going to call out papers for not printing letters propagating urban legends and well-known conspiracy theories, I don't see the controversy here. It's mostly just the same arguments over and over, anyway.

And there are still papers that print this stuff. Like my local paper, which has also printed email forwards a couple of times, and once, a long detailed letter from someone complaining about their (readily identifiable) neighbors being trashy and calling their 12 or 13 year old daughter a slut.

This is just papers making editorial decisions, which ultimately is about the only value-add that newspapers still have.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:01 PM on October 22, 2013


I don't have a particular problem with newspapers refusing to print letters where the main thrust of them is basically a load of old cobblers.

Except: letters pages are full of cobblers. Letters pages are sustained by trollish complaints and pithy rebuttals and with half facts and cherry picked evidence. They are the last refuge of the pub bore, the committee crank, the arch cherry picker, the anecdotalist as fact maker, the I'm-so-right-why-is-it-so-clear-to-me-but-not-you types. Letters editors want debate and friction the way political interviewers want them.

Green energy, immigration, taxation, public transport, educational outcomes, public safety, disease prevention, economic recovery etc etc. Science and evidence be damned. I wish the letters editors would actually employ more rigour and more experts to weed out all the letters that fail a basic fact check.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:02 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ptolemaic-modelers, flat-earthers, creationists, anti-vaccinators, birthers, anti-fluoridators, climate change denialists...I predict the next science "controversy" will be over the bacterial model of infection. "Antibiotics murder microbes" or some shit.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:04 PM on October 22, 2013


or, "GMOs kill people."??
posted by eggtooth at 1:08 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Besides, most of them are probably being paid by FoxNews to do it...

(I've been highly skeptical of the "these are just the more emotionally committed people" argument, suspecting that many of them, including the less literate, are paid shills. The above report is probably the tip of the iceberg...)
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:09 PM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Of course letters with unsubstantiated claims should not be printed. They don't add value to the conversation. They inform no one. I presumed this was basic editorial policy at anything but the most partisan news outlets. It's unfortunate that this is being framed as being about "climate change deniers." Surely it should apply to the promulgation of bullshit, regardless of topic.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I read recently that the letters editor of the Sydney Morning Herald said she had the same policy. It's fair in Aus, though, because the climate loonies have their own papers.
posted by pompomtom at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Agreed. But who says we have a functioning democracy?

Well, right. Our democracy is clearly not entirely equitable and decision-making still tends to concentrate in the hands of the powerful. But we do have a democracy, and we can hold our leaders accountable on that regard, let's not forget. And if we're going to retain what power we have as mere citizens, or if we will choose to work together on the basis of common interests and informed positions to better our lot in America, I think the press needs to be held to those standards.
posted by clockzero at 1:23 PM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was hoping someone might argue for including these letters. I don't personally need them, because we have newspaper comment sections now for entertainment.
posted by agregoli at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2013


eggtooth strikes a nerve that everyone should consider. You may feel that climate change deniers with incorrect arguments should be shut down (I do as well), but do you feel the same way about people that think GMO foods are harmful? Or that fracking can contaminate groundwater? The cherry-picking of examples and studies and the promotion of misleading or false information occurs here as well - against scientific consensus and driven by emotion and claims of conspiracy or lack of studies - but how do you feel about shutting that down?

The risk is being OK with shutting down viewpoints you don't agree with, but having a more relaxed position on things that you agree with or feel are understudied. Not publishing demonstrable falsehoods is a very good starting point. But ultimately, where do you draw the line? When is scentific consensus acheived? Is it 95%? 50.1%? Is there a line at all? Draw a line in the sand, but make sure it's the same line everywhere.
posted by grajohnt at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]




As much as I mock climate change deniers, and don't want to see their letters printed in newspapers, I worry about what other opinions will be banned down the line, using this first step as a justification. This is easy when it's an issue that's clear cut, and messy as hell when it's an issue that's not.


Notice what was said and parse it like a lawyer for a minute:

"ones that say there's no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed."

What that means (for the LA Times anyway) is that if you feel the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is not overwhelming, or contradicted by other evidence, you're welcome to say so in a letter which they might print.

But if you say "there's no sign," then you can fuck off.

Looks right to me. It's good to have a debate. And right now, with the peer review system overstressed and letting too much dross otu there in many fields, the popular press NEEDS to host some of it. But you don't give people a platform to make the obviously false claim that 120 years of research into the effect of CO2 on the climate never hjappened.
posted by ocschwar at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm fine with this.

People here and elsewhere are getting defensive, just like they are on my facebook when I delete comments: it feels like people conflate "free speech" to mean "any mouthsounds I make are valuable and the law will force you to acknowledge that value."

It's not ENOUGH that people have the 'right' to take a shit on the carpet in the middle of a dinner party, they want everyone at the party to stop what they're doing and treat the pile of shit in the middle of the floor as an actual contribution to the situation to be discussed and debated, instead of being a nuisance to be cleaned up, and a credibility tarnished.

I'm good, thanks.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:40 PM on October 22, 2013 [19 favorites]


I don't think science and politics should be mentioned in the same breath. Their definitions of truth are not compatible.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:42 PM on October 22, 2013


I wonder if people aren't more defensive today because
it's rather harder to figure out if you're being attacked.
posted by eggtooth at 1:44 PM on October 22, 2013


I'm a climate change skeptic (I'm not as controversial as that sounds btw, I'm just a physicst with a general distrust of claims about complicated, non-deterministic systems). I do think there is still a useful debate to be had about the effects and the extent of global warming.

However, I completely back the LA times on this one. Having people shouting patent falsehoods isn't productive for anyone. As commenters above have mentioned, the idea of balanced view points in scientific journalism seems really off-kilter. By all means, get two experts with different opinions to discuss something when their claims are evidence based, but so often the set up seems to be: let's find two people who disagree, oh I know, that crazy dude who thinks planes are powered by ghosts will go nicely with this engineer who's spent ten years researching this field.

It was depressing how long it took me to think of an example of a crank viewpoint that isn't already established.
posted by Ned G at 1:48 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm totally fine with people being skeptical about it, but there are really very few skeptics that I've seen--the vocal ones who write lots of letters to the editor are not skeptics, they're deniers. As in, It Is Not Happening. And also, we should not do anything to change our behaviors to protect against future impacts if it is happening, because it's not happening. And anybody who says there's any evidence at all for it happening is lying to you and it's a giant conspiracy and...

Those letters are not going to lead to any kind of constructive discussion of issues and aren't meant to, so they don't have any place in a paper that's trying to take such issues seriously.
posted by Sequence at 1:53 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few years ago I had a letter to the editor accepted by the New Yorker; within the day, a staff fact-checker had gone through every stated claim in the letter and called me with questions about sources for the ones he couldn't independently verify, noting that they would remove anything not sourced.

Facts exist.
posted by PandaMomentum at 2:04 PM on October 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


You may feel that climate change deniers with incorrect arguments should be shut down (I do as well), but do you feel the same way about people that think GMO foods are harmful? Or that fracking can contaminate groundwater? The cherry-picking of examples and studies and the promotion of misleading or false information occurs here as well - against scientific consensus and driven by emotion and claims of conspiracy or lack of studies - but how do you feel about shutting that down?

That depends -- are the specific arguments being put forward factually incorrect? Because, living in a state that was recently opened up to fracking, there are some legitimate and...less legitimate criticisms leveled at it; regarding groundwater specifically, there's little argument that the fracking could, hypothetically, contaminate groundwater -- "The industry acknowledges that the question of how to handle the wastewater that comes from fracking is one of its most pressing problems."

But the industry asserts that it, in practice and in reality, does not. What you (or anyone) means by 'contaminate,' and the potential consequences of that contamination, are less agreed upon.

Fracking's potential dangers are categorically different from the kind of climate change denial being discussed in the LA Times policy, which, per the editor, Saying "there's no sign humans have caused climate change" is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy. Saying that 'fracking could not contaminate groundwater' would be factually inaccurate; it can. Saying that fracking does or does not contaminate groundwater would be a more fitting issue to raise.

Presumably -- absent some correction from the LA Times -- their policy leaves open the possibility of someone putting forward actual evidence supporting an alternate cause of climate change, or actual disproof of the same. It just prevents someone from claiming without actual evidence that there is no evidence, which is good. This policy doesn't (to mangle a metaphor) doesn't bar the door to disagreement; it just raises the bar for discourse.
posted by cjelli at 2:07 PM on October 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


MetaFilter: I am not sure why I am saying this with any sense of sarcasm, but clearly I am.
posted by vibrotronica at 2:10 PM on October 22, 2013


grajohnt >

eggtooth strikes a nerve that everyone should consider. You may feel that climate change deniers with incorrect arguments should be shut down (I do as well), but do you feel the same way about people that think GMO foods are harmful? Or that fracking can contaminate groundwater? The cherry-picking of examples and studies and the promotion of misleading or false information occurs here as well - against scientific consensus and driven by emotion and claims of conspiracy or lack of studies - but how do you feel about shutting that down?

If this were in a paper written by one of my students, I would commend the writer on their sharp critical thinking but point out that any formal similarity between claims like the harm of GMO foods and fracking's polluting characteristics are not indicative of empirical or factual equivalence. Just because people say a lot of things doesn't mean all those things are equally plausible or more importantly equally true, which is kind of the point here!

The risk is being OK with shutting down viewpoints you don't agree with, but having a more relaxed position on things that you agree with or feel are understudied.

But this is not germane to the case at hand, because it has been studied, extensively, and so the factually wrong viewpoint is being shut down because it's wrong and untrue.

Not publishing demonstrable falsehoods is a very good starting point. But ultimately, where do you draw the line? When is scentific consensus acheived? Is it 95%? 50.1%? Is there a line at all? Draw a line in the sand, but make sure it's the same line everywhere.

I don't think it's just a good starting point, it's almost all we need, along with affirmatively reporting demonstrable findings of empirical fact. The line you're talking about is a central part of the scientific process. Science is conducted the way it is (when it's done right!) so that the questions you're posing here are irrelevant, because "consensus" isn't what establishes the truth of a claim, rather it's the other way around.
posted by clockzero at 2:13 PM on October 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yes - but there's no slippery slope here. There really really isn't any reason to listen to the other side. They are loons - or worse.

I'm afraid your comment is going to have to be redacted, since it is not true that they are loons. Loons are birds and, therefore, unable to write letters to the editor. Because your comment is factually incorrect, it will not be printed in this week's paper. I'm sure you'll understand.
posted by The World Famous at 2:13 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


because "consensus" isn't what establishes the truth of a claim, rather it's the other way around.

But here, that's not the issue. Here, it's the editor of the LA Times that establishes the truth of the claim.
posted by The World Famous at 2:14 PM on October 22, 2013


But here, that's not the issue. Here, it's the editor of the LA Times that establishes the truth of the claim.

No, they don't. They're not reviewing the studies themselves.
posted by clockzero at 2:24 PM on October 22, 2013


cjelli - I agree with you, and I do not want to derail the discussion into fracking (that I've had before in the blue). But to some degree, the point is exactly in how you parse it. Here, you are convolving the two points of 'fracking' and 'disposal of the wastewater that comes from fracking' that are seperate, but related, distinct issues. There is no scientific basis that fracking itself can contaminate groundwater - the geomechanical issues are well understood. However, there are mechanisms by which you can contaminate ground water via disposal wells and poor well design. If you were to write an op-ed that said 'fracking contaminated my groundwater', that would be a factually incorrect statement not backed up by the science. Perhaps what you mean is that 'shale oil/gas extraction in my area contaminated my groundwater', which absolutely could be a factually correct statement. Are you confident that the person who makes that call knows what is meant vs. what is actually said? Should the editor change the content of the letter to be in compliance with facts (talk about slippery slopes!!)?

Precise language and verifiable facts make for good discussions. Maybe to improve linguistic precision and to raise the discourse level, we should require that all letters to the editors be written in Latin?
posted by grajohnt at 2:29 PM on October 22, 2013


No, they don't. They're not reviewing the studies themselves.

It is they who determine, for the purpose of printing or not printing a letter to the editor, whether the facts alleged in the letter are true. Correct?
posted by The World Famous at 2:35 PM on October 22, 2013


I think the entire far right needs a freaking time out.
posted by spitbull at 2:52 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here, it's the editor of the LA Times that establishes the truth of the claim.

Editors establish truth of all manner of claims, climate change notwithstanding. For this to suddenly be a legitimate outrage that demands redress would require entirely retooling the operation of all newspapers of record that decide which stories to report and how they are presented.

Basically, what spitbull said.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:58 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The World Famous: "It is they who determine, for the purpose of printing or not printing a letter to the editor, whether the facts alleged in the letter are true. Correct?"

No. We're not talking about editors operating in some sort of vacuum but against the backdrop of a known consensus. They're not independently establishing the truth or falseness of claims in letters as much as fact checking those claims against what is supported by the consensus. And, as has been pointed out above, just because a letter's claims may be at odds with the consensus that still doesn't mean that the letter is automatically discarded.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:00 PM on October 22, 2013


Editors establish truth of all manner of claims, climate change notwithstanding. For this to suddenly be a legitimate outrage that demands redress would require entirely retooling the operation of all newspapers of record that decide which stories to report and how they are presented.

Yeah, I have no problem with that or with the editor generally deciding which letters to print and which not to print. Not because of SCIENCE! but because the editor is the editor and they get to edit. Good papers with good editors will have good editorial work and good letter selection criteria. Lousy ones will be lousy. I hope the good ones will thrive. And I think it's important for editors to be willing, as was done here, to disclose the basis for their selections and discuss the process openly.

No. We're not talking about editors operating in some sort of vacuum but against the backdrop of a known consensus.

We're talking about editors deciding whether there is a consensus sufficient to satisfy their own editorial criteria. That's perfectly fine, but it's not the scientific community deciding what letters to the LA Times are based on true claims. It's the editor rightfully exercising judgment. It's not a peer-reviewed decision. The scientific community is not the decisionmaker.
posted by The World Famous at 3:02 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since the editors already make those decisions around what article to run, why should they not make them for letters to the editor?
posted by rtha at 3:32 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is that question directed to me?
posted by The World Famous at 3:34 PM on October 22, 2013


I'm so tired of the false dichotomists forcing their binary arguments down the public's throats. There are WAY more than two sides to every argument! Climate change, for example, is powered by ghosts, not humans OR nature, according to a leading MetaFilter physicist. SCIENCE!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:37 PM on October 22, 2013


Is that question directed to me?

Sort of, but also late, and also a good example of why I should not try to participate here while waiting for a meeting to start!
posted by rtha at 3:43 PM on October 22, 2013


"dEAR Newpsapper,

It si My opnion tHat the LIZZERD PEEPLE ar pUttnig MNID CONTORL CHEMTARILS in The Air

Signed,
The Slippery Slope Towards Not Printing Everything That Anyone Considers To Be An Opinion
"

About 80 years ago, the LA Times was running front page stories on the lizard people storing gold in tunnels all over downtown LA. People dug up whole blocks.
posted by klangklangston at 5:03 PM on October 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Saying "there's no sign humans have caused climate change" is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy.

*slow clap*
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:09 PM on October 22, 2013


About 80 years ago, the LA Times was running front page stories on the lizard people storing gold in tunnels all over downtown LA. People dug up whole blocks.

Wow! Teach the Controversy!
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:13 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not like newspapers are huge 3000-volume collections of every single datum collected in the world from the previous day. Editorial selection is an inherent and universal aspect of newspapers - exactly the sort of completely mundane process that suddenly has to be exhaustively justified when it's used on a certain set of narrowly privileged white assholes, excuse me for generalising, who just happen to fall in line with powerful capitalist interests.

I mean, it's only natural to sideline nonsense from pinko lefties and whiny minorities and all the other distracting political abnormalities, but now you aren't printing my views it's tantamount to censorship.
posted by forgetful snow at 11:18 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes - but there's no slippery slope here. There really really isn't any reason to listen to the other side. They are loons - or worse.

Except that this isn't the newspaper publishing articles - this is about them publishing opinion letters. Personally, I find that stuff really valuable for what the man-on-the-street opinion is. If that's being filtered, then it creates a false bubble where I assume the general populace is way more educated than it actually is - and that stuff can be dangerous.
posted by corb at 8:45 AM on October 23, 2013


Personally, I find that stuff really valuable for what the man-on-the-street opinion is.

Well, the informed man-on-the-street opinion, anyway. The climate-denier letters don't really help me much if they just rant about how it's all a hoax and a liberal plot to take their money. This is the bulk of those I've seen. Then there are the shills who present all the industry talking points in a pseudo-scientific way. Some of the letters are expressing evidence for their belief and are informative as to how they've arrived at their position, but they seem to be the tiny minority.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:12 AM on October 23, 2013


Then there are the shills who present all the industry talking points in a pseudo-scientific way

As an example, here is a letter that appeared in the StarTribune today:
Contrary to the profoundly hypocritical fear-mongering of environmental leftists, “climate change” is emphatically not a “problem.” (“The world can’t risk a rotten climate,” Oct. 21.) In fact, the Keeling Curve shows only 1.46 parts per million increase in atmospheric CO2 annually; total greenhouse gases in the atmosphere equal more than 26,000 ppm. Humans account for about 4 percent of the annual increase. It takes 22 years for humans to increase CO2 by 1 part per million.

To pretend that an additional 1 part per million, every 22 years, on a base of 26,000 parts per million is driving our climate is the height of anti-intellectualism and anti-science. Those who contend otherwise fly and drive many millions of miles annually while telling everyone else to knock it off.

JOHN JAEGER, Irvine, Calif.
Note the selected facts, the lack of sourcing, and the bald contradiction of the latest report from the IPCC (pdf). What good does such a letter do to further the discussion or inform the reader?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:28 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


What good does such a letter do to further the discussion or inform the reader?

Publication of that particular letter to the editor allows the reading public to see an example of what sort of opinions on the matter are held by people other than the editor, and gives the editor, then, a means to directly address that precise nonsense and explain in detail why the editor's views on the matter diverge from those of some portion of the readership. Addressing the factual inaccuracies head-on instead of merely ignoring them and giving the impression that they do not exist can further the discussion or inform the reader. The reader could benefit greatly from seeing the opposing viewpoint presented and then responded to and thoroughly debunked.
posted by The World Famous at 12:58 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]



"Yes - but there's no slippery slope here. There really really isn't any reason to listen to the other side. They are loons - or worse." Yes, but in a democracy, you're supposed to listen....then, vote.
posted by eggtooth at 1:09 PM on October 23, 2013


"The reader could benefit greatly from seeing the opposing viewpoint presented and then responded to and thoroughly debunked."

That's not actually how opinion pages (or letters to the editor) function, though, and it's setting up a rather absurd standard here.

People frequently disagree with coverage in any paper on any given issue; editors (or reporters) very seldom respond to anything in the letter. Letters often do have the purported function of showing the breadth of reader opinion on any given issue; however, they do not generally reflect the breadth of reader knowledge on any given issue. While it's a noble impulse to argue that the missives of idiots should be published so that editors may edify the public, it's not very well connected to the function and form of LtEs as currently constituted.

Further, it's not as if this space is the only opportunity for climate denialists to be disabused of their malarky — there exists a great edifice of science that has already been ignored by these partisans. Writing in requires a peculiar dedication to being familiar with the science on climate change but being immune to any illumination it should provide — it's the very definition of willful ignorance. When confronted with that studied stupidity, ignoring it seems eminently sensible.

Having selected letters for publication before, I understand that the impulse is often to select those that provoke, amuse or declaim, but that's not necessarily healthy or wise.
posted by klangklangston at 1:23 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Yes, but in a democracy, you're supposed to listen....then, vote."

One mustn't feel obligated to keep one's mind so open that brains fall out.
posted by klangklangston at 1:24 PM on October 23, 2013


Yes, but in a democracy, you're supposed to listen....then, vote.

All ideas are not created equal. Science is not a democracy. Truth is not up for a vote.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:28 PM on October 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Panjandrum: "So, someone at the paper determines what's true and untrue...or, do they ask scientists?
Or, are they like anyone else with an agenda....like all websites?

From TFA:
"

Panjandrum, eggtooth can't be bothered to read the article. THAT'S just what they want you to do! (dum-da-DUM!)
posted by IAmBroom at 3:38 PM on October 23, 2013


« Older Taylor was a waterman who first entered the book t...  |  People and How to Deal With Th... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments