To the Editor:
Thanks for covering Friday’s meeting at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies on the results of last week’s presidential election (“Environment School Meeting Discusses Post Election Strategies,” 11/8). Students here are feeling positive and energized as a result of the meeting and I was happy to see it get Yale Daily News coverage, especially since much of what we discussed was how to increase communication with groups and individuals outside of the environmental movement, and media coverage is one way that this dialogue can expand.
However, while the first half of your article does a fair job of covering some of the points that were made, the second makes a somewhat unrelated point. Worse, it uses a flawed strategy — one often seen in journalistic writing on science and environment — that insists on offering a point/counterpoint, making it difficult for the reader to determine which view better represents the consensus of mainstream scientists and policy analysts.
Following your description of our school’s discussion on how we can improve communication, understanding and dialogue, you say that “the anti-Bush views expressed at the — meeting do not necessarily represent those of all the nation’s scientific and conservation communities.” To me, this comes across like writing about the outcome of a Yale football game and switching halfway through to talk about how some people don’t like watching sports! As you accurately captured, the meeting was not about our anti-Bush views. It was about how, as you cited FES Dean Gus Speth as saying, we can promote “better public education, grass-roots outreach and a discussion of values.” An appropriate opposing perspective to our meeting would have been someone who believes the environmental agenda is best served by staying the course of the last 30 years and not modifying our approach.
My bigger concern is that you give what I think is inappropriate weight in the article to opinions that represent a small minority of scientists. This is not just an issue with the News. For decades, the environmental movement, and the issue of climate change in particular, has been subject to the journalistic tradition of wanting to provide two sides to every issue. Despite the virtually complete scientific consensus that climate change is taking place and that humans are the primary cause (see www.ipcc.ch), a disproportionate amount of media attention has been given to the small portion of the scientific community that disagrees.
In similar fashion, you cite Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health and Jerry Schill of the North Carolina Fisheries Association as reluctant to moderate proponents of Bush’s environmental policies. Little mention of the credentials or political leanings of these individuals is given as context for their comments. This gives the impression that their statements reflect common sentiments (they were given half the article after all) in the environmental field. In reality, they are in the minority.
For example, contrary to Ross’ claim that “Bush’s efforts to improve air quality serve as an example of an adequate response to the dangers of pollution,” most scientific and environmental experts point out that the Bush Administration’s Clear Skies Initiative allows new, dangerous amounts of mercury and other pollutants into our air and water. The vast majority of the nation’s, and indeed the world’s, scientific and conservation communities also believe the Bush Administration’s failure to address climate change presents a tremendous threat to the long-term economic, social and environmental health of our country and planet.
Does this mean you shouldn’t report the views of Ross and Schill? Of course not. Opposing perspectives are critically important. However, I think it does mean you need to be careful to educate your readers on the validity of these perspectives and the degree to which your interviewees have support within the communities to which you say they belong.
Issues with the article aside, let me reiterate that I think it was great to cover the event. Students at FES see the election as a real opportunity, and we want the News (and the rest of the University community) to continue to participate in fruitful, open discussions on the future of the environmental movement.
Dan Stonington FES ’05
Nov. 9, 2004