Did you see the Close Up interview with Dr. James Hansen? Hansen is billed in the Close Up website as having invented the first climate models, itself a rather dubious claim. Mark Sainsbury interviews Hansen about his views on climate change, and the interview is, to be quite frank, an embrassment. I generally have a great deal of respect for Mark Sainsbury, who manages to ask interviewees many of the difficult questions without coming over as aggressive or partisan. It is quite a talent.
However, and it is a big however, the interview with James Hansen was an embarassment. It was bordering on the fawning, and absolutely no difficult questions were asked. We can assume, for example, that the Close Up researchers would have undertaken some kind of background search on Dr. Hansen and might have found his Wikipedia entry. This is a little excerpt from the introduction to his entry:
In recent years, Hansen has become an activist for action to mitigate the effects of climate change, which on several occasions has led to his arrest.
The key point here is that Dr. Hansen has become an activist, and is not simply a scientist. He has taken on a role that moves him away from being a disinterested scientist (okay, no scientists are entirely disinterested, but there is line that can be drawn), but this was not how he was portrayed on Close Up. Instead, Mark Sainsbury placed strong emphasis on his scientific credentials, with a particularly strong emphasis placed upon his leadership of the NASA Goddard Institute. Mark Sainsbury might just as well have said that he is a rocket scientist, and we all know how clever they are.
What kind of difficult question could Mark Sainsbury asked of Dr. Hansen? One question might have addressed the accuracy of the climate models that have been developed by Dr. Hansen. For example, a critique of the accuracy of the models can be found here. Instead of addressing any area of controversy, Mark Sainsbury appeared to present a series of questions which were purposefully designed to allow Dr. Hansen to present a series of frightening and emotive scenarios. If watching the interview, it would be impossible for any viewer to be aware that the anthropogenic climate change might be the subject of intense debate and controversy. Instead, scenarios of doom and disaster were presented one after the other without a single probing or difficult question.
Just to add to the sense of alarm, the editors of the program pulled and displayed scary quotations as the interview progressed, such as:
CLIMATE DANGERS: “ALL SPECIES ON PLANET AT RISK”
Just as Dr. Hansen has moved from scientist to advocate, Close Up likewise moved from being news to advocacy. This is not to say that advocacy does not ever have a place in news programmes such as Close UP, but advocacy on issue that is quite rightly such an area of controversy seems to be inappropriate. On an issue of this kind, a news programme should at the very least inform viewers of the fierce debate that is taking place. The programme should at least include some difficult questions, and identify that there are scientists who are questioning the foundation of Dr. Hansen’s views.
I can only conclude by expressing my disappointment with Mark Sainsbury and the Close Up editorial team. Whilst they may believe the scenarios presented by Dr. Hansen, they owe it to their viewers to give them an opportunity to make up their own minds, not to be spoon fed horror scenarios by a climate change activist.