The following is a guest posting:
The addition of conservative columnist John Tierney to the staff of the New York Times's Science Times section has to be one of the most bizarre--and irresponsible--editorial decisions in awhile. Tierney's new column, "Findings," runs on the front page of the section, mixed in with the standard-issue news and feature stories. And while particularly astute readers might pick up on the fact that Tierney is an opinion writer rather than a science reporter, it's a good bet that general readers won't make that distinction. So while the section's staff reporters and other contributors work hard to maintain some shred of objectivity in their stories, those stories are now running side-by-side with Tierney's politically charged commentaries--and the result is a serious blow to the whole section's credibility, and a public misled by opinion masquerading as fact.
Check out Tierney's column from this past Tuesday (Feb. 13). It uses Richard Branson's $25 million prize for a solution to global warming as a way to begin talking about Al Gore (the connection is tenuous). Tierney's real intent is to attack Gore and his film, "An Inconvenient Truth," which is old news at this point, since it's been out for almost a year. One senses Tierney's been rubbing his hands together for about that long trying to find an appropriate venue for his attack. He accuses Gore of "hype" and of extrapolating "a short-term trend into a disaster," and of various other crimes against science (and indirectly against humanity). To those with good working knowledge of climate change, Tierney sounds just half a step removed from right-wing fiction writer and global warming denialist Michael Crichton. But to the majority of readers, he sounds like he's reciting facts that call into question Gore's entire endeavor (which has been, for the most part, lauded by climate scientists).
Tierney also uses this column as a pulpit for a message he's been hammering for years: There's no point in trying to change people's habits, so the only solutions to environmental problems will be technological. "As far-fetched as it seems today," Tierney wrote on page one of the section, "removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could turn out to be a lot more practical than the alternative: persuading six million people to stop putting it there." Of course, this statement is a lot more true if you are opposed, as Tierney clearly is, to any sort of federal or international environmental regulation. To run political commentary like this on the front page of the Science Times is to etch opinion into the minds of many readers as fact. Why more people haven't raised red flags is a mystery.