Reproduced here is a series of blog posts from the Haida Salmon blogs
On October 18, 2012, Henry Fountain published an article titled, “A Rogue Climate Experiment Outrages Scientists” in the New York Times Environment section. Given the number of factual errors and misrepresentations in the article, it is no surprise that the New York Times shut down the Environmental desk after this article was published.
The article contains so many errors of fact and misrepresentation, that it is impossible to discuss them all in one blog post. In this post, I discuss the confusing incongruity of statements about the science of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, and attempt to set the record straight.
The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation is a corporate entity set up by the people of Old Masset Village to implement ocean restoration projects to enhance ocean salmon habitat. The people of Old Masset Village hired Russ George to serve as their chief scientist on the project. A team comprised of people from Old Masset Village, Russ George, and other scientists worked for 6 years to investigate the foundational concepts, legal conditions, scientific theory and methodology, and data processing resources to support the implementation of the project.
Fountain writes that the activities of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation have outraged scientists, but in fact, it is the fictional narrative promulgated about the project by Jim Thomas of the ETC Group and Martin Lukacs of the Guardian that has caused the outrage, and so it should. If any of their statements were actually true, then the work of the people of Old Masset Village through the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation could be seen as disreputable. Unfortunately, the outrage and condemnations are not based on the realities of the project.
The terms ‘rogue’ and ‘reckless’ are repeatedly used to describe the science that formed the underpinning for this project. However, the actual evidence, provided by the research team, belies these claims. In fact, it appears the science, supported by theoretical framework, methodological techniques and apparatus, and data, is worthy of respect and serious consideration. The HSRC provides detailed scientific information about the project here. Of course, any charges of rogue and reckless should rightfully be a reflection of those who use these terms. It is not customary for a scientific project to write up and publish their theory, method, data, findings, and conclusions before the project is completed. For those who somehow expected this kind of information to be available on demand is unfair and unrealistic.
In Fountain’s article, there is a confusing juxtaposition of fictional and misleading statements about the science. First, Fountain uses the words, ‘climate’, ‘environment’ and ‘ecology’ interchangeably, when each of these terms actually refers to very different fields of natural science. Second, Fountain asserts that marine scientists and other experts have assailed the experiment as unscientific, irresponsible, and probably in violation of international agreements. What would be more accurate would be for Fountain to say that marine scientists and other experts have assailed the fictional account of this project as unscientific and irresponsible, and that they actually do not know enough about any international agreements pertaining to this project to actually comment. Third, Fountain makes a perplexing rationale for these ‘international agreements’ as intended to prevent tampering with ocean ecosystems under the guise of trying to fight the effects of climate change.
I’m sorry, but this concetation of words does not make sense. Prevent tampering, ocean ecosystems, fight the effects, climate change. First, the word tampering seems out of place. Tampering implies some sort of vandalism, but it is being used here in relation to climate change. So… the reason for these international agreements is to prevent fighting the effects of climate change, because fighting the effects of climate change requires tampering with ocean ecosystems? How are we going to address the problems of climate change if we are not going to change the ways we interact with ocean ecosystems? Why does changing the ways we interact with ocean ecosystems necessarily correlate with tampering? What about other ways of interacting, such as stewardship? It appears to me, these international agreements, which in fact DO NOT pertain to this project, are a problem, in and of themselves. Why would we have international agreements about ocean ecosystems that do not allow us to right the wrong of decades of CO2 emissions? This is purely nonsensical.
The next paragraph is also perplexing. Fountain writes, “Though the environmental impact of the foray could well prove minimal, scientists said, it raises the spectre of what they have long feared: rogue field experiments that might unintentionally put the environment at risk.” So, now Fountain is saying the the ‘outraged scientists’ admit that the actual environmental impact of the Haida Salmon Restoration project, may be minimal. How does the fact that the environmental impacts may be minimal align with the fear that such field experiments may put the environment at risk? Which is it? The statement is saying both that the Haida Salmon Restoration project likely did not put the environment at risk, but the fear is that similar projects will put the environment at risk? Where is the science to even support this fear? It is absurd to regard iron as a hazardous material, it composes 30% of the Earth’s mass, and is a ubiquitous element found in the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere. It is one of the most abundant minerals on Earth and among the most important elements in the biosphere. So, what, exactly is the spectre? That iron is going to be dispersed in the environment? That is happening already. That iron is going to be dispersed in the environment by humans? Why the distinction? Can someone please explain to me how the dispersal of iron will put the environment at risk when it is already present in abundance?
I do hope we can have critical discussions about all aspects of this project, and seek to learn from it, rather than simply shut it down because it does not conform to a fictionalized narrative of fear-based constructs that have no basis in reality. I hope, too, that we might become outraged at factless, fictionalized accounts of the hard work of a small village struggling to restore their livelihood, designed to impugn their reputation and put their investments to restore ocean salmon habitat at risk. Surely we can do better than this, when the stakes are so high.
It is difficult to do this work, but it is necessary if we are going to fight the forces of propaganda, anti-intellectualism, and irresponsible media reportage. This is the final post on the first item of analysis in the process, the title of an article that appeared in the New York Times on October 18, 2012 pertaining to the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and their project to restore ocean salmon pastures through iron enhancement. The full title of the piece is, “A Rogue Climate Experiment Outrages Scientists.”
This blog post discusses the last phrase of this title, “Outrages Scientists”. I found three propaganda motifs can be used to analyze this phrase. First, it relies on ‘scientists’ to convey credibility and authority to the statements in the article. In this example, scientists are acting as authority figures and spokespersons. Second, it uses abstract language. The phrase ‘outrages scientists’, while implying some quantifiable number of scientists who share the same outrage, is in fact unquantifiable, and cannot be proved with empirical validation. Third, the phrase represents and inordinate preoccupation with conflict. In fact, it sets up the reader to perceive conflict in relation to the topic in the article, the iron enhancement project undertaken by the people of Old Masset Village through the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation. However, it does not mention that the information that has formed the basis for scientists’ outrage has been false and misleading media reports about the project.
The use of scientists as authority figures and spokespeople in this instance is highly problematic. The statements from the scientists are based on second and third hand false and misleading statements about the HSRC project designed to discredit the people of Old Masset Village and Council, the HSRC, the scientists working on the project, and Russ George. The scientists expressing outrage, based on these statements, are acting in a highly irresponsible way, besmirching the reputation of the above mentioned parties, without doing their own due diligence to check the veracity of the statements they are reacting to, nor gathering their own first hand information on which to base an informed opinion. In this situation, the scientists expressing outrage are actually undermining their own reputations as qualified to act as authorities or spokespeople. By their own published words they have demonstrated they are not reliable, nor principled professionals in their fields.
By implying there is a quantity of outraged scientists, the New York Times hoped to sway public opinion to align with the arguments put forth by these few individuals. In fact, in the article itself, it cites unnamed sources as representatives of institutions: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, and the Canadian Ministry of the Environment. The article also refers to, “marine scientists and other experts” as proof that the project was unscientific, irresponsible, and probably in violation of international agreements. The article goes on to cite more “scientists” raising a spectre of what they have long feared: rogue field experiments. This statement is really quite awesome. An anonymous group of “scientists” are outraged by false and misleading statements that have been published about the project. This passes as responsible journalism? By my count, the article quotes three experts, who base their comments on false and misleading statements from the media. I would say the claim, “outrages scientists” does not have evidence to support the claim.
In closing, the media article demonstrates a propaganda motif of being preoccupied with conflict to influence the formation of public opinion in a particular way. The phrase, “outrages scientists” focuses readers attention on the idea that there are scientists, presumably reputable professionals from the community, who are outraged by the project undertaken by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation. By taking a close look at the statements and claims in the article, we find the ‘outrage’ is largely manufactured by previous false and misleading media statements about the project, the participants, and their purposes. By manufacturing controversy, the New York Times is sensationalizing the project, and making a spectacle of the participants. The old adage, “if it bleeds it leads” can be found at play here, although the actual injury is more abstract, the actual effect is deeply harmful to the victims of this behaviour, in this case, the people of Old Masset Village, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, the scientists working on the project, and Russ George. In this case, the practices of unethical, sensationalistic media publishers are the perpetrators of violence and unfavourable public opinion through false and misleading statements. These false and misleading statements are amplified by ‘experts’ to give the appearance of controversy, when in fact, the entire situation has been promulgated by the people who are ‘inventing’ the news.
This post continues my analysis of the title of Henry Fountain’s article in the New York Times published on October 18, 2012. The full title is, “A Rogue Climate Experiment Outrages Scientists”. In the previous post I analyzed the use of the term, ‘Rogue’. In this post I analyze the use of the phrase ‘Climate Experiment’.
This is an interesting phrase to examine. First, I categorized it according to Black’s propaganda motif of using simplistic, reductive phrases to represent people, institutions, or situations. Given the political tensions surrounding climate change and climate science the word, ‘climate’ in and of itself is a hot button issue associated with fearful predictions of environmental destruction. The word, ‘experiment’ is also controversial, given the anti-intellectual, and anti-science zeitgeist that is being promulgated in media and political speech. Bringing these two words together, into the phrase ‘climate experiment’ evokes the fearful associations of climate change with a luddite-based fear of science and technology. The phrase, ‘climate experiment’ implies a simplistic, reductionistic situation, when in fact this is far from the truth.
There is an aspect of climate and experiment in the project to restore ocean salmon habitat, but the situation, the project, and the participants are involved in relationships that are far more complex than this phrase implies. ‘Climate experiment’ evokes images of a pristine laboratory where experiments with climate are taking place, as if the forces of nature, our humanity, the environment, and ecologies of life, could be so easily encapsulated. The truth of the project undertaken by the HSRC, as demonstrated by their due diligence, scientific rigour, and principled duty, is complex, touching on several inter-related and highly significant issues. These issues can be summarized as: 1) ocean salmon habitat and salmon survival; 2) the autonomy of the people of Old Masset Village and their Council to address issues of failing salmon habitat; 3) the science of iron restoration; 4) the politics of non-governmental environmental organizations who seek to control marine science and research agendas; and 5) Canadian environmental law and the duty of the federal government to consult with First Nations wherein Canadian law affects their traditional territories and ways of life.
By using the phrase, ‘Climate Experiment’ in the title of this article, the New York Times has sacrificed accuracy and clarity for sensationalistic verbiage. The results of this decision, to provoke uninformed opinions about the people of Old Massett Village and Council, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, the scientists involved in the project, and Russ George can be found in the comments on this article. Examples of anti-intellectualism, anti-science, and climate fear are in evidence. For example, AHG says, “… every Tom, Dick and Harry cannot just go off to do whatever they want under the guise of some phony “experiment…”. Scotto comments, “What would be truly be helpful is to investigate both this reckless entrepreneur and the lying cheating back-scratching scientists, rather than choose sides.” mark comments, “But tampering with data which might contradict prevailing pro man-made climate change theory is perfectly okay. And so it goes.” Rather than reporting the real complex issues facing the people of Old Massett Village and its Council, nor the legitimate efforts undertaken the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and its team of scientists, the New York Times has devolved the discussion to a polarizing reduction of us readers, versus them (HSRC, science, experimental approaches to solving perplexing issues, and innovative approaches to enhancing ocean salmon habitat).
I have begun my process of analyzing my first media article. I am examining the text for indications of false, misleading statements, propaganda, and defamation. There are four entities on whose behalf I am working: the people of Old Masset Village and Council, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, the science and scientists working for the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, and Russ George.
As you can imagine, this is not a simple process. There are layers of complexity and inter-relationships amongst the people, the science, the politics, and the media who are involved. There is no singular entity, concept, nor activity that can be used to explain or describe the work of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation. In particular, the layers of relationships amongst First Nations in Canada, the federal government of Canada, non-government environmental organizations, non-government international organizations, and the politics of climate, marine, and ocean science are very difficult to parse and untangle.
The article I am working on to start is Henry Fountain’s piece in the Environment Section of the New York Times, published on October 18, 2012. The units of analysis I am using to categorize the words and phrases in this text can be found here: propaganda analysis and criteria for defamation.
My first post on this project is an analysis of the title of the article, beginning with the term, ‘Rogue’:
This title, comprised of six words, yielded 5 data for analysis. The use of the term ‘rogue’ qualifies as name-calling (5_NC). The definition of ‘rogue’ is an unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel and a rascal. The use of this term encourages a summary negative response from readers, as demonstrated in some of the 288 comments attached to this article. For example, Eugene Gorrin commented, “No one has the right to do that without the proper safeguards, approvals and monitoring.” Also, dmutchler commented, “I would hope the proper authorities not only fine this man quite highly, but for such an amount, criminal charges seem in order too, particularly when viewed along with the man’s arrogance and complete disregard for proper channels.” In these examples, the term ‘rogue’ has been attached to the person of Russ George. This attachment will be explained as we work our way through the article.
However, in reality, there is no warrant to support the use of this term. In fact, evidence proves the opposite: the formation of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, by the people of Old Masset Village and their Council, in consultation with Russ George, was based on a history of deeply held beliefs in a principled approach to our human duty to be responsible stewards of the natural environments on which we depend to sustain life. The formation of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, and the subsequent planning, development and implementation of their iron enhancement project, was carried out with the utmost care. There is evidence of public plebiscite, legal counsel, and numerous consultations with top scientific, government, and non-government representatives.
Sadly, the term ‘rogue’ would more accurately be applied to the work of Henry Fountain and the editorial staff and the New York Times. Their use of this term in this article indicates a profound lack of due diligence, rigour, or research on their part. By publishing this term as if it applied to the work of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and all those who worked tirelessly over 6 years to bring it to fruition, they have demonstrated they do not rely on actual evidence (warrants) to support the claims or accusations they report in their paper. They have shown themselves to be unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable. They have behaved unscrupulously.
Hakemi & Ridgedale LLp have published an example of defamatory words in a case study. As I analyze the publications about the Haida Salmon Restoration Project and Russ George, I will be looking for these three things:
1. that the words of defamation were published – I have a database full of articles and links
2. that the words that refer to the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, the Haida people, the scientists working on this project, or to Russ George – I will be looking for all four instances
3. the words are in fact defamatory – that is, they damage the reputation of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, the Haida people, the scientists working on the project, and/or Russ George
I am going to be looking for words that are defamatory, that tend to lower the reputation of the HSRC, the Haida people, the scientists working on the project, and/or Russ George, in the estimation of ordinary, reasonable members of society, or to expose the HSRC, the Haida people, the scientists and/or Russ George to hatred, contempt or ridicule. It seems to me this will be quite easy to prove, as the comment threads attached to these articles will attest to the character of the comments elicited by the statements in the articles.
I have to admit, adding this element to the research makes it much more palatable. It has been very difficult simply taking inventory of the litany of words, phrases and statements that do not represent the HSRC, the Haida people, these hardworking scientists, Russ George, or the project they undertook, nor the spirit under which it was taken.
I anticipate my work on this vein will yield rich results.
We have started our analysis of media reports about the Haida Salmon Restoration Project with regards to propaganda motifs and techniques. It is very difficult work because I realize how little I actually know of the truth of what is reported in the media. With regards to the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and their project to restore ocean habitat for salmon, it is very difficult indeed. But, it must be done, because real harm is generated by these fallacious and manipulative reports. At present I have 15 items in my list of propaganda categories. These are what I am using to analyze a story published in the New York Times in the Environment section, authored by Peter Fountain. I will be posting my analysis on our Propaganda and Disinformation Analysis forum.
Another aspect of this project has been suggested, that we analyze these media pieces for indicators of defamation, including libel and slander. For this purpose we are going to use a couple of references to guide our inquiry. Based on the following definition, both the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and Russ George, if not the Haida people, have grounds to sue for defamation based on my cursory overview of the media articles I have collected. As I go through these articles for my disinformation and propaganda analysis, I will also not defamatory statements as defined below.
What is defamation?
Defamation is communication about a person that tends to hurt the person’s reputation. Defamation is a strict liability tort, which means that the intentions of the defamer are not relevant. The communication must be made to other people, not just to the person it’s about. The statement must be false to be classified as defamation. If it is spoken, then defamation is termed “slander”. If it is written, it is termed “libel”. It can also be a gesture, which is a type of slander.
The law protects your reputation against defamation. If someone defames you, you can sue them to pay money (called “damages”) for harming your reputation. You have to sue in Supreme Court, not Provincial Court, and you have to sue within 2 years of the defamation. It is not relevant the timing of when you discovered the defamation. Rather, the limitation period commences on the date the defamatory statement was made or published. For more on the court system, check script 432, called “Our Court System and Solving Disputes.”
The law doesn’t protect you from a personal insult or a remark that injures only your pride; it protects reputation, not feelings. So if someone calls you a lazy slob, you might be hurt, but you probably don’t have a good reason to sue. If he goes on to say you cheat in your business dealings, you probably do have a good reason to sue, as long as he says it to someone else, not just to you. If he says it only to you, you can’t sue because he has not hurt your reputation.
Defamation can be a crime under the Criminal Code, but only rarely. This script is about civil, not criminal, defamation. If someone has defamed you, you may also be able to sue for a violation of your privacy under the provincial Privacy Act. Further, section 7 of the BC Human Rights Code prohibits another type of defamation, namely, a discriminatory publication. For more information on that, contact the BC Human Rights Tribunal at 604.775.2000 in Vancouver and 1.888.440.8844 elsewhere in BC. Or see its website at www.bchrt.bc.ca. Also, check script 236, called “Human Rights and Discrimination Protection.”
What is libel?
Libel is the type of defamation with a permanent record, like a newspaper, a letter, a website posting, an email, a picture, or a radio or TV broadcast. If you can prove that someone libeled you, and that person does not have a good defence (see the section on defences below), then a court will presume that you suffered damages and award you money to pay for your damaged reputation. But going to Supreme Court is expensive and even if you win, you may not get as much as it costs you to sue. In deciding on damages, the Court will consider your position in the community. For example, if you are a professional, damages may be higher.
What is slander?
Slander is the type of defamation with no permanent record. Normally it’s a spoken statement. It can also be a hand gesture or something similar. The law treats slander differently than libel: with slander, you have to prove you suffered damages, in the form of financial loss, to get compensation. But with libel, the law presumes you suffered damages. For example, say that Bill told John you were a cheat, and then John refused to do business with you because of that. You sue Bill and prove that you lost business with John because of what Bill said. Bill would have to pay you for the loss of John’s business, but not for the general damage to your reputation. It can be very hard to prove this sort of financial loss. That’s why most slander cases never go to court.
But in the following four examples, a slander lawsuit may succeed without your proving financial loss. Even though there’s no permanent record of the slander, the law will presume damages, as if it were libel, if someone:
- accuses you of a crime (unless they made the accusation to the police)
- accuses you of having a contagious disease
- makes negative remarks about you in your trade or business
- accuses you of adultery
What about the right to free speech?
The law protects a person’s reputation but this protection can restrict other rights, such as the right to free speech. The law tries to balance these competing rights. Sometimes, even though someone made a defamatory statement that hurt a person’s reputation, the law considers other rights more important. The law allows the following defences for a person who makes a defamatory statement.
What are the defences to a defamation lawsuit?
If someone sues for defamation, the most common defences are:
- truth (known in law as “justification”)
- absolute privilege
- qualified privilege
- fair comment
- responsible communication on matters of public interest
1. Truth or justification
A statement may hurt your reputation, but if it is true, anyone who says it has a valid defence if you sue them for defamation.
2. Absolute privilege
There are two main examples of this defence: statements made in Parliament and statements made as evidence at a trial or in court documents. This privilege does not apply if a person repeats their evidence outside a courtroom. This defence also allows the fair and accurate reporting of these statements in the media, such as newspaper reports of a trial. People must be able to speak freely in our justice and political systems without worrying about being sued.
3. Qualified privilege
This defence is where remarks that may otherwise be defined as defamatory were conveyed to a third party non-maliciously and for an honest and well-motivated reason. Say a former employee of yours gave your name to an employer as a reference and that employer calls you for a reference. You say, “Well, frankly, I found that this employee caused morale problems.” As long as you act in good faith and without malice, and your statement is not made to more people than necessary, then the defence of qualified privilege protects you if the former employee sues you for defamation. You gave your honest opinion and the caller had a legitimate interest in hearing it.
4. Fair comment
We all are free to comment – even harshly – about issues of public interest, as long as our comments are honest statements of opinion, based on fact, and not malicious. For example, a newspaper columnist may write that a Member of Parliament (an MP) says he supports equality and equal rights, but he opposes same-sex marriages. The columnist writes that the MP is hypocritical. If the MP sues the columnist for defamation, the columnist has the defence of fair comment. Media articles that accurately report what was said at public meetings are also privileged, unless the meeting was not of public concern and the report was not for public benefit.
5. Responsible communication on matters of public interest
In a December 2009 case, the Supreme Court of Canada established this new defence to a libel claim. The court said that journalists should be able to report statements and allegations – even if they are not true – if there’s a public interest in distributing the information to a wide audience. This defense, which looks at the whole context of a situation, can apply if:
- the news was urgent, serious, and of public importance, and
- the journalist used reliable sources, and tried to get and report the other side of the story.
The court defined “journalist” widely to include bloggers and anyone else “publishing material of public interest in any medium.”
What effect does an apology have?
A newspaper or a TV or radio station that publishes or broadcasts a libel can limit the amount of the damages they may have to pay by publishing or broadcasting an apology right away.
The law of defamation protects your reputation against false statements. If a person makes a false statement to someone and it hurts your reputation, you can sue the person who made the false statement for damages. But because of other competing rights in our society, such as free speech and fair comment, you will not always win.
The following table is summary of the categories we are using to identify propaganda promulgated against the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and their project to restore ocean salmon pastures.
We will use this system to analyze our collection of online articles published about this project after October 15, 2012. We are interested in learning how many institutional entities, including media outlets, non-governmental environmental groups, government representatives, government agencies, scientists, academic institutions, and scientific agencies were involved in the unethical activity of participating in publishing disinformation and propaganda. We are also interested in the institutional representatives who spoke about this disinformation as if it was fact, and lent their names and the names of their institutions to valorize fallacious claims made without supporting data or warrants.
Black, J. (2001). Semantics and ethics of propaganda. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 16(2-3), 121-137.
Cunningham, S. B. (2001). Responding to propaganda: An ethical enterprise. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 16(2-3), 138-147.
Tilley, E. (2005). Responding to terrorism using ethical means: The propaganda index. Communication Research Reports, 22(1), 69-77.