Skeptical Science Author Libels Journalist

Andy Skuce, member of the Skeptical Science team, recently libeled journalist Elizabeth Nickson. I tried discussing it with him directly. That didn’t accomplish anything. As such, I’ve written a letter to the editor of the site which posted his article

Dear Editor,

I’m writing to complain about a libelous statement in a recent opinion piece of yours, Nothing abusive about stating climate facts, published on January 7, 2014.  The author of the piece, Andy Skuce, accuses Elizabeth Nickson of misrepresenting a source by saying:

Contrary to Ms Nickson’s claim, the New York Times article she cited did not report that “there has been no warming for 17 years.” The NYT  journalist argued that, despite the slowdown in the rate of increase in surface temperatures in recent years compared to trends in the 1980s and 1990s, global warming has continued, with measurements showing more heat  going into the deep ocean.

While the language itself is not particularly damning, any accusation of a journalist misrepresenting a source is a serious accusation.  Journalists trade on integrity.  That means this criticism could be harmful to Nickson’s professional career.  That makes it libel if it is false.

It is false.  Nickson wrote:

Even the NYTimes admits there has been no warming for 17 years.

Note the distinction between “admit” and “report.”  Skuce argues Nickson misrepresented her source by describing what the source reports.  Nickson discussed what the source admitted.  The two need not be the same.  Skuce’s depiction of what the source said could be accurate without contradicting what Nickson said.

As Skuce provided no evidence Nickson’s reporting was inaccurate, we must look at the New York Times article.  When we do, we see repeated use of phrases like “lull in warming” and “warming plateau.”  A lull is defined as “a temporary pause or decline in activity.”  A plateau is defined as “a period when something does not increase or advance any further” (both definitions taken from Merriam-Webster).

Those words clearly indicate a cessation of activity.  As such, it is perfectly reasonable to interpret the phrases I quoted as indicating a lack of warming.  That means Elizabeth Nickson was correct to say “the New York Times admits there has been no warming for 17 years.”  The only possible inaccuracy is the source did not state the length of the period without warming.

Andy Skuce’s claim Elizabeth Nickson misrepresented her source source is clearly false.  It damages her professional career as a journalist by calling into question her ability to accurately reflect her sources.  That makes it libel.

I would ask you to remove or correct this libelous statement and provide your readers a notice of the alteration.  I further suggest it would be appropriate to offer an apology to Elizabeth Nickson.

A concerned reader,
Brandon Shollenberger

For a shortened version, I think this comment of mine on Twitter sums things up best:

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