No more denying it

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In recent weeks, we’ve made a commitment as a newspaper to help our readers become more informed about the threat of climate change, and with it, sea level rise (see Greening Martha). Martha’s Vineyard is particularly vulnerable, and the time to begin planning was yesterday. There is a growing interest, with the Island Climate Action Network and the Climate Action Task Force, which was recently created by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Both organizations, some with the same members, are working to help the Island focus on the challenges and potential solutions. We appreciate the important work that’s being done, and can’t continue to let that be undermined by people alleging that climate change is a “hoax,” and that people basing their reactions on well-researched data collected by scientists are “climate alarmists.”

We’ve been disappointed by those who have ridiculed the action of children on the Island who have shown real leadership, like those involved with Plastic Free MV who helped initiate bylaws to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles on the Vineyard. The pushback against Swedish teen Greta Thunberg and her efforts to rally her generation has been unfortunate and, at times, cruel and disgusting.

So we’ve decided that we can no longer publish comments that have no basis in fact. We are no longer giving a voice to those who deny the science and visual evidence that backs up climate change science. We are exercising this new standard in our comments online, in our Letters to the Editor (though there are few climate deniers willing to put their names behind their words), and in our news stories.

We don’t take this decision lightly. We try to give great latitude to the people who comment on our website — we allow anonymous comments online, providing a voice for those who are worried that signing a Letter to the Editor to take a position might jeopardize a job or a relationship. We often are criticized for those comments. In the public’s eyes, our decision to moderate and hit “publish” is tantamount to agreeing with the content of what’s written by someone else. That’s hardly ever the case, but that’s the perception. We often don’t agree with the opinions expressed, but give them space anyway. 

But opinions are different from facts. We can disagree with whether you believe it’s wise that Tisbury grant a permit to an affordable housing development on Beach Road, and we can air opposing views on how seriously boards should consider climate change when issuing permits. But we can’t publish untrue things. We can’t say that climate change does not exist, that the atmosphere is not warming, that sea levels have not risen, and that there is no dire threat to us. So we will no longer allow commenters to disregard data that shows the earth warming, and Dukes County, in particular, warming at a rate above 2°C, as a report in the Washington Post recently showed. We can’t and we won’t.

We’ve always had clearly stated standards for what we will or won’t allow in comments or letters. We don’t allow libelous or defamatory material; we ask people to be courteous (a tough one to police); we ask people to be respectful; and we encourage debate, but frown on personal attacks. We currently challenge comments that we know are untruthful, or we do not know to be facts — if, say, someone alleges that someone did something, or a certain policy exists at the high school. When we have questions about whether a comment has any basis in fact, we ask the commenter to justify it with a link to back up the assertions. If we haven’t reported on the fact and we can’t verify the truth of it, we don’t publish that comment. We’re extending this standard of proof to climate change. 

We’re not the first to take the stand that it’s journalistically irresponsible to continue to allow comments we know to be false alongside credible, well-researched evidence to the contrary. To give them both the same weight is just wrong and misleading.

Here’s what the Conversation, an independent, nonprofit news site that originated in Australia and now has a U.S. presence, had to say about rejecting comments by climate deniers: “Imagine you discovered you had a serious illness, and went to a doctor who recommended an operation. Then you surveyed 10 of your friends about whether they thought you needed an operation. Then, rather than have the operation, you spent the next 10 years, in deteriorating health, every day hearing from your doctor the operation is needed, while a small subset of your mates comment on how the doctor is a nutjob.

“When we do this to experts of any sort, these uninformed comments undermine their authority. People are less inclined to believe experts when their views are presented alongside hostile opinions. But the two things are not the same; they are entirely different types of information, and they don’t deserve equal weight.

“The right approach, if you don’t believe your doctor, is to seek a second opinion from another medical expert. And maybe a third or a fourth. And then you make a decision on how to act, based on the evidence.”

Evidence is the key word. There is a mountain of evidence that climate change and, with it, sea level rise threatens this Island. To continue to allow comments to the contrary undermines and discredits the research done by scientists, and the efforts being made to heed that research.

Chilmark selectman Jim Malkin articulated it well at the board’s recent meeting where the town created its own climate change working group to collect data and recommend priorities for the town. Malkin’s position was clear. The discussion over what created climate change is moot. Instead, it’s time to accept the reality, and seek solutions. “There’s no question we’re facing sea level rise,” he said. “There’s no question we’re facing warming. What are we going to do about it?”

That’s the question we’re focused on, too. There’s no more denying it.

This feeling has been building for a while now, like the waves in a coastal storm. And now the feeling is strong, like that surf pounding against the dunes with a relentless fury — carving away at them and changing the landscape.

It’s an apt analogy for how we’re feeling about those who deny the climate change we are seeing around us. 

We’re drawing a line in the sand — while there’s still sand to draw it in.

32 COMMENTS

    • We already try to do that. It’s not an exact science, unlike climate studies. If you see something you question that we’ve published, by all means bring it to my attention and I will reconsider. Thanks.

      • George, its your paper and you can censor what you want to. Climates cycles do change. In all fairness Do you recall in the 1970s’ that very prominent media papers were predicting another ice age? An internet search will indicate Predictions of global cooling from Newsweek, Time, NY Times, and Washington Post . It doesn’t diminish your position, but it does show that with or without evidence, the mainstream media wants to control the narrative and not provide an equal opportunity for an opposing view. You should re-think your censorship on this subject.

      • I have no issue with your public climate change policy. But George, you have allowed anonymous, viscous, nasty personal attacks in response to comments that are not anonymous. And you know who made those nasty anonymous comments., and allowed it. Your standards are not consistent for everyone.

    • tq– one would think that if someone here claimed that the current president ran into a burning building and singlehandedly carried 4 children and their mothers out of the burning building with no corroboration, then yes, I would think it should not be published.
      However, if one were to say something positive and factual about him ( like he is actually a pretty good,golfer) then I would expect George to let it go through.
      For you to compare Geobbles to George Brennan really reveals how you think about the truth. Geobbles spread demonstrable lies about Jews at the pleasure one one of the worlds most destructive and homicidal maniacs. Perhaps if George were there at the time and drew a line about lies, some of the damage could have been mitigated.

  1. Just testing the proposition Mr Brennan. Polls show a large number of Americans don’t believe in evolution, and “creation science” is gaining hold in some school curricula. Should those facts be ignored, even if evolution is a fact? Do you feel comfortable with the idea that the ”denier” argument is available in other outlets and a progressive publication isn’t obligated to offer a conservative argument on an issue because that argument is presented by conservative publications? Many people, however, tend to gravitate toward media that reinforce their beliefs, and are not exposed to alternate positions. Therefore, does presenting only “one side” serve the public interest? Are journalists obligated to acknowledge the other side of an argument? I applaud your censuring of name calling and ad-hominem but worry a bit that your position leads to syndicating by committee what is true and what is not.

    • Polls also show that a large number of Americans believed Obama was born in Africa, that he’s Muslim, and that Hillary ran a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor. My guess is there’s probably a lot of crossover in those who believe in the stuff of your polls and the ones I cited. Still, truth always wins out. Believing fervently in lies, magic and fairy tales does not make them real. Science tells the story. But you’re correct, it is a fact that people believe in all kinds of things that aren’t real or true— and yet refuse to believe in that which is.

    • Andrew–Even though your question was directed at George, I would like to express my opinion about the evolution debate. While you are correct that “creation science” is gaining ground with some people, I think we can agree that it should not be used to “indoctrinate” children who are very impressionable, and should not be taught in schools any more than the Gospel Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster should be . The first amendment is clear that we do not prioritize one religion over another. As such, you can have your religious opinion and George would likely have no problem with it.
      The problem with the climate change debate it that those who deny it is happening, and offer false witness about it, are creating a situation where that disinformation, and sometimes outright lies are impeding the ability of our civilization to effectively deal with it. You and I are free to believe our own fairy tales, and to express our opinion about them. What we are not free to do (at least here) is to use lies and deceit to jeopardize the lives of future generations.

    • On the south shore of MV…example: behind the dunes between Black Point Pond and Hancock’s is an area that for many years was annually harvested for salt marsh hay. (I’ve watched this area since the 1950’s) Over the last two decades in particular, water levels have gotten to the point where the area now floods every winter, and sedge and phragmites reeds have moved into what was once high enough to support a tractor and haying machinery.

        • von– how “uniform” does it have to be ? I remember when you could see the bunkers on south beach. I haven’t been to the Aquinah cliffs lately, but I am sure the pill box that’s in the water wasn’t there when it was built. Take a look at Chappy on google earth– particularly where the Shifter house is located– but that’s erosion. It has something to do with sea level rise of course, but the sand moves around and erosion doesn’t just happen in a straight line.
          There are plenty of local examples of sea level rise, if you choose to actually see it.

          • That’s my question, why isn’t there similar erosion in the down island towns? There is a natural, baseline sea rise of 3mm per year. Why are select areas of the island hit by erosion, others not? What’s behind the pattern of erosion? Sea level rise would be uniform across the island, no?

        • Von, erosion does not have to occur uniformly. Our planet spins on its axis while at the same time orbiting the sun. As it spins on its access, the earth can and does “wobble,” and its orbit around the sun is usually an ellipsis. With each tiny deviation from its axis, the forces exerted on are immense and unevenly distributed. (My physics are post-Newtonian. I make no apologies. This is to say that objects pulling on one another based on size and distance is, well, not the case.) Our planet sits an enormous bend in space, and the factors that influence our position in that bend are enough to cross one’s eyes when trying to comprehend all of them simultaneously. This may seem beyond the scope of your question about similar events happening in down Island towns, though I thin your observation is spot on. Sea levels would not be likely to rise uniformly, just as every wave that approaches the beach is unlikely to be the same height, break in exactly the same place, with exactly the same energy every time. What is certain, and no, haven’t googled any of this (running on the fumes from my college days) is that there is more water sloshing about though that water is not necessarily evenly disturbed – due in part to that constant, erratic, ‘sloshing.’

    • Try the south shore? I can show you any number of rocks at Vincent and Squibnocket that used to be above the waterline even at high tide. Many are now permanently in the water and are visible only at low tide. These are large boulders that have not moved.

    • tee hump– why do you think everyone who uses a handle here is a coward ? is your first name tee and your last name hump ? I have posted my name and e mail address here countless times– others have also– in case you missed it– Don Keller —I live in vineyard haven my e amil is d k dondondon @ gmail .com
      How about you ? care to put your name , town of residency and your e mail up here while criticizing “cowards” ?

  2. Hasn`t Obama, Kerry and the rest of their rich buddies heard about this before they bought multi-million dollar waterfront properties here on the island?
    Suck hateful, foolish, sheeples that surround us here.
    Thank GOD for you that you have the press on your side.
    I will stick with my side which is opposite of yours and my comments of truth and facts usually never see the lite in the comments sections of either island papers.

  3. It would seem to me that perception is actually the key word here. An online forum like this is home to mostly rants, raves, the occasional word of praise, and sloppy keyboard bruising in an effort to share a thought. I can’t imagine anyone has ever had their mind changed reading the comments section of the Mvtimes. (Nor would anyone be simplistic enough to think the comments section is an endorsement by the paper) Maybe we commenters have made a writer or two shed a tear or lose sleep over our blind writings.
    That being said, comments are a gauge of perception. When comments are now skewed to support the, ahem, as you call it evidence of a certain topic, an inherent bias of reader agreement with these stories will now exist. That gauge no longer functions, which is really the only use for an anonymous comments section. I really don’t believe you are helping anyone by doing this, apart from what might be in your journalistic agenda, but hey it’s your platform.

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