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My Word: When it comes to global warming, sometimes statistics can lie

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By The Staff

 A letter featured in The Sentinel-News (“Problems exist”, June 17) was, itself commenting on the proposed energy plan of President Barack Obama.  I generally do not agree with most of the views of the aforementioned contributor, thus, my grievances are less with that writer than with the newspaper itself.  

As an M.A. student in international affairs, I deal with politics from the left and right on a daily basis, and it pains me that people on the left tend to cite strictly left-leaning sources and vice-versa.  But I suppose that’s politics, and it’s a shame that we always seem to go with our own biases when it comes to the news even though, personally, I’ve never learned that much by hearing the opinion of someone who I already agreed with.   My problem is when The Sentinel-News, an admirable small-town newspaper that I always make sure to read alongside my New York Times, Financial Times, and The Economist, publishes articles that are so blatantly one-sided as the piece in question here and which cite statistics from unlisted sources.  The purpose of this piece is not to change the opinions of such writers but to ask that our paper hold its contributors accountable for the statistics they cite.   For example, this writer states that “seventy-one percent of Americans are unwilling to pay any more for their electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”  Obviously, it is anyone’s guess as to where this statistic actually originated, but I happened to be aware of a similar poll cited by the Institute for Energy Research.  That poll frames the assertion verbatim, but strangely cites the number as only 58 percent.  The point here, of course, is not that 58 percent of “Americans” would not accept an increase in their electricity bills to reduce carbon emissions, but rather that the statistic seems to have been intentionally misquoted by the author.  At the very least, no source at all was provided so the statistic could very well have come from absolutely anywhere.  For the record, the poll that I have cited here was conducted by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which appears to be an organizational lobby representing the interests of cooperative electric utilities.  Participation details about the poll are currently unlisted. I would also argue the bold assertion that “more than 31,000 ‘scientists’ have signed a petition rejecting the theory of human-caused global warming.”  I browsed for this statistic and was personally quite surprised to find it well-represented across the Internet — all on far-right, anti-global warming Web sites. Biased?  If even one neutral source had reaffirmed the quote, I could have given it more credence.  Instead, I would cite international news coverage (BBC, Reuters, etc.) that affirms the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be 90 percent confident that global warming has been worsened by human emissions.  Granted there are criticisms of the IPCC also, including that the New York Review of Books, among others, has labeled it as being “too conservative.” Ironic. So with regard to global warming, I would say our letter writer needs to do a bit more moderate and unbiased research.  With regard to the president’s new energy policy, it certainly does sound like the plan needs some work, and perhaps the Democrats can learn that creating a new agency isn’t the way to solve every dilemma. As for The Sentinel-News, I don’t mean to compare our humble paper to the BBC, but our county has some very provocative opinions, and they are certainly “informed.”  Let’s just make sure also that they are well-informed.  After all, statistics can lie…   Sean Chandler, a native of Shelby County, is a student at the University of Kentucky.