Seth Borenstein

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Seth Borenstein has worked with the Associated Press (AP) as a science writer since 2006. In 2012, he was appointed adjunct professor of journalism and society at New York University’s Washington, DC campus. Borenstein is said to cover national and international stories on science and climate news.

Background & History

Borenstein was born and raised in Ohio, graduated from Bexley (Ohio) High School in 1979, and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University in 1983, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to joining AP, he was editor of the Belmont Citizen (Massachusetts) from 1983 to 1985, a reporter for the Newburyport Daily News (Massachusetts) from 1985 to 1988, a specialty writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel from 1988 to 1994, a space writer for the Orlando Sentinel from 1994 to 1998, and a national correspondent for Knight-Ridder from 1998 to 2006. He has been an active member of the Society of Environmental Journalists since 1998.

Controversies

Accusations of bias

In December 2005, Borenstein revealed what appeared to be a bias in favor of the theory of manmade global warming in an article published in Nieman Reports titled “Global Warming: What’s Known vs. What’s Told.” He is quoted talking about the method in which he reports after a “consensus” is reached on a subject: “Most of the people you talk to are legitimate, mainstream scientists. You put a paragraph in saying, ‘There are a minority of scientists skeptical, they say this, but the vast, overwhelming majority of scientists disregard them.’”

In May of 2008, Borenstein went a step further, completely disregarding the ongoing debate in an article published by Miller-McCune. “The nature of reporting is to get two sides to an issue,” wrote Borenstein. “But the nature of science reporting is to get what’s really happening.”

Borenstein, who claims to be an unbiased journalist, believes there are not two sides to every debate, especially when it comes to climate change. According to Borenstein himself, his own views “start and end with Ross Gelbspan’s The Heat Is On,” which condemns scientists who disagree with the theory of man-caused global warming, painting all those who disagree as being biased by pro-industry and conservative groups and businesses. Gelbspan implies that those who “dissent” should have limited rights to speech and should be excluded from the global warming debate.

A May 15, 2007, posting in the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) website featured an article titled, “Help Keep SEJ And The environment In The Spotlight,” lionizing Borenstein for his loyal service to the ideology espoused by Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and Ross Gelbspan: “Sensational, sordid or even silly stories always seem to crowd out serious coverage of important issues like climate change, environmental health and sustainability. But at least on climate, perhaps, the scale has tipped a bit in the past year. SEJ stalwarts like Seth Borenstein of the AP and Andy Revkin of The New York Times have helped keep the issue in the news. There’s a new documentary, “Everything’s Cool,” taking up where Al Gore left off and featuring SEJers Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel, Ross Gelbspan and Bill McKibben, among others.”

Accusations of Inaccuracy (Pre-2009)

In June 2006, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) issued a press release revealing a series of factual inaccuracies in Borenstein’s article, “Scientists OK Gore’s Movie for Accuracy.” The release says the cited inaccuracies raise “serious questions about AP’s bias and methodology.” EPW challenged the article for suspected fabrications and non-existent sources. The release goes on to say:

“AP chose to ignore the scores of scientists who have harshly criticized the science presented in former Vice President Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth.

“In the interest of full disclosure, the AP should release the names of the “more than 100 top climate researchers” they attempted to contact to review An Inconvenient Truth. AP should also name all 19 scientists who gave Gore “five stars for accuracy.” AP claims 19 scientists viewed Gore’s movie, but it only quotes five of them in its article. AP should also release the names of the so-called scientific “skeptics” they claim to have contacted.”

Borenstein ultimately refused to release the names.

In March 2007, Borenstein was again accused of deceptive reporting, this time by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) member. Borenstein published an article titled “Warming Linked to Stronger Hurricanes“ that claimed the conclusions of the IPCC Working Group 1 blamed the increase in magnitude of cyclones on manmade global warming. The group’s conclusions, however, suggested no such connection. Borenstein’s claims led professor Neville Nicholls, the lead author of Working Group 1’s Chapter 9, to issue this response:

I was disappointed that after more than two years carefully analyzing the literature on possible links between tropical cyclones and global warming that even before the report was approved it was being misreported and misrepresented.

We concluded that the question of whether there was a greenhouse-cyclone link was pretty much a toss of a coin at the present state of the science, with just a slight leaning towards the likelihood of such a link. But the premature reports suggested that we were asserting the existence of much stronger evidence.

Nichols’ to Borenstein was scrubbed from academic records, however his response survives in an archived page of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Borenstien has also been criticized for a December 2008 USA Today article titled “Obama left with little time to curb global warming.” This article, published in the midst of the post-1998 warming “pause,” is full of dire warnings and calls for action on the subject of climate change. Borenstein writes global warming “is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can’t avoid.” He continues, “Global warming is accelerating. Time is close to running out, and Obama knows it.”

NewsBusters, a media watchdog group, compiled a list of critical responses to Borenstein’s article. Included are responses from David Deming, University of Oklahoma; Hans Schreudet; James A. Peden, atmospheric physicist; Dr. Brian G. Valentine, U.S. Department of Energy; Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., retired nuclear scientist; and several others. One particularly damning response comes from Richard S. Courtney, a U.K.-based climate and atmospheric science consultant:

Global warming is not “accelerating”: global warming has stopped. There has been no statistically significant rise in (mean global temperature: MGT) since 1995 and MGT has fallen since 1998. The Earth has been warming from the Little Ice Age (LIA) for 300 years so, of course, the warmest years happened recently. But that warming from the LIA peaked in the El Nino year of 1998.”

Those quoted insist Borenstein’s claims were baseless and “agenda-driven.”

Accusations of Inaccuracy (2009 – present)

In July 2009, The Huffington Post ran a Borenstein article titled “White House Climate Change Report Issues Dire Warning On Worsening Situation.” The article paints a bleak picture for the future of our climate. “Rising sea levels, sweltering temperatures, deeper droughts, and heavier downpours – global warming’s serious effects are already here and getting worse,” wrote Borenstein.

The referenced White House report, however, contained “no new research,” on the topic of environmentalism.

Borenstein’s October 2011, Huffington Post story, “Richard Muller, Global Warming Skeptic, Now Agrees Climate Change Is Real,” contained factual inaccuracies on Dr. Muller’s history:  University of California at Berkeley professor Richard Muller was never a “skeptic” of global warming. He was a careful researcher and a believer in human-caused global warming since the early 1980s who called for the skepticism necessary to produce accurate and credible reports. Newsbusters identified Muller as part of the Koch Brothers-funded Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures (BEST) project team, and the funding was seen, wrongly by Borenstein, as the certification that it was a skeptic project.

Professor Judith Curry, who chairs the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said it was “pretty clear that there was uncertainty in the data itself, but the bigger issues are to analyze the data and interpret it.” Muller’s team made its data publicly available, which indeed showed uncertainty, undermining a New York Times report that claimed the BEST study had “settled the climate change debate” and showed that anyone who remained a skeptic was committing a “cynical fraud,” as Borenstein claimed.

Another example of Borenstein’s bias occurred in October 2013. In an article titled “Study: Temperatures go off the charts around 2047,” Borenstein reported several examples of estimated years specific countries will become unlivable because of climate change. Even after numerous climate models failed to predict warming trends and a decade of flat temperatures, Borenstein suggests this study predicts impending doom down to the year.

“Starting in about a decade, Kingston, Jamaica will probably be off-the-charts hot – permanently,” wrote Borenstein. “Other places will soon follow. Singapore in 2028. Mexico City in 2031. Cairo in 2036. Phoenix and Honolulu in 2043.”

No alternative views were reported.

In January 2015, Borenstein penned an article for the Associated Press declaring that “2014 was Earth’s hottest year on record.” Throughout his AP article, Borenstein elaborates on the seemingly frail state of our climate. He wrote, “The globe is warmer now than it has been in the last 100 years and more likely in at least 5,000 years.”

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director Gavin Schmidt admitted NASA thinks the likelihood that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880 is just 38 percent. Borenstein was forced to issue a “clarification,” which did not mention the 38% possibility.

Involvement in ‘FakeGate’

In the aftermath of FakeGate, an incident where scientist Peter Gleick obtained a forged Heartland Institute document and stole e-mails, which he then released to online outlets, Borenstein was one of the first to attack the Heartland Institute.

After it was revealed that Gleick fraudulently obtained the e-mails, Borenstein appeared to defend Gleick’s actions, writing “The documents caused a stir, mirroring the hacking of climate scientists’ e-mails two years earlier from a British research center.”

Current Considerations

In February 2015,  Climate Depot provided a thorough refutation to an article by Borenstein and Luis Andres Henao, titled “The big melt: Antarctic’s ice may re-shape Earth,” CD alleged that Borenstein and Heano recycled claims from 2014, 1990, 1979, 1922, and even 1901, detailing the article’s inaccuracies in point-by-point refutation.