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Are Standards Slipping at The Economist?

by on May 3, 2012

I have read The Economist for years and years. More and more frequently I have been asking myself: “What is The Economist playing at?” On its homepage The Economist group states the following:

The Economist Group is the leading source of analysis on international business and world affairs. We deliver our information through a range of formats, from newspapers and magazines to conferences and electronic services.

What ties us together is the objectivity of our opinion, the originality of our insight and our advocacy of economic and political freedom around the world.

It is a worrying state of affairs, when that same newspaper provides the following misleading graphs on military spending and global warming. These graphs not only make me question the economic nous of its journalist, but the objectivity of The Economist Group.

The first graph shows a very unrealistic exponential increase in China’s military spending. If readers look closely  the numbers tell the tale. US is far outspending China.  Even if this insane prediction proves to be right China will only match the US’s annual spend in 2040.  This is warmongering. I feel that the military- industrial complex in the US has begun a public relations offensive. I wish The Economist could try and stay objective instead of being a dumb cheerleader.

What changed in 1990?

!This second chart was actually the Daily Chart on the 2nd of May. The way this data is presented is misleading. The bottom curve seems to be a generally upward sloping line, which would indicate a positive correlation with the CO2 concentration.  Further inspection, however, tells us that it shows the deviation from the 1955-2006 average. From at least 1960-1985, the increase in  CO2 over this period is associated with below average global heat. The article states that temperatures and CO2 levels have risen since 1960.  Increased CO2 levels have not been associated with higher temperatures since 1960, but since 1990! The question should be: what changed in 1990?

I asked Leadership on Sustainability this question the response was the following:

Thank you for your reaction and thank you for pointing out that temperatures of the ocean (and for that matter the atmosphere) did not rise in 1991 compared to 1978. I am not a climate expert and I can only offer a tentative answer: up to recently we have been pushing all sorts of sooth like particles into the air. These particles block sunlight out, reflecting it back into space. An article in Trouw (my daily Dutch newspaper) yesterday highlighted how we are benefiting now from brighter days and better long distance views due to a reduction of pollution. I am assuming that the increase of CO2  causing warming was balanced by an increase of particles causing cooling.

A similar point was made in superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

If The Economist really want to remain (or be) a leading source of objective analysis, it should learn to think independently or at the very least be objective in its presentation. Its readers are not as dumb as they may think.

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