April 28, 2017

Bret Stephens made his debut in the pages of The New York Times opinion section today with a column defending climate change skepticism in the face of scientific surety, a take that didn’t sit well with many of his colleagues in the newsroom.

Stephens, a 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winner who joined The Times earlier this year after critiquing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for The Wall Street Journal’s opinion section, argued in his first column that the kind of overwhelming certainty that caused Hillary Clinton to overestimate her chances of electoral victory has crept into conventional wisdom surrounding climate science:

Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

After the column was published Friday afternoon (readers were alerted with a push notification), New York Times journalists began responding on Twitter:

Stephens faced criticism from his new colleagues before he started at the Times. Declan Walsh, the Times’ Cairo bureau chief, objected on Twitter to the columnist’s use of the phrase “disease of the Arab mind” in a column about anti-semitic views held by Arabs.

Max Fisher, an editor and writer at The New York Times, also took issue with the phrase.

Stephens defended the line on Twitter. Today, he noted that he has experienced bullying from critics on the left.

James Bennet, the editorial page editor of The New York Times and the former editor of The Atlantic, heralded Stephens’ debut in a note on the Times’ website celebrating the added diversity of opinion Stephens represents.

But, particularly during this turbulent and searching time in America and around the world, we should have the humility to recognize we may not be right about everything and the courage to test our own assumptions and arguments.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled James Bennet’s surname.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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