LA Times bans letters from climate skeptics

The Los Angeles Times is giving the cold shoulder to global warming skeptics.

Paul Thornton, editor of the paper’s letters section, recently wrote a letter of his own, stating flatly that he won't publish some letters from those skeptical of man’s role in our planet’s warming climate. In Thornton’s eyes, those people are often wrong -- and he doesn’t print obviously wrong statements.

“Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published,” Thornton wrote. “Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

What amounts to a ban on discourse about climate change stirred outrage among scientists who have written exactly that sort of letter.

"In a word, the LA Times should be ashamed of itself," William Happer, a physics professor at Princeton, told

More On This...

"There was an effective embargo on alternative opinions, so making it official really does not change things," said Jan Breslow, head of the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism at The Rockefeller University in New York.

“The free press in the U.S. is trying to move the likelihood of presenting evidence on this issue from very low to impossible,” J. Scott Armstrong, co-founder of the Journal of Forecasting and a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told

Happer, Breslow and Armstrong are among 38 climate scientists that wrote a widely discussed letter titled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming,” which was published in The Wall Street Journal in Jan. 2012.

The letter argued that there was no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world's economy. It generated such extensive public debate about man’s role in global warming that the Journal published a second letter from the group a few weeks later.

Reached at his home on Friday, Thornton told his policy was being misinterpreted.

"This is not a blanket ban on 'skeptics.' What it does ban is factual inaccuracy," Thornton said. "I'll put it this way: It's fine to say that the Lakers are a terrible basketball team, but it would be factually inaccurate to say they're bad because they put four guys out on the court every night instead of five. The latter 'perspective' also happen to be objectively false, so a letter containing it wouldn't be considered for publication."

"To say that no evidence exists when scientists have produced evidence is asserting a factual inaccuracy, and we try to keep errors of fact out of the paper," he told

Thornton said he has already rejected letters that have argued that there is no evidence that human activity is driving climate change.

Other papers took up the LA Times cause, arguing that climate skeptics are too often kooks best kept off the pages and out of sight.

Citing a letter printed in an Australian newspaper, blogger Graham Readfearn of the Guardian suggested that he supported the ban.

“Wrongheaded and simplistic views like this are a regular feature on … no doubt hundreds of other newspapers around the world where readers respond to stories about climate change,” Readfearn wrote. “Thornton's decision could well leave a few editors wondering if they should follow suit.”

Some climate skeptics said the move was an intentional effort to eliminate debate.

“My research on persuasion shows that persuasiveness of messages is higher when both sides of an issue are presented, but only when one has good arguments to defeat the other side,” Armstrong told “If not, it is best to try to prevent the other side from being heard.”

The Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburgh, Fl., took quizzical note of the policy in a post on its website on Wednesday. But editors for the school's website did not acknowledge questions about the ethics of such a policy, and Thornton himself did not respond to in time for this article.

The writers of the Journal letter left no doubt about their feelings.

“The religion of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) does not tolerate non-believers,” Breslow told