Are [An Inconvenient Truth, The History Channel, and National Geographic] reliable?

I was watching a bit of Al Gore’s movie An Inconvienient truth, and I began to wonder about the reliability of it.
I’ve been told many times that the History channel isn’t too reliable, and I’ve always thought that the National Geographic magazine was a bit fishy.

Does anyone know how reliable the above are?

Much of what Mr. Gore is saying in the presentation is prediction. Predictions are rarely completely correct. Only time will tell.

Can you expand on this? Are there any specific instances where you have found National Geographic to be unreliable? I have always found them to be a fairly trustworthy and unbiased source of scientific information.

Thats why I used the term fishy. I can’t point to any specific examples, but a few times I’ve gotten the feeling that they are leaving something out. Like when you read a newspaper article and you can see them twisting words to avoid having to mention a certain fact.
It’s just a feeling.

I think National Geographic can be relied on to present useful and accurate information. Likewise the movie An Inconvenient Truth is providing legitimate information gathered from real research into the topic.

That said everyone has a bias. The ones you listed are trying to sway you to their way of thinking about the topic. There is nothing wrong with that and the info they are providing you remains reliable. What they may be short on are presenting opposing viewpoints for you. They may pay them some lip service in order to head off criticisms of their view but at the end of it all they are trying to convince you that gorillas need to be saved or global warming is a real threat (or whatever).

I believe the ones you listed here are intellectually honest for the most part and are worth reading/watching. It is up to you to act on your sense they are not being completely truthful by seeking out further information. The SDMB is a fantastic resource for this in having others help to fill in the blanks (as it were).

That applies to the vast majority of all media however, even the New York Times. A thorough academic treatment of any subject would take too long and be boring to people even like me. The history channel twists things in weird ways so I understand their criticism but I have never noticed anything especially off on the National Geographic channel and I watch it more than any other channel. They have an extremely long legacy and reputation to preserve so I don’t think they would just fly off the deep end randomly.

FWIW, the scientific community* has strongly supported Gore’s movie, saying it’s essentially a 100% accurate presentation of the current state of knowledge.

  • Not everyone of course.

Although National Geographic’s reputation is generally above reproach, they did create one unfortunate incident, which I think was the first high-profile case of digital image manipulation when they modifed a photo of the Great Pyramids of Giza for esthetic reasons without disclosing it.

Gore’s movie was a combination of:

  1. Facts and figures. Example: here’s a graph of temperature trends. This could be debated, but it’s data.
  2. Slight-of-hand implications. Example: here’s a graph of CO2 next to a graph of temperature. This is bullshit. The impression given is that temperature will spiral out of control by dozens of degrees, when no one is claiming that. It’s totally underhanded.
  3. Vague sense that the result of everything is doom. Fact is, it’s one thing to say “the Earth will get warmer” and another to imply “this will result in catastrophy.” The evidence of the former is very strong, but the latter is rarely justified. The Earth will experience changes, but you have to ask if, for example, 100 million people losing their homes means anything if it takes place over a century. There sure as hell was a lot more than 100m people who migrated across the planet in the last 100 years (including all the ones who did it to escape the flooding in their parents’ basement). I guess this could be put along with #2.
    History channel documentaries are usually a little different. They have plenty of facts, which are often questionable (more so than GW statistics), and they do have a narrator with a sense of importance (makes the watching interesting), but they have much less an agenda to constantly insert sideways implications.

Didn’t a British court find that it had several factual errors in it? I vaugely remember hearing something about that.

Found it:
Horribly biased link, but the basic story is true.

Most of those sound like unsupported contradictions:

If they don’t show their work, it is hard to give them much credence.

Eh…hardly a sound debunking of the movie. Note the government allowed the movie to continue to be shown as long as a statement that some of it is inaccurate is included.

Add to that that it seems some of the court’s issues look odd in their own right.

  • Saying that the Gulf Stream could be interrupted is an “impossibility” throws an immediate red flag up. In my experience scientists rarely talk in such absolutes using words like “impossible” unless whatever it is flies in the face of an established law of nature.

  • NO evidence for coral reef bleaching? Here is some evidence:

  • No islanders relocated due to rising seas? Well…

Not so sure courts are the best place for matters of science to be debated.

There are things like that some amount of global warming has been caused by increased solar output[sup]1[/sup] and whether Hurricane Katrina would have happened anyways (i.e. minus human-caused global warming) is really pretty much anyone’s guess, though it’s certainly the output of simulations that storms of increased power and frequency will be prevalent in the area as time goes on. These are, however, basically just nitpicks.

I’d say that if An Inconvenient Truth strikes you as being one-sided it’s probably more due to the prevalence of misinformation that makes it seem like AGW is less of a done deal than the science shows it to actually be, than because it’s got lapses. Going by the Wikipedia, there is no major scientific group which doesn’t agree that the current state of the science is that global warming is human induced.[sup]2[/sup] If you want more specific information about it, the EPA has some nicely made pages that go through everything:

You can also read through the report issued by the Federal Climate Change Science Program:

Since the subject of global warming inevitably ends up as a debate, I’m moving this to GD. I have also edited the title to indicate the subject.

General Questions Moderator

Check out the article on AIT in wikipedia-- a good place to start. The History Channel is OK, but some of the shows can be, as you say, fishy. TNG, the mag, is quite good, but the TV channel is a mixed bag-- some good stuff and some garbage. PBS is the best for History/Science. Nothing tops NOVA, if you ask me. Not any regular series, that is.

The History Channel is fairly reliable when it comes to non-Biblical or supernatural themed shows. It’s completely execrable when it comes to anything having to do with the Bible or with dreck like Nostrodamus prophesies.

A problem with the History Channel, Discovery Channel, et al, is that it will present a theoretical explanation for archeological or paleological findings that may be held by a small minority of the scientific community, but sounds good or interesting, and treat it as if this theory is ‘the truth.’ As a lay person, it’s very difficult to know how credible the people they are showing putting forth explanations actually are.

And they use computer modeling a lot to ‘explain’ or ‘solve’ things. Computer modeling is a wonderful thing, but it is a limited tool, and really can’t ever be said to have proven something about unknown conditons in the past; at best, it can indicate likelihoods. And some of these models you just know are based far more on fitional assumptions than actual information, because we just don’t have that much actual information.

I love this kind of programming, but I always have to remind myself to take it with a grain of salt.

There was a recent poll of members of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society regarding climate change and one of the questions that they asked is in regards to An Inconvenient Truth. [Note that most American (and many foreign) climate scientists are likely members of one or both of these organizations…although I don’t think the converse is true. I.e., I don’t think that most of the members are actively studying climate science (despite some of the wording that this poll represents the views of “climate scientists”). Nonetheless, most are probably likely to be in somewhat related fields.]

In that poll, a total of 64% of the respondents rated An Inconvenient Truth as either very or somewhat reliable (with 26% saying very reliable and 38% saying somewhat reliable). This is a pretty high score considering only 1% rated broadcast or cable news to be very reliable with another 31% and 25% rating broadcast and cable news, respectively, as somewhat reliable. The national press (New York Times, Wall St. Journal etc) faired similarly to, or even a tad better than, An Inconvenient Truth when you consider that the total of very and somewhat reliable was 67%. However, the breakdown was less favorable with only 11% saying very reliable and 56% saying somewhat reliable.

Also, note by contrast that no more than 1% rated either the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” or Michael Crichton’s novel “State of Fear” as very reliable. (The report doesn’t say what percentage rated those as somewhat reliable.)

So, take from that what you will. Al Gore is, of course a politician, and he was trying to convince people that global warming is a serious problem so An Inconvenient Truth is certainly a documentary with a bias…and it glosses over some subjects like the complication in the relationship between CO2 and temperature during the ice age - interglacial cycles [namely that the best understanding we have is that there is a not a one-way cause-and-effect relationship but rather a synergistic relationship between the two with warming (due to orbital oscillations) initially causing an increase in CO2 levels which then serves to further amplify the warming]. However, most of the scientists seem to believe that Gore presented the science fairly accurately.

Yeah…horribly biased to be sure, perhaps “loosely based on a true story” would be a better description. To read a different account of the court decision, see here. Also, see here for a further summary (with links) of how some climate scientists weighed in in regards to these alleged errors.