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Global warming and the Strib comics page

Someday, I’ll write a longer column about my ridiculous love of newspaper comics; how I live for Mark Trail’s outrageously proportioned animals, why I celebrated Judge Parker’s new illustrator, or why the For Better or For Worse family deserves brickbats for passive aggressive smugness.

But today’s piece concerns the Strib’s newest comic, Prickly City. It’s the conservative replacement for the vacationing Doonesbury, and in general, it’s been a genial David Brooks to the recently evicted Mallard Fillmore’s angry Rush Limbaugh.

Mallard introduced me to the comic asterisk — inserted after a political claim that the general readership might not buy at face value. Mallard’s asterisks often led to some right-wing site, so they didn’t exactly scream neutral credibility.

Today’s Prickly City uses the same technique. Like Mallard’s Bruce Tinsley, Prickly City’s Scott Stantis is apparently a global-warming denier. Today’s strip asserts that you can “challenge climate-change theory,” noting “global temperatures have not risen since 1998.”

The “1998” carries the asterisk, not to a tendentious site like NewsMax, but to the widely respected BBC.

Basking in the Beeb’s credibility, the strip’s kicker says the 1998 figure “lead[s] many to suspect global warming has leveled off and may actually be declining.”

A fact check

What is it about global warming denial and rightwing strips? I happen to believe when history looks back at the present day, these righties are going to look very, very silly (to put it kindly). I guess time will tell. But Stantis threw out a claim, and sourced it, so I decided to check it.

Turns out he’s right — but only in the way a sophist is right.

This April 4 BBC story says 1998 remains the warmest year on record, according to the U.K.’s Hadley Centre metrological institute.

However, Hadley’s top scientist, Adam Scaife, says in the same story that the 10-year-old temp peak exists only because a cool Pacific La Nina current is holding down underlying temperature growth; when the current inevitably switches to a warmer El Nino, we’ll feel the bake.

Explains Scaife, “What’s happened now is that La Nina has come along and depressed temperatures slightly, but these changes are very small compared to the long-term climate change signal, and in a few years time, we are confident that the current record temperature of 1998 will be beaten when the La Nina has ended.”

By the way, the story also notes that our own NASA says the hottest year on record was 2005. Hard to believe a patriotic strip like Prickly City would cherry-pick a foreigner’s figure over one developed in the good old U.S.A.

Doesn’t Prickly get points for sourcing its claim? No. It’s designed to mislead, not enlighten.

Thanks mostly to Doonesbury, the comics have become part opinion page, and that’s fine. I don’t honestly expect comics editors to kill strips based on half-truths or selective representations. (I do think such selective misrepresentation should count against the strip’s renewal when Doonesbury comes back — and I also believe there’s enough talent among America’s right to produce a strip with full intellectual integrity.)

If nothing else, what this prickly example of selective misrepresentation shows is that even an objective-seeming asterisk … deserves an asterisk.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Kadee Crottier on 04/24/2008 - 02:04 pm.

    Not at all to detract from the import of misleading asterisks and politics on the comics page, but it’s fun to find another comic devotee out there! I’m assuming you’ve found the Comics Curmudgeon ( It also would be interesting to hear a more extended take from you some time on FBoFW, its slow death, and the practice of keeping legacy comics in favor of newer ones. Or is the Web comic rendering newspaper comics obsolete for newer voices?

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