Friday, March 2, 2012
I was feeling like the last couple of big stories I read on oil/gasoline prices in the New York Times didn't have quotes from Daniel Yergin (chair of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates - CERA for short - and a frequent commentator on energy issues). For me this would be a positive development, as I think Yergin has been deeply wrong about energy issues over the last seven years and his influence over the NYT has been associated with a very unhelpful lack of coverage and analysis of the real issues in the oil markets at the paper.
Unfortunately, when I investigated the situation more carefully, I realized there is no evidence for an anomalous lack of influence/citation. I used the NYT article search feature to examine how many stories in the paper contained the word "Yergin" in every quarter going back to 2000. You can see that there is little or no trend in the data - the one anomaly is Q4 2011 when Yergin released a new book which occasioned a lot of comment. Two months into Q1 2012, he has received two mentions which is well within the normal range for a quarter.
In my view, it was reasonable for media to rely extensively on Daniel Yergin as an expert source in the early and mid 2000s based on his extensively researched book The Prize, his academic background, and his industry knowledge from his consultancy. However, his reputation and influence should have been severely diminished by being completely wrong, for years on end, about the most important event in the oil markets for several decades: the plateauing of global crude oil production beginning in about 2004/2005. That this did not happen is a reflection of how poor a job some journalists do at analyzing and reporting the truth, even at leading newspapers like the New York Times.
The problems with Yergin's record were immortalized by Glenn Morton, and summarized in this graph: