Friday, March 2, 2012

Yergin Influence Index

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:


James said...

I somehow reached the conclusion that CERA was a PR firm for the oil companies which was funded by the oil companies. For a PR firm to be able to convince the mainstream media that they were an independent "research" organization would quite a coup.

A bit of googling reveals that they are now owned by IHS, so perhaps I was wrong about them getting their funding from those they were supposedly studying.

Still, Yergin's record seems to reveal some sort of flaw in how information travels through our society.

Stuart Staniford said...


I agree that Yergin essentially appears to function in the media as a mouthpiece for the industry's agenda (but without ever being presented that way).

Brian said...

It seems to me that, somewhere along the way, the core principles of journalism shifted away from truth and accuracy towards "balance" and entertainment.

There was a time when investigative journalism was interested in stories that accurately reflected reality, even if the resulting story was slanted to one side of the issue or another. If they uncovered something that most people would see in a negative light, it was accurately presented as being negative.

Now, what you see is the search for "balance", rather than accuracy. You see this all the time on every major media outlet. For example, take NPR. NPR regularly does shows covering a subject on which there might be wide scientific agreement (e.g., climate change) or moral agreement (e.g., government corruption). When they do these shows, almost invariably, the guest lineup does not present an accurate reflection of the reality. It's not like you have 12 climate scientists and 1 denier scientist. This would somewhat accurately reflect the reality of the science. What you get instead is a show with 2 climate change believers and 2 climate change deniers, and a discussion that presents both views as legitimate reflections of reality.

Examples like this are not limited to issues like climate change. Such examples are endless. This is "balanced" entertainment, but it is not accurate, objective, or truth-seeking journalism. Yet, this is what we see even in those media outlets that purport to be real journalists. I suppose that when even the "real" journalists have replaced truth with balance in their priorities there should be little surprise that the more general media would more or less ignore truth altogether and focus on entertainment, advertising and money.

James said...

Staniford Influence Index

Coincidentally, I followed this Mother Jones link on gasoline prices to compare (what I expected to be poor analysis) to what I recently read on the topic on this blog:

And found them quoting and linking to Stuart ... perhaps even blatantly ripping off his analysis.

I guess the Staniford Influence Index is rising.

yvesT said...

But then we now are at a time where I think the "peak issue cover up", isn't necessarily in the interest of oil companies seems to me.

Of course it is still bad news overall, but for instance, if the peak becomes common knowledge (and if everything doesn't collapse, it will be the case once global prod starts to decrease), then from an investment point of view, oil won't lose any value (quite the contrary), and so at least comparatively to other industries, oil companies wouldn't either. And in fact was peak common knowledge, I would prefer investing in an oil company, than in typical industries relying on cheap oil availibility, like cars or road building industries.

And in fact some messages have now been coming from the oil industry on the peak being imminent, from Shell (in the FT) and Total especially.

So not sure where Yergin is sitting there ...

There is another guy making also a lot of noise a bit similar to Yergin in views these days in French speaking media, called Pierre Terzian (head of a magazine called "petrostratégie").

Alexander Ac said...


have you seen THIS chart?

G.R.Morton said...

Thanks for giving me a laugh about seeing my old chart again. Yergin is a guy who can't see the data.

I pretty much left the debate field cause I need to spend as much time getting my ranch ready for my family to move there when global oil production finally starts falling. I figure we have another 2-3 years. When it starts going down at 8%/year, it will be a Mad Max World.