September 10, 2013

Slate | Guardian | Discover

The Earth “is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century – a process that would expose computer forecasts of imminent catastrophic warming as dangerously misleading.” That’s the claim in a Mail on Sunday article by David Rose published Sept. 7 by Mail Online, the online home of that paper and the Daily Mail.

The Telegraph echoed the content of that article the following morning, and an MSN blog picked it up, too.

But Rose misunderstood the science behind his assertions, Phil Plait writes in Slate. For instance, Rose says “A chilly Arctic summer has left nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year – an increase of 60 per cent.”

That’s “technically true, but extremely misleading,” Plait says.

In the summer of 2012 Arctic sea ice hit a record low. Given just how extreme it was, it’s not too surprising that it would not be as extreme this year.

Or to use a rough, media-biz-focused analogy, just because a newspaper company’s stock is up this year doesn’t mean you’d necessarily want to park your retirement funds there.

Perhaps more interesting, Rose claims the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, prodded by The Mail’s reporting, will hold a “crisis meeting.” The IPCC has not yet replied to Poynter’s query regarding the accuracy of this claim, but the climate scientist Ed Hawkins says he told Rose in an interview that it was bogus:

Maybe you shouldn’t read The Mail or the Telegraph for their climate coverage, Dana Nuccitelli writes.

They suffer from cherry picking short-term data while ignoring the long-term human-caused trends, misrepresenting climate research, repeating long-debunked myths, and inventing IPCC meetings despite being told by climate scientists that these claims are pure fiction.

(As I have previously documented, though, Mail Online is perhaps the world’s best source of news about dead dolphins.)

Tom Yulsman uses charts and animated GIFs to poke holes in Rose’s article. They require careful reading, “Which of course highlights the difficulty of trying to do a journalistically responsible job on a story like this,” he writes.

To provide proper context, and to highlight the uncertainties along with the findings, requires quite a bit of explanation, not all of it terribly compelling. By comparison, waving one’s arms in the air is far easier.

Related: The 10 biggest science-reporting mistakes (and how to avoid them)

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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