How to Report (AND READ) complex science stories. . . .

From Andrew Revkin’s NYTimes environment blog —

Kenneth Caldeira, a climate researcher for the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University, criticized a British newspaper article — “Climate change experts clash over sea-rise ‘apocalypse’” — for overplaying the momentousness of one paper projecting a calamitous rise in seas by 2100 and then overplaying the level of dispute over the finding based on new work. Double whiplash, in a way.

Dr. Caldeira wrote:

“I think this story in the Times is indicative of the press’s tendency to make a big story out of every individual paper, rather than reporting the picture that emerges out of the findings of a field of science over time.”

He went on to discuss how the original paper’s sea-rise projection was, in his view, flawed, but also how the way it was described distracted from overall confidence about rising seas in a warming world. Then he wrapped his thoughts up this way:

“I think science journalism is in a terrible spot right now. Most scientific stories unfurl slowly, in a process that involves many different published papers, but journalists are tied to the news cycle and need to make a news event out of each story. So, to get space in the newspaper, they need to make it seem as if each published paper is a major event and the science is being whiplashed back and forth by each published study. (This is supported by the scientists who do each study and naturally feel the importance of their own study.) As a result, the public gets an exaggerated view of the volatility of scientific understanding. If the journalist[s] do not overemphasize the importance of individual studies, the stories will not get in the paper, and stories on the rising seas will be nowhere in the newspaper. Where is there a place for journalism that focuses on long-term trends?”

Check Revkin’s original piece (and monitor the blog over time) for more elucidation on the science of climate change impacts. 

About Bruce

Work for sustainable development of small islands and the Chesapeake Bay; ex-Peace Corps (Volunteer and staff) in LA & Caribbean; cruised Caribbean on S/Y Meander for three years; like small tropical islands, French canals, Umbria, Tasmania, and NZ. Married 52 years to the late Kincey Burdett Potter (see President of the now-sunsetting Island Resources Foundation.
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