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Alarmism Run Amok

By Keith Kloor
Jan 21, 2011 1:41 AMNov 19, 2019 10:51 PM


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There's an interesting story making its way around the science blogosphere, involving the fallout from a whopping error in a recent NGO report that was (before the error became publicly known) widely picked up by the press. Charlie Petit at Science Journalism Tracker gets to the nub of it here:

The news is that this week an NGO based in Argentina, the Universal Ecological Fund, released a report on the peril for world food production as global temperatures rise. Serious topic. The authoring org. appears to be earnest (if not diligent). It got wide pickup. However, the grave report, aside from its crop and food price worries, also declared that at current rates of emissions, CO2 in the atmosphere will reach about 490 parts per million by the year 2020 (it's now just shy of 400). That's pretty much wrong. What's totally wrong is its deduction that this translates to a temperature rise of 2.4 C by 2020.

Suzanne Goldenberg at the Guardian seems to be one of the few reporters who took a more critical look at the NGO's false assertions. Another environmental journalist--Stephen Leahy--had an advance peek at the report and tried warning the NGO of its errors, but it refused to listen. Gavin Schmidt over at Real Climate says the whole debacle

has lessons for NGOs, the press, and the public.

But he never really elaborates on what these lessons are. He does, however, absolve the NGO from acting in bad faith:

It has to be acknowledged that people sometimes make genuine mistakes without having any desire to mislead or confuse, and that this is most likely the case here.

Hmm. Here's another way to look at it, as reported by Charlie Petit at Science Journalism tracker:

Leahy even tried to save the report's authors before they derailed themselves in public. Having seen the report's advance material, he warned its author and the public relations company promoting it of the error. He tells us, "I used up (the) better part of 2 or 3 days of my time and still they went ahead with the release"¦ they think it is better to have a conversation on this than to be right."

So what's the lesson here?

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