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Covering Hurricanes and Global Warming--A Mooney-Nisbet Special

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAugust 3, 2006 11:48 PM


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Over at Skeptical Inquirer online, two of your ScienceBlogs denizens have teamed up in a major article about the pitfalls in the way the press covers the issue of hurricanes and global warming. And this isn't simply some pat story about avoiding robotic "balance" in coverage, such as one might tell about reporting on evolution or reporting the basic issue of whether we're causing global warming. Matt's and my argument is much complex and nuanced this time, because the subject requires it:

Although journalists have framed the story from three main angles--an emphasis on breaking scientific news (defined by the release of a study at Science or Nature), an emphasis on conflict between scientists (by playing up personal tensions at conferences), and an emphasis on government accountability (the control of media statements made by agency scientists)--in each case they have been far too trapped by what Revkin has called the "tyranny of the news peg." Motivated by a need to appear objective and cautious, journalists have tried to tie their coverage too closely to breaking events or controversy, a pattern that can be very ill suited to a complex scientific topic like the hurricane-global warming issue. Unfortunately, such coverage sacrifices key elements that readers need most, especially as the 2006 hurricane season enters its peak months of August and September: Sustained attention, a strong emphasis on scientific context, and then--even in the face of inevitable and undeniable scientific uncertainty--an integrated discussion of policy options.

I hope you'll check this piece out; quite a lot of work went into it. Matt interviewed the journalists and I interviewed the scientists and also reported from the conference in Monterey. I wrote most of the parts about the science; Matt wrote the parts about how it's been covered. Together we put a lot of work into this piece, and we hope it will have a big effect upon how journalists approach the hurricane-climate issue going into the months of August and September, and well into the future...

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