Environment

Pushing Back on Climate Hype

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorSep 3, 2012 5:14 PM

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A continuing concern of climate science is the subject of a new paper in Nature:

Thawing of Arctic permafrost could release significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in this century.

When this issue last gurgled up to the media's attention in late 2011 in sensationalist fashion, science journalism watcher Charlie Petit wrote that Andy Revkin provided the most "diligent response." Revkin's string of posts remain an invaluable reference point today. It's worth recalling that, at the time, Revkin tried to tamp down all the hype over "Arctic methane time bombs." In a similar vein, William Connolley takes issue with this press release accompanying the recent Nature paper. Connolley, in his typically pointed and colorful manner, writes (my emphasis):

There are various nutters pushing the "methane emergency" line. And although that in itself doesn't discredit more serious people, the serious people need to talk sense and not just grab headlines, if they want to be taken seriously.

This sensationalist impulse is not exclusive to climate science, of course. In a recent post discussing media hype of research findings, Orac says it's time that scientists look in the mirror. He specifically zeroes in on hyped press releases of studies, which more often than not contain (vetted) eye-popping quotes from lead investigators. Referencing a (must-read) 2012 BMJ study, Orac writes that, when it comes to exaggerated claims,

 we as an academic community are at least as much to blame as reporters and the media companies for which they work.

With respect to climate science, because of the the ugly politicized nature of global warming, most climate scientists are loathe to call out the exaggerations of their colleagues or their vocal blog allies. I'm guessing they don't want to be perceived as giving ammunition to the Anthony Watts and Marc Moranos of the world. Fortunately, some science bloggers have an independent and irascible streak.

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