The Intersection

Here’s a longer excerpt from that Time cover story–up through the full second paragraph:

No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth. Never mind what you’ve heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.

It certainly looked that way last week as the atmospheric bomb that was Cyclone Larry-a Category 5 storm with wind bursts that reached 180 m.p.h.-exploded through northeastern Australia. It certainly looked that way last year as curtains of fire and dust turned the skies of Indonesia orange, thanks to drought-fueled blazes sweeping the island nation. It certainly looks that way as sections of ice the size of small states calve from the disintegrating Arctic and Antarctic. And it certainly looks that way as the sodden wreckage of New Orleans continues to molder, while the waters of the Atlantic gather themselves for a new hurricane season just two months away. Disasters have always been with us and surely always will be. But when they hit this hard and come this fast-when the emergency becomes commonplace-something has gone grievously wrong. That something is global warming.

Oh brother, I can just see how this paragraph is going to be made mincemeat of. I read this and red flags are waving everywhere. Jeez, Time, make it easy for them, why don’t you…the sad thing is that there doesn’t seem to be anything else like this in the rest of the entire article. I guess they wanted to make that big splash up front…

Comments

  1. #1 Fred Bortz
    March 26, 2006

    Yep, they’re overstating the data, and conservatives may attack them for that.

    On the other hand, not all conservatives have gotten the talking points straight. When the Time cover story came up for discussion on ABC’s This Week, George Will could only come up with the lame old story of the 1975 global cooling projections. I take him to task for that on my blog (Link http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/read_a_book_george_will_10283.html ).

    I’m also intrigued by your use of the phrase “tipping point” referring to politics in a posting below. I blogged about that a couple of weeks ago, and drew out some of the people who spout the contrarian line (Link )

    I disagree that this may not be a political issue until 2008. Another hurricane season like the last one, and congressional candidates will be falling all over themselves to say that they knew global warming would be a problem and they have a plan — which they will be suitably vague about.

  2. #2 Roger Wellor
    March 27, 2006

    Expecting Time to indulge in close parsing of any real issue is expecting dogs to issue fatwas (in perfect Farsi) on cats.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

    at least they are making the argument that the warming is going on. Time may be able to dent a few of the thickened yet cracked skulls of those US citizen who voted for Bush and still believe that Jesus Saves and WMD’s were in Iraq.

  3. #3 Keanus
    March 27, 2006

    Time has long been known for the elegant embroidery of facts and conclusions in its articles. When enough facts aren’t available, then make up some of your own to lend an aura of authenticity. I always suspected the magazine wrote this way as a matter of policy and back in the 1960’s, but three neighbors of mine in Manhattan then, who were Time staff writers, confirmed it. The editorial policy hasnít changed in forty years. That said, I think you’re over reacting Chris, unless all the media went the same way at once, which they probably won’t. But all too many politicians may well over react with blathering nonsense, if this hurricane season reprises last year’s, some extremely large bergs calve off the Antarctic ice sheet, and some other seemingly rare natural disaster strikes. For example, given their lack of depth, I could even see politicians going berserk over global warming should the Hayward of San Andreas faults erupt with a 7.0+ earthquake even though tectonic plate shifting has nothing to do with global warming.

  4. #4 Kit Stolz
    March 27, 2006

    “It certainly looked that way…” is overstating the data? Perhaps from a scientist’s point of view, but what Time is saying, I think, is that common sense sometimes can make connections that scientists suspect but can’t yet prove.

    What we know about Cyclone Larry is that it featured extreme winds that haven’t been seen for decades, perhaps ever. We can’t prove a connection between this particular storm and global warming in general, but is it so outrageous to put in print what people are thinking? I don’t see why. Chris, you yourself said a few posts ago that Australians are talking about the connection, based on a study suggesting as much.

  5. #5 Chris Mooney
    March 27, 2006

    Kit,
    The Australians are talking about the hurricane/GW connection, but that’s different than talking about the Larry/GW connection, if you see what I mean.

    Don’t call Larry a storm that featured “extreme winds that haven’t been seen for decades, perhaps ever.” That just ain’t right. Compare it to Tip, you’ll see that Tip had much lower central pressure and stronger winds:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhoon_Tip
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Cyclone_Larry

  6. #6 Steve Bloom
    March 27, 2006

    Chris, I haven’t checked the particulars, but that statement about Larry might well be true for its basin or more narrowly for Australian landfalling typhoons in that basin. Tip was in the Northwest Pacific basin that tends to produce the largest, most powerful cyclones. Don’t confuse this stuff in your book! :)

    A quick look around the net was ambiguous about Larry’s possible #1 status. Apparently it’s the biggest since 1931, but whether there was a bigger one then or that was when modern measurements began isn’t clear. There was an 1899 Cyclone Mahina that sounds as if it might have been larger, but the records on it are spotty (no minimun central pressure, e.g.). Mahina’s damage statistics are impressive, but OTOH that far back we’re talking about storms for which there was essentially no warning and probably very poor preparations in place.

  7. #7 Kit Stolz
    March 27, 2006

    Okay, so Cyclone Larry wasn’t unprecedented, but it wasn’t chopped liver, either. And what Tom Huntington calls “an ongoing intensification of the hydrologic cycle” observed in many recent studies certainly does not rule out the possibility of a Larry/GW connection. And people in Australia, including scientists, are talking about that connection.

    For example, here’s quote from an ABC/Australia report: (http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1597222.htm)

    “What about climate change?

    The latest global tropical cyclone season, which is just coming to an end, has been described as one of the worst in recent times, making it tempting to view Cyclone Larry as a product of human-related climate change.

    Grant Beard, a climatologist with the BOM’s National Climate Centre, says the recent increase in intense tropical cyclones may be linked to warming.

    “Looking at the globe … it seems that the number of intense tropical cyclones has increased over the last 30 years,” he says.

    “That’s linked probably to the rising ocean temperatures and this is one sign of the enhanced greenhouse effect.”

    Dr Kevin Walsh is associate professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne and previously worked on the effect of climate change on tropical cyclones at CSIRO.

    He says climate change is likely to have some impact on cyclones, although this is yet to be proved.

    “All the projections say sea temperatures are warming and there are well known theoretical relationships between the warmth of the ocean and tropical cyclones,” he says.

    “But it’s controversial whether those effects have yet been detected.”

    Love says only time will tell whether Larry is the product of climate change.

    “The jury’s out,” he says. “Any one event by itself doesn’t prove or disprove anything.””

    Yes, we know that, and how long must we wait for the jury to come back? “Time” took a chance by suggesting what many people suspect and fear but cannot prove, but given the enormity of the stakes, was that so outrageous a choice?

    I went looking in all the usual places for a devastating critique of the story, and found nothing stronger than the fact that some scientists once feared an ice age.

    I don’t really like arguing with my favorite science reporter, but for “Time” to put down in B&W what a lot of people, including scientists, suspect but cannot yet prove, seems to me provocative but not over the top. Scientists speak in what is known for certain and can be tested and proven, but English in the popular press is a different rhetoric, one that includes possibility and imagination and risk, and if “Time” cannot speak in that language on this issue, then they cannot expect to reach their readers…and they likely won’t even try.

  8. #8 Chris Mooney
    March 28, 2006

    Kit,
    It’s not something scientists suspect but cannot prove; it’s something scientists can *never* prove. See Real Climate
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=181

  9. #9 Chris Mooney
    March 28, 2006

    Steve,
    Okay, Larry might be unprecedented in recent decades for its particular basin, I definitely accept that.

  10. #10 Kit Stolz
    March 28, 2006

    Yes, as the Australian scientists mentioned above, and the Real Climate post–and the Bush administration, for that matter–have all said, we cannot prove a connection between GW and any one storm. As the Real Climate post put it:

    “Due to this semi-random nature of weather, it is wrong to blame any one event such as Katrina specifically on global warming – and of course it is just as indefensible to blame Katrina on a long-term natural cycle in the climate.

    Yet this is not the right way to frame the question. As we have also pointed out in previous posts, we can indeed draw some important conclusions about the links between hurricane activity and global warming in a statistical sense.”

    A lot of those links are quite suggestive and may lead, if not to conclusive proof, to a better understanding of a connection between global warming and stronger storms.

    Similarly, scientists (as far as I know) cannot precisely detail how cigarette smoke damages the genetic information in a single cell in the lungs, but that doesn’t mean they cannot show a connection between smoking and lung cancer…or that writers cannot bring it up, and citizens and governments go on to act based on that knowledge.

    I’ll shut up now, but for “Time” to put a much-discussed-if-unproven suspicion of a connection between global warming and stronger storms into print still seems to me a gutsy-but-honorable decision.

  11. #11 Chris Mooney
    March 28, 2006

    We’re not disagreeing any more, Kit, except where you defend Time. Time suggested a causal relationship to specific, individual storms, not storms in a statistical sense.

  12. #12 Ed
    March 28, 2006

    I personally believe we are doomed. It’s gone too far and the momentum (economic, political, social, cultural, etc.) is just too great to overcome. The required investment is going to be huge – and by the time everyone is scared enough to want to spend/do it, the impact will be simply too devastating (the urge to continually ignore it too seductive). This is happening now. More people are becoming aware – but the number-crunchers representing the economic/social perspective are cranking out data just as fast as those from the greenhouse/environmental side. And here’s the real kicker – they’re both right!
    Some may criticize China and India with their energy-hungry, hyper-expanding economies, but I do not believe they should be cast in such a negative light. Both are looking for more climate friendly alternatives – actively pursuing, for example, huge increases in Nuclear Power infrastructure. I believe the two worst examples on the planet today are the US (yes, we are the largest producer of these nasty gases from the nation/state perspective and we all know this) and Australia (chock-a-block full of uranium and hands-down the ‘new middle east’ of any nuclear based economy) – is currently the largest greenhouse gas producer per-capita in the developed world. China and India were exempt from Kyoto – but look at what they are doing. America and Australia refused to sign and… well need I say it?
    Where is the leadership? Whose is a society of action? Who is dealing with this problem in an objective or even semi-proactive way?
    Representatives of the US department of Energy are – right now, today – begging congress and the President to get the USA back in the game. To put us back up front!
    But I don’t think we’ve got it in us any more. It’s just too big, too much, and with a horizon that is simply too hazy and distant. Sadly, the US – being what and who we are – looks to be the decider once again. If we are not part of the solution, we will be part of the problem, the biggest part – and that is why I believe we are doomed.
    Devastating hurricanes and 100+ tornadoes in the US, horrific mud slides in the Philippines, snow-laden roofs giving way all over Europe, record setting drought and starvation in Africa, more incredibly fierce hurricanes in the Pacific – it would appear Mother-Nature is getting upset (a predicted symptom of global warming). And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

  13. #13 Jon Winsor
    March 28, 2006

    Common sense sometimes can make connections that scientists suspect but can’t yet prove.

    Exactly. I think one thing you have to look at is the real difference between scientific journal articles and newspaper stories. In particular, the requirements for a newspaper trend story are much looser than those of a scientific journal article. You see it all the time. A newspaper will publish a trend story with an assortment of facts related by conjecture, and won’t necessarily be related in a rigorously scientific way.

    Take a passage from this random trend story about college-age men:

    College students consistently describe men as less organized, more likely to goof off and less dedicated to studying.

    This sounds awfully anecdotal. Which college students did the reporter interview? Could it have more to do with the geographic region, thereby invalidating the sample? What’s her definition of “consistent”? Haven’t college students always said this about male students? (If so, it has nothing to do with a trend.) If the reporter had to pause to answer each of these questions in detail, the story would be far less readable (and probably wouldn’t meet the space constraints of the paper). However, the story has enough buttressing facts so that you tend to forgive a certain impressionism on one or two things, and the story as a whole hangs together.

    Perhaps this passage in Time is similarly stating things related by conjecture, but not yet entirely established by science. I haven’t read the article yet, but maybe the story explains the details of its conjectures “below the fold” so to speak.

    I can’t claim to know many details about the causal links between hurricanes and climate change. Maybe Time is making too strong a statement. But do I think it’s worth pointing out that there are some important differences between scientific and newspaper articles (especially with regard to trend stories, which can be a strange beast).

  14. #14 llewelly
    March 28, 2006

    hm. Funny how TC Larry was quickly upstaged by TC Floyd and then TC Glenda … in terms of max sustained winds, though not landfall damage. See http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/2006/2006-aussie-trop-cyclones.html .

    Also, there have been plenty of previous TCs with stronger winds than Larry in that basin. Tracy, Alby , and Thelma .
    That is, assuming I haven’t fumbled due to the different ways Austraila and America asses wind speeds. Australia’s Cyclone Category System is quite different from the Saffir-Simpson Scale used in the US. First, the Austrailian scale is theoreticly based on maxium 3-second gusts, which tend to be much higher than the 1-minute sustained maximum used as a base for the Saffir-Simpson scale. To complicate matters even more, Austraila’s BOM reports both 3-second gusts and 10-minute averages. 10-minute averages tend to be lower than 1-minute averages. Sometimes one gets reported and not the other. To complicate matters even more, the JTWC and the Austrailan BOM often come up with slightly different numbers for the same storm at the same time, even after adjustments for the differences between 1-minute averages, gusts, and 10-minute averages are applied.

    This is only the first glimmer of what Webster and Curry had to go through to get their numbers for the southern hemisphere. Speaking of which, while Larry was hardly unprecedented, it was in the southern hemisphere that Curry found the largest increase in category 4 and 5 TCs.

  15. #15 Jon Winsor
    March 28, 2006

    I’m not saying that trend stories can say just anything, more that they tend to take a “shotgun” approach to marshalling evidence. They tend to say “look at this”, “look at that” and try to cumulatively build a picture. And finally they say, doesn’t this look like a trend?

    It may be that just one or two hurricanes don’t constitute a trend. But what about a bunch of strong hurricanes? And the melting ice. This is what’s been in the news. It’s what people can relate to. And it may be a key component to telling the story. Talking about changes in bird migration isn’t going to do it. Talking about changes in CO2 concentration probably won’t do it. But storms and ice calving make dramatic pictures. We definitely need people laying out all the details, but we may need the dramatic pictures as well. It’s a recurring theme of the media age. Pictures tend to be worth a thousand words. I don’t mean to advocate irrationality. We shouldn’t overreach. These things have to be backed up by a strong body of scientific knowledge. It’s just something to keep in mind (now looking for a Lakoff quote, where did I put that book?)…

  16. #16 Dobeln
    March 29, 2006

    It seems those wily Republicans have infiltrated Time Magazine too! The nerve!

  17. #17 Alexander Zaitchik
    March 29, 2006

    “Wow. A Time magazine cover telling us to be scared, immediately, of global warming. I can’t possibly exaggerate just how huge a deal this is.”

    My reaction was: Wow. Another Time magazine cover story about global warming. I can’t possibly exaggerate how many of these have appeared in the last 15 years, to little effect.

    Anyone remember the Newsweek cover from 1987, with that nuclear family in the greenhouse glass, standing on cracked desert? Or how about the October 1987 Time cover, “The Heat Is On”? Or 1988’s “The Big Dry”? Or maybe the April, 2001 Time cover, the one with the earth in a frying pan?

    The only advance in the new issue is Kluger’s long overdue and completely dismissive, borderline contemptuous tone towards the dead-enders.

    As for your scientific nitpicking about pegging specific storms to climate change, I can’t believe you’d let yourself get bogged down in that game. These are exactly the events that are finally scaring the shit out of people, and that have their attention; keeping those events, whatever their precise cause, tied to climate change is our only hope of generating the needed level of popular fear and anger over inaction. As you yourself write, the reason rapid climate chnage is finally breaking big is because “This debate is no longer stuck up in the atmosphere any more. It has become visible, concrete.”

    So why would you possibly discourage people from focusing on concrete examples of this quickening Apocalypse–the wind and rain and drought right outside their windows? Especially when nit-picking over uncertainties is exactly what the Right has been doing to slow us down over the last 20 years?

    Our only hope is to get people to see climate change in every freak storm, every heat wave, every unseasonably soggy season. We can worry about debating the exact science of linkage when we manage to get at least one arm out of this speeding handbasket. Until then, I applaud Kluger’s sensationalistic opening graphs. You should, too.

  18. #18 Jon Winsor
    March 29, 2006

    Yes. If some people have trouble distinguishing between a statistically perceptable change and an individual case of causality, this is not the biggest challenge we’re looking at.

    On the other hand, the people who claim to know what they’re talking about should really know what they’re talking about. I think that’s been part of the problem on the right. A lot of times they don’t know what they’re talking about themselves. They all mimeograph and read the same factoids, talking points, etc. but don’t do any of the homework.

  19. #19 llewelly
    March 29, 2006

    Alexander Zaitchik:
    The errors in Kluger’s opening paragraphs are obvious to anyone who does a quick google. The denialists could not ask for a more effective strawman sock puppet.

  20. #20 llewelly
    March 29, 2006

    I hasten to add that I don’t believe Time is a ‘sock puppet’ for the denialists – but if such a sock puppet existed (I don’t believe one does), it could do no better than articles such as the Time article in question.

    Think for a moment about the thought process of someone who wants to do something about the troubling story in Time. First thought: ‘Is this true?’ For anyone with an internet connection, google is by far the easiest research tool, despite its many flaws. Chances are, such a person will use google to fact-check the article, starting at the begining. If they start with statements about global warming and hurricanes, they will quickly discover that (a) more severe TCs have struck Australia in the past, (b) an Austrailian TC as strong as Larry forms off shore nearly every year (though I think only 1/3 make landfall), and (c) Larry was not a Cat 5 on the American Saffir Simpson scale. Given these errors (and there are more), is concerned reader likely to believe the thesis of the article? I doubt it.

    You could argue that few people will fact-check the article. I will argue that anyone concerned enough to try to find out what they can do about climate disruption will fact-check the article – if only as an accidental side-effect of researching what they can do about the problem. Some of these people will inevitably end up reading sites like techcentralstation, or co2sience, – sites which, I am certain, will easily demolish Kluger’s sensationalistic opening paragraphs.

  21. #21 Jon Winsor
    March 29, 2006

    Ok, so there’s a “sock puppet” involved. The sock puppet is a thirty second discussion (at most). The rest of the air time is devoted to hurricanes and climate change. I bet the Republicans are itching for that discussion.

  22. #22 Alexander Zaitchik
    March 30, 2006

    I doubt a few thousand concerned and curious people exploring climate science via Google are going to cancel out the added momentum created by many more tens of thousands of readers linking extreme weather to rising temperatures. And whatever studies these people may find at co2sience discrediting the link between warming and a single storm, it is unlikely to make them forget the bigger picture, which is clear enough and getting crisper. Look, *The Day After* was not a perfectly accurate representation of nuclear war, either, but it would have been insane for the Freeze movement to start nitpicking the stages of radiation sickness depicted. We’re in double overtime now, folks. The science we should be focusing on is not what caused this storm or that drought, but how best to move forward fastest on the energy front. If major media is fudging the science in favor of “alarmism,” I’ll take it. Leave it to George Will to mutter about the unknowns of linkage, until he’s gurgling under 20 feet of water.

  23. #23 Ed
    March 30, 2006

    I think this thread is an excellent example of why science fails so miserably to sway public (let alone political) opinion. We – in here, arguably on the same side of the issue – are getting ourselves all ‘blogged down’ with details that are – on the applicable global scale – mostly irrelevant. [Is it more important to be absolutely correct today, or act in a way that - according to the general consensus if most scientists - is best for those who will follow?] That’s precisely why scientists do not do what Chris Mooney all but begged them to do in the closing minutes of his NPR interview last year (get out into the community and start spreading the word). They, being scientists and therefore duty bound to always acknowledge uncertainty while on their quest for knowledge, are their own worst enemy. “Oh, yeah that storm was a whopper, but it’s not that big – why 15 years ago there was one 12% larger.” Being so ‘correct’ can be a liability if it impacts the momentum of the consensus.

    I believe while considering any issue, science performs two very critical roles. First, during the time of assessment, they pick, poke, test, and evaluate through observations, experiments, and the beautiful scientific method. But then – as Chris also pointed out – you arrive at the ‘General Scientific Consensus’ or the even more spectacular, ‘Consensus of an overwhelming majority’. Once this consensus is achieved, scientists should gradually fall back and let others generate the momentum necessary to address the issue; alarmist type media, activists, etc. who act as a conduit to the general public. But the scientists are not sitting idle during this time.. oh no. They are busily working, enlisting the help of budget and risk conscious engineers to identify and optimize the means to solve the problem; thus bringing me to their second role, solution generator.

    If one looks at great eras of science throughout history, significant achievements, etc.; generally the saying is proved to be true – ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’. And the task at hand would seem to be convincing nearly an entire world of the necessity.

    So to achieve this we need – I would argue – not a renowned group of scientists. We have the consensus already. What we need is (and if you only knew how much saying this makes me cringe) a crack team of market research and PR firms. We’ve got some significant paradigms to change that involve considerable economic, social, and political impacts – and it’s got to be done quickly.

    And to add misery to disaster, this paradigm shift must be done within the context of numerous governments, corporations, and other institutions that are conspiring to do just the opposite – use minority scientific opinions to generate uncertainty and therefore inaction [hats off to Chris]. I applaud any scientist who attempts to swim up this stream – but we can not seriously expect their communicative efforts to have much impact at this stage. Let them go work on the solutions and hope that someone comes along who can change the opinion of the world in time for their ideas to be of value.

  24. #24 Jon Winsor
    March 30, 2006

    On CNN this morning they did a short spot with a weather reporter in Australia. The reporter remarked that he was sitting in a news van in the middle of Cyclone Glenda and that he happened to be parked next to a blown down sign for “that icon of American capitalism, McDonalds”. Moments later he remarked that “some people have been blaming the greenhouse effect” for the severity of Australia’s storm season. This was in answer to a question prompted by the anchor. I forget the question, but the archor sounded like he was setting up the correspondent’s remarks. This was just a short segment of breaking news, not a feature story.

    So it sounds like storms have become a news hook for climate change. This linkage could be on target, it could be off target. But in either case–this is bad how? I mean, we can all agree that this subject needs the attention. If nothing else, the newsworthiness shows that people are interested. I say focus on the gift horse and not the mouth. A horse is a horse.

  25. #25 Chris Mooney
    March 30, 2006

    Hurricanes becoming a news hook for global warming is fine, as there are serious scientific reasons being proposed for considering the two to be linked. But what’s not fine is saying global warming caused any one individual storm. As for whether global warming may have influenced a storm “season” in a particular basin like the South Pacific, that’s actually a complicated question that I’m not sure how to answer…

  26. #26 Jon Winsor
    March 30, 2006

    But the Time story is a about a trend. It’s talking about “when the emergency becomes commonplace”. How do you do that without putting a “face” on the story that people can relate to? Otherwise you’re just talking in the abstract. This is probably why Time felt justified in taking some journalistic license.

    If a scientist is asked about the Time story specifically, they can simply explain that what they do and what a journalist does is different. But yes, there is a link between warming climate and storms. And they can explain it in detail.

    It seems to me that there’s a danger that if you go on a crusade against the linkage between individual storms and climate change you might confuse people, and possibly contribute to killing the story. You have to choose your battles carefully.

    I think Ed is right about the need for PR people (I’m not one myself). I wonder what someone really knowledgeable about this sort of thing would say. Would they say that an insistence on distinguishing between statistical change and demonstrable causality amounts to a hairsplitting distraction? I don’t think this question is so easy to dismiss…

  27. #27 Chris Mooney
    March 30, 2006

    Nonsense, science writers have a duty to depict science accurately. There are many ways of telling a good story and informing the public without misrepresentation of what’s known or causal misattribution.

  28. #28 Jon Winsor
    March 30, 2006

    I’m just concerned that we don’t kill a good thing with friendly fire. Many things that are good in the end have flaws, and I would argue that a purely professionalist ethic only takes you so far. I’m not saying give up on high standards. I’m just saying that there’s something to be said for choosing your battles. And as I said above, trend stories have some quirky conventions. Maybe the convention was misapplied in this case. But on the scale of journalistic wrongs, where does this rate? I can’t claim any special knowledge because I’m not a journalist. But it seems like I’ve seen plenty that were worse… (The blogosphere would look completely different if there weren’t plenty worse.)

  29. #29 Ed
    March 30, 2006

    Certainly not that he needs my endorsement, but I agree with Chris. Responsible science writers, like their subjects are duty bound to pursue truth tempered by uncertainty. And I would hope that like the scientists, the writers would soon begin to shift their coverage from stories that deal with the debate, such as are Hurricanes linked to global warming, etc. to those identifying necessary technology to, for example, stop the carbon dioxide concentration well below 500 ppm and then bringing it back down.
    I am not a marketing or PR person either. I work in a technical field and – realizing the consensus is what it is, basically that the earth is warming and fairly significant measures are required on a relatively short time scale – I tend to look for solution based articles, not those debating the consensus. To me, that’s a given. [If I am wrong, please correct me.] Who wants to read yesterday’s news?
    I am also a passionate voter, taxpayer, and father who is pleased the issue is gaining momentum (albeit scientifically flawed). If those in political charge will not listen to the scientific advisors there to advise them, or worse manipulate the findings to something more ‘popular'; then the only other success path is from the bottom up. And, sadly, the most efficient way to make this happen [in America at least], again within the required timeframe, is through ‘other than scientific’ means and media. Now if scientists [and or those writing on their behalf] are going to expend energy picking apart the facts of those efforts as if they were scientific papers subject to such scrutiny, I’d say that’s a bit counterproductive. Why, a knowledgeable scientist could just as easily highlight what is correct in the article, align with these terrible sensationalistic journalists and even help shore up a few facts for the next article, etc. Though admittedly the scientists I’ve worked with – physicists mostly – seem to have a gene that forbids such behavior; as if they were born to openly disagree and challenge, to preserve the sanctity of science at any cost – this is necessary and I respect it. But sometimes it gets in the way of what the other half of my brain is screaming about – the right thing to do.
    But when things get bad enough, one never knows. I suspect fear will have a lot to do with it. I’ll admit it. I’m scared.

  30. #30 Jon Winsor
    March 30, 2006

    Yeah, just to be clear, there’s no doubt at all that a science writer’s duty is to depict science accurately, and that misrepresentation is bad journalism. I just wanted to get across a point that seemed underrepresented in this thread–that hopefully people are beyond thinking in terms of academic fine points. If things are getting sidelined into a debate on a fine point, that seems like a problem. The other thing is that the public news outlets where these things are being discussed/broadcast are real, and make real impressions on people. And they are not academic, and operate by different rules than purely scientific publications do. Anyway, just offering food for thought…

    –Jon

  31. #31 Dan S.
    April 3, 2006

    Where’s SkookumPlanet? I’m a bit worried this may have given him a stroke . . .

    ” Time suggested a causal relationship to specific, individual storms”

    Yes, they suggested one, but do they ever actually say it? It’s rhetoric, but it’s quite a few notches above Bush’s little ‘must mention Saddam and 9-11 together as much as possible’ trick – since in that case there was essentially no reason to suspect a connection. I see your point, but how would you fix it? Insert a disclaimer along the lines of ‘Scientists cannot prove that any individual storm/drought/etc. is connected to global warming . . .’ or would you junk that whole paragraph, or . . .?

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.