Monday, November 30, 2009

Junk science -- or at least reporting of it

Global Warming, which is now re-framed as climate change, is still a fuzzy area to me. I guess we don't really know which way it's going, so we can't call it global warming anymore. I'm not here to support either side, but to report bad reporting when I see it.

Part of the problem with the Internet is the ubiquity of bad writing and in-precise, sloppy thinking. Here's an example from a recent post on Red Orbit.

The headline alone is worthy of a prize: "Staggering Global Warming Statistics Emerge As UN Meeting Looms." The statistics are staggering, mind you. As in causing great astonishment, amazement, or dismay; overwhelming. I saw a statistic recently. In the last 120+ years, the earth's temperature has risen about 1 degree F. I'm staggering already.

Next we get this: "So far, the oceans have risen an inch and a half..." What does "so far" mean or describe? Since 1997? 1900? 3,000 BC? The age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? Depending on your timeline, an inch-and-a-half could be staggering, but I really doubt it. Science reporting must be precise.

We then learn, despite the incorrect sentence structure, that in one paragraph, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is up 6.5 percent since 1997. Then, all of sudden, "world carbon dioxide has leapt up 31%."

Leaping lizards, batman. CO2 is up 6.5 percent, then "leapt" 31 percent? I really don't understand the blatant misuse of numbers here. besides the fact that "leapt" isn't the correct word to describe a 31 percent increase in anything.

And then I learned the amazing fact that "glaciers are disintegrating three times rapider than in the 1970s..." I felt like puking. "Rapider?" You mean faster? And then the statement, which is too general anyway, is not correct.

In the 10th Century, the Vikings grew grapes in Greenland. The climate was much warmer. So what is the disaster that is around the corner that will end life as we know it?

I'm sure I could find many more examples -- in fact I see them almost daily in my web travels.

It's hard enough getting the science straight, and even harder to communicate effectively. But if we continue to deal with how things change in our world in this manner, we'll be living in caves (except for Algore).

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