Saturday, December 20, 2014

A repentant fake science journalist

This is a very reflective, frank article from a science writer that was too eager to draw larger extrapolations of the import of certain research.  Specifically, it is from Peter Gwynne, who wrote in 1975 on the global cooling trend that was apparent at that time.  This article has often been trotted out by climate change deniers, either to show the supposed diversity of opinion within the scientific community regarding global warning, or to show how capricious and ever-changing scientists are.  The author correctly points out that such use of a 40-year-old article to prove a point today ignores all the advances in research that have occurred since then.  But he also acknowledges his overzealousness in the original article.  He points to a common trend in science writing that:  "a reticence on the part of scientists to fill in the big picture, and over-enthusiasm on the part of journalists to say what does it all mean, means that the journalists don’t get it quite right".  I have written before on the poor quality of much science journalism, and it basically amounts to this--either journalists (or the researchers themselves) trying to draw overambitious conclusions about the larger implications of their work, in their eagerness to demonstrate its relevance.

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