Hot and Bothered
by Howard Fienberg
The paper quoted oral testimony to the effects of climate
The Times' assertions baffled professor Gerd Wendler and
his staff at the Alaska Climate Research Center. In response, Wendler posted
to the Internet data analysis of mean annual temperatures at four widely
dispersed weather stations in
When it comes to climate change, The New York Times is no stranger to getting ahead of the facts. Consider a particularly scorching incident on the front page on August 19, 2000. The paper declared -- complete with color photograph -- that "The North Pole is melting." Tourists on a Russian ice-breaker had seen open water in the middle of the polar ice, clicked the shutter, and rushed right to The Times with "evidence that global warming may be real and already affecting climate." It was a sight "presumably never before seen by humans... the last time scientists can be certain the pole was awash in water was more than 50 million years ago."
The paper quoted Malcom C. McKenna, who said he didn't
"know if anybody in history ever got to 90 degrees north to be greeted
by water, not ice." Fellow passenger James J. McCarthy observed that
"it was totally unexpected." But water in the Arctic circle was not
much of a surprise to experts in Arctic climate, which the tourists were
definitely not: McKenna was a paleontologist at the
It turns out that what the tourists saw was quite typical. The Arctic ice cover is normally riddled with cracks and holes. Ninety percent of the high Arctic region is covered in ice during the summer, but at least ten percent is open water. Experts told the newspaper that "this has probably been true for centuries," caused by wind and ocean currents moving the ice sheet. Climatologist Mark Serreze explained to The Times that "there's nothing to be necessarily alarmed about" and that there was no reason to suspect this was "related to global climate change."
The plural of anecdote is not data. It is all too easy to remember the unusual and forget the typical. That is why interesting stories require justification with scientific data. Twice now in the last two years, The New York Times has failed to adequately verify catastrophic stories of warming in the Northern reaches. This is beginning to look like more than mere carelessness. To ring the false alarm once is unfortunate; to do so twice looks stupid.
See the original: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=062102A
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