Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Persnickety or seeking truth?

Earlier this month we published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) detailing changes in Kilimanjaro's ice area and thickness since 2000. This is essentially an update on our 2002 paper in Science, and I am the only non-OSU co-author. Considerable media interest followed, as typical for anything new on Kilimanjaro glaciers.

Was this paper reported differently than the 2002 paper? My impression in that many traditional media outlets simply reproduced the Ohio State University Press Release (Lonnie Thompson is first author), rather than using journalists to ask probing questions; much cheaper!

In the aftermath, blogs are discussing how this paper was reported. For example, Tom Yulsman in the Univ. of Colorado Boulder's Center for Environmental Journalism has created an assignment in which students read and analyze the PNAS paper and it's media coverage! And Cruel Mistress has critiqued Sindya Banhoo's article in the NY Times. Andy Revkin got such discussion underway with a NY Times piece back in 2004.

Anyway, another article on issues pertaining to the PNAS paper was published yesterday in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Journalist Kristin Palpini details my perspective on the research and it's impacts in the media. Although there are a few errors in the article, she does a nice job of illuminating the "debate." As continuing Kilimanjaro discussion in the blogosphere reveals, details are important!

[UPDATE 12/16:  The future of science journalism is discussed in a couple articles published this week, at PoynterOnline and at Nature News.  In the Poynter piece, Natalie Angier (NY Times) notes that "coverage tends to be more fragmented and less comprehensive than it once was" and Charles Petit (Knight Science Journalism Tracker) "doesn't recall seeing very many investigative science pieces..." The article by Mallary Jean Tenore references a July 2009 Pew study which "found that 76 percent of scientists surveyed say news reports don't distinguish between findings that are well-founded and those that are not." And in the Nature article, Andy Revkin discusses how the "role of journalism is definitely shrinking."]

[UPDATE 1/7:  Jack Williams' blog entry yesterday has a nice discussion of the problem mentioned above, following some thoughts about low temperatures across the eastern U.S.]

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

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