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Science Manipulation Hides Reporting And Political Failures Of The New York Times

The more I read the “As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas” article (NYT, Nov 13; and on the IHT on the same day, with a full page dedicated to it, and the pride of place on the first page with a giant photo next to it), the more it looks like something halfway between the first salvo in the “war on science” against the GOP and “many newly elected legislators openly skeptical about climate change“, and a call to rally to the AGW Believer Troops.

(1) Apparently, author Justin Gillis and the NYT Editors don’t mind writing more than six columns about an issue that they readily admit might not be serious at all:

The missing information makes it impossible for scientists to be sure how serious the situation is […] the researchers lack elementary information.

As the saying goes then…glacier melting is a grave problem, but not serious.

(2) One has also to question Mr Gillis scientific knowledge if there is any (if there isn’t, then it’s hard to take the article seriously at all). We are treated to pearls of wisdom such as:

Hanging out the sides of the craft, two scientists sent a measuring device plunging into the water, between ice floes. Near the bottom, it reported a temperature of 40 degrees (*). It was the latest in a string of troubling measurements showing that the water was warm enough to melt glaciers rapidly from below.

(*) that’s 40F=4.4C. On the IHT the value is reported as “just above 4C or 39F”

Well, it happens that 4C is exactly the temperature where water is at its most dense, so there is no surprise at all that 4C is measure “near the bottom”.

Note that I am not saying that the scientists involved provided manipulated information: all I am saying is that, as reported, the measured temperature is no “troubling measurement” at all. And so if there’s anything “troubling” about it, it’s been Mr Gillis’ fault not to report it properly.

(3) Another point that shows a remarkable level of naivety concerns the consequences of the projected rises in sea levels, presented throughout the article as if the seas would raise of a certain amount the world over

Abroad, some of the world’s great cities — London, Cairo, Bangkok, Venice and Shanghai among them — would be critically endangered by a three-foot rise in the sea

That is worse than absurd: the NOAA map for 1993-2010 has its reds, blues and purples, not exactly uniformity. A worldwide effort to protect coastal cities would therefore result in a giant waste of resources to say the least.

Mr Gillis’ failure to get some more meaningful statements about the risk of sea level increases from his scientists/interviewees is quite glaring, to the non-credulous eye.

(4) The list of baseless statements by Mr Gillis and his interviewees keeps growing with every new reading of the article too. For example we have a “Robin E. Bell, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University” saying

We’re used to the shoreline being fixed, and it’s not

Who’s used to the shoreline being fixed? The people of East Anglia? The guys and gals of the Netherlands? The city of New Orleans? Where are the remains of the ancient port-city of Ephesus (5km inland) and of much of ancient Alexandria in Egypt (underwater)?

Inches below that, it’s Mr Gillis’ turn:

But at all times in the past, when the shoreline migrated, humans either had not evolved yet or consisted of primitive bands of hunter-gatherers who could readily move. By the middle of this century, a projected nine billion people will inhabit the planet, with many millions of them living within a few feet of sea level

So we have primitive hunter-gatherers on the one side, and a worldwide technological civilization on the other…and the h-g’s win? Says who? Wouldn’t it be much more logical to consider our resource-rich global society at minimal risk from any change in sea levels?

How about previous dire predictions?

In the 1920s and ’30s, for instance, a warm spell caused many glaciers to retreat.[…] scientists say that the recent changes in Greenland appear more pervasive than those of the early 20th century, and that they are occurring at the same time that air and ocean temperatures are warming, and ice melt is accelerating, throughout much of the world.

Yeah. Right. How about “Warming Arctic Climate Melting Glaciers Faster, Raising Ocean Level, Scientist Says“. It’s vintage NYT from 1947. And “Glaciers give hints of weather change“. It’s NYT again, 1955 (article reports of five decades of retreating glaciers, no less). And here’s the link to a 1978 NYT article blaming melting glaciers for beach-side troubles in Rhode Island. Looks like there haven’t been many decades without a “Fear the Glaciers!” article on the New York Alarmist Times. And all we get is a “it’s different this time around”. Not serious, indeed…

(5) And finally for the political punch that wasn’t. Mr Gillis laments the lack of funding for glacier research (again, we can’t tell if it’s his thought, or he’s just reporting), and doesn’t shy from placing the blame:

Several federal agencies and two presidential administrations, Democratic and Republican, have made decisions that contributed to the problems.

We are then told that, as if by magic:

Now, the Obama administration is seeking to chart a new course, abandoning the goal of returning to the moon and seeking a substantial increase in financing for earth sciences. It is also promising an overall strategy for improving the country’s environmental observations.

Any thoughts on why it would have taken two years to the Obama administration to understand the situation? Any comment on how this alone would be enough to show what a giant waste of time the Cap&Trade aborted bill was, when I am sure a new “strategy for improving the country’s environmental observations” would have received enough funding quite quickly with a lot less controversy?

I guess we can’t expect as much from Mr Gillis, as that would show the NYT itself greatly at fault in having pushed so hard and for so long for Cap&Trade to pass, blinded by politicking and its desire to yell “the science is settled” whilst polar research has been “slowly going blind in space”, in the words of  “Robert Bindschadler, a polar researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who spent 30 years with NASA studying ice

  1. 2010/11/16 at 11:20

    I’m wondering what temperature they expected to measure near the bottom. The fact that freshwater is melting from glaciers into the sea means that the temperature of the water must be above 0 degC. They are mixing up cause and effect here.

    Just as bad is the inability to understand Newtonian gravitation. If billions of tonnes of water up mountains melt to sea level and then (as water) can flow as it will, there will be a shift in the centre of gravity of the earth. As it is at the moment, this huge mass is ever-so-slightly drawing the oceans in its direction. Let this go and the local sea level around the regions of glaciers will tend to decline, and there will also be an upwelling of the land due to the removal of the weight of all that mass. Due to their favourable location to any melting ice sheets in Greenland, there would be only a minimal effect on sea levels around the British Isles and the Netherlands even if the ice sheets melted in their entirety.

    And just what control do we have over the centre of mass of the earth anyway? Astronomical observations and Newtonian physics have long determined the mass of the earth, and thus its density, leading to the conclusion that much of the earth’s core is molten iron. If that be the case, and flows within the earth are responsible for the earth’s magnetic field, then small changes to flow patterns could have minor effects on local gravity leading to variations of sea level up and down. I think it is no coincidence that the region of the earth where there are the largest changes in sea level (declining in the central Indian ocean, rising steeply in the eastern Indian ocean) is the one with the greatest gravitational anomalies. Man is just like a flea on the back of a huge elephant when it comes to global effects.

  2. 2010/11/15 at 23:07

    I have just commented the following at DotEarth:

    Wasn’t impressed by the article myself. For example water at 4C/40F is at its most dense, so it’s rather obvious it would be found near the bottom. The predicted sea-rise is talked about as if it were going to be the same everywhere, and the anti-historic claim about \”shorelines being fixed\” is mindlessly repeated (two cities as counterexamples: Ephesus, Alexandria). Why would we fail where \”primitive hunter-gatherers\” have succeeded, we are not told. There is only the minimal of mention of previous melting ice scares in the 1920s and 1930s, when a few seconds around the NYT archives reveal more melting ice scares in the 1940s, 1950s and 1970s (has there ever been any decade without a melting ice scare in the New York Times, one wonders).

    IMNSHO Mr Gillis has not reported with the necessary level of detail, and/or should have been a little more challenging in order to ask the right questions, not just the questions that his interviewees would have felt right.

    Finally, the political side is just hinted, when the most obvious concept of the whole article is that scientists have seen their funding melt away also because a distracted Obama fixated on Cap&Trade rather than on improving our knowledge of the environment. And that’s the consequence of too many scientists and politicians (not you, Andy) trying to close down the debate way too soon, ironically ending up removing the lifeline from the very research that could have supported political action.

  3. Sundance
    2010/11/15 at 16:06

    Here are the two most recommended comments from the NYT article. Whatever the NYT intent for publishing the article, the readers seem to have translated it as offering political support to bolster feelings of self-righteousness and superiority over their political opposition the Tea Party and Republicans. To me this is just more kabuki of an absurd nature. The choice to dismiss evidence that ocean heat in the depths down to 2300 feet has been cooling since 2004 and that sea level rise has slowed from its 100 year trend of 2mm/year to .97mm/year since 2005, in favor of accepting wild assumptions from people who can’t even project decadal climate impact is very strange. #2 is my favorite as I always enjoy the not so literate calling other people illiterate.

    “I don’t care if the glaciers are all melting and the seas are rising. I don’t believe in this global warming thing. God would not allow mankind to change the climate. It is all a socialist hoax carried out by the lizard people who want to take control of us and turn us into slaves. Glub, glub …. glub ……. glub ……………. glub.”

    “That glaciers are melting and sun levels are rising doesn’t matter. The ignorance of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party is the new “wisdom”. In fact, most Americans are science-illiterates so you might have well write this column and give it to the sheep to read (the sheep’ll will understand more than most humans).”

  1. 2010/11/22 at 12:15
  2. 2010/11/16 at 09:49

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