Tuesday, August 7, 2007

More Hot Air From the Press

Here is an example of the kind of science reporting that drives me nuts. The Times of India, one of the leading national dailies had this headline (link not available) on Jan 29 2005; "Temperatures to rise 11° C world-wide". The report described the results of a global warming modeling experiment. The apocalyptic headline was nothing but sensational and did not in any way represent accurately how modeling results should actually be interpreted. Modeling predictions are very sensitive to assumptions made about starting parameters such as how water-vapor, clouds, particles, CO2 actually affects temperature. A combination of worse case assumptions of all these parameters predicts a very high temperature increase while more optimistic assumptions of the starting parameters predict lower temperature increases. According to the chief scientist Dr. Stainforth the high-end increase of 11° C predicted by the model was due to an assumption that the CO2 levels were doubled all at once in the atmosphere rather than over decades and also due to a very simple representation of the interaction of the atmosphere and oceans which act as an important sink for CO2. These critical assumptions were not reported in the article, leaving readers with an impression that a huge increase in temperature in highly likely even if CO2 levels are doubled gradually. Even the most pessimistic climate experts will admit that a catastrophic rise of 11° C is extremely unlikely under any realistic scenario.

Global warming is a real and important phenomenon that is likely to have serious consequences for living conditions on earth. This is all the more reason that the science behind it is reported accurately, objectively and without dramatics so that the public can participate in an informed debate about how to minimize the damage.

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