Category: Journalism

When did scientists become aware of global warming?

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol agreement to reduce green gases was signed by 30+ nations including (as best I can tell) all the Western countries except the US. So it was clear in 1997 that the world was warming and green house gas emissions needed to be reduced, but *when* exactly did scientists figure this out?

My memory of the issue with a little proding stretches back to the 1992 climate agreement signed by George HW Bush, officially called the U.N. Framework Convention of Climate Change. It called on countries to cut green house gas emissions but didn’t set binding targets. So global warming was understood back in ’92, and must have been known about years earlier for political action to have been taken then. I didn’t know about research earlier than the 1970s modeling research.

A great talk laying out the history of global warming science by historian Naomi Oreskes is on the web:

She lays out a number of landmarks. She gives an interesting talk–I’ve pared it away and just list the landmarks here:

  • 1931, E. O. Hulbert, increasing atmospheric CO2 2-3X will lead to 4-7°K increase in world temperature.
  • 1938, G. S. Calender, increasing CO2 leading to increased temps, 1880-1930s
  • 1957, Suess and Revelle paper pointing out that dumping back into the atmosphere over a few decades CO2 stored over millions of years in coal and oil could heat up the world. Calls for detailed research into the world CO2 budget–where will the CO2 go, and what secondary effects will there be?
  • 1964, NAS committee warns of “inadvertent weather modification” caused by CO2 from burning fossil fuels.
  • 1965, Keeling, about 1/2 of CO2 from burning fossil fuels will end up in the atmosphere.
  • 1965, President’s Science Advisory Committee, Board on Environmental Pollution, by 2000 there will 25% more CO2 in the atmosphere and marked and uncontrollable changes in climate could occur.
  • 1979, JASON committee reports that predicted increases in atmospheric CO2 will increase world temperature 2.4°C or 2.8°C (two different JASON models). Further, the increase will be much greater at the poles, 10-12°C [Now observed].
  • 1979, Charney report summarizes climate science “If CO2 continues to increase, [we] find no reason to doubt that climate changes will result, and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.”
  • 1988, IPCC created to study climate and suggest solutions.
  • 1988, US National Energy Policy Act, “to establish a national energy policy that will quickly reduce the generation of CO2 and trace gases as quickly as is feasible in order to slow the pace and degree of atmospheric warming…to protect the global environment.”
  • 1992, U.N. Framework Convention of Climate Change
  • 1997, the Kyoto Protocol

Mr. Dodd goes to Washington

How did the Washington papers cover Presidental candidate Dodd’s threat to filibuster the proposed law giving the telecom companies retroactive immunity for breaking the law and illegally spying on Americans? Dodd was able to get the bill delayed at least until January, one of the biggest victories for civil liberties this year.

The NYT has it on page A29.

Washington Post has a story on page A2, but written so you can’t tell what happened. Dodd is described as fighting the bill, but his crucial role is not described. Reid’s extraordinary effort to pass a bill that included telecom immunity, bypassing normal senate rules, working hand-in-hand with the Bush administration and Dodd’s single-handed stand against it aren’t described.

It’s a scene out of the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”! Updated slightly–there’s no free paper trying to print the news so we are spared the sight of NYT thugs beating kids, and the A29 mention allows the NYT to claim they ‘covered’ the story.

Those old science fiction stories predict the future remarkably well, but the details are always slightly off. :)

Things click into place

It’s recently come out that National Review Online (the US’s top Republican political magazine) published fake reporting of massive (and apparently imaginary) Hezbollah invasions into the Christian section of Beirut written by reporter W. Thomas Smith Jr.

He also wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design. Who could have guessed he wasn’t a reliable source of information?

It gets even funnier. The publisher-supplied description on Amazon says the book was “Written by an expert in the field”. Ha! Neither one of them is a biologist. And better yet, Smith is described there as having written “thousands of articles for a variety of publications”. Which comes to more than two a week, for twenty years straight. Sounds like exaggeration, though this time written by the publisher.

$1,000,000 genome

It was announced today that the full genomes of James D. Watson (and Craig Venter, though for much more than $1,000,000) have been sequenced. The NYT article had this bioethics blurb:

Dr. Watson and Dr. Venter are both taking a considerable personal risk in making their genomes publicly available. As is probably true for everyone, their genomes are likely to contain mutations that could lead to disease, revealing possibly unfavorable information about themselves and their relatives.

For Venter this is clearly untrue. He’s rich and can self insure with no problem. Likely Watson has enough dough this isn’t a risk either. For their poorer relatives, yes there is risk. I don’t think the writer of the NYT article, Nicholas Wade, gave this any thought–genetic knowledge insurance/employment risk is a standard story line, and the writer plugged it into this article.

VentureBeat understands online journalism

BTW, the previous article comes by way of a link to an article in VentureBeat. Contentwise the article is nothing special, a thinly written industry conference talk/press release. But the author Mark Coker and VentureBeat understand online journalism. The article has what every web news story ought to have but few do–relevant and appropriate links. The article links to a detailed article on the technology, the company, and the conference. This is great!

Unfortunately most news organizations haven’t got this figured out yet. They will report on (summarize) say a report by the FDA without linking to the report. Many/most of these are now on the web–the reporter read it there in many cases–but the article doesn’t link to it. Or to the FDA press release.

Science news never links to the journal article. Or to the less technical journal News and Views summary, or to the non-technical University press release.

It a real opportunity for a news organization. If I knew the McClatchy (formerly Knight-Ridder) news service did this I would seek out their articles over AP’s or the New York Times. I haven’t seen any grab for this brass ring.