Handling Controversy in the Field

I was interested in the different interpretations of the new research which indicates that, over the span of millions of years, climate temperature increase tends to lead to an increase in biodiversity. Most of the articles summarized the original abstract in a way which did not sink the science into a bog of political implications by clarifying that long-term global warming would show different biological patterns than today’s abnormally rapid climate change. (http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2012/research/warmer-earth/ ) One article, however, did not follow this pattern and interpreted this article in a way which felt to me like it was pushing a very specific political message.( http://www.itechpost.com/articles/4198/20120904/global-warming-earth-boosts-biodiversity-research.htm )Do you agree that this article is misleading? Given the ridiculous amount of political interference in the field of climate change, the writer of this research paper had to have been aware this study could be misinterpreted and used as evidence by climate deniers. What do you think is the best way to report science that you know might be misrepresented to support political agendas? And do you think that this (http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2011/02/rapid-response-team-pairs-scientists-and-media/ ) is a good solution on the part of the scientists?


About katiebethhalloran

Hello! I am a student at the University of Michigan, interested in creative writing and environmental writing. I'm new to blogging, but so far it seems like a great way to find other writers with similar (or vastly different) styles and interests.

8 Responses to “Handling Controversy in the Field”

  1. I think the second article definitely has many misleading intention throughout the paragraphs. The researchers do not suggest that current global warming is good to the existing creatures, because the increase in biodiversity takes millions of year to occur. Nevertheless, this article seems intended to deliver a message that “we don’t have to be so worried about global warming, because it can actually boost biodiversity”. For instance, although the author mentioned that the increase in biodiversity takes a long time, he avoided telling how long the time is. It seems that he only focused on reporting evidence that is supportive to the idea that “global warming is not that bad”, and by solely reading this article, we almost forget that besides the effect on biodiversity, lots of other environmental issues are caused by global warming.

    I think the best way to report science to avoid being misrepresented to support political agenda is to reveal viewpoints of both sides in an objective manner. There shouldn’t be any leading sentence to affect reader’s mind while they are reading the article. The author should also raise questions if there are any part of the research/study being reported is doubtful. For example, the quoted research only investigates the data of marine invertebrate biodiversity, how can the researchers claim that all other creatures on the Earth follow the same pattern? Lastly, I think the author should arouse the critical thinking of the readers towards the issue.

  2. I would say that the first two articles are both misleading. The first one is misleading because it is conveniently vague. With sentences like, “Our results seem to show that temperature improves biodiversity through time as well as across space” and “overall, warm climates seem to boost biodiversity in the very long run, rather than reducing it” are a convenient way of literally saying nothing of content. What is this “temperature”? What is “warm”? These terms have no meaning to them and are a way of “stating” an opinion without actually saying anything with real content.

    This leads me to my second point. There is a difference between news and scientific writing. We can’t expect to report science related topics free of political agendas if it is reported as news. News inherently contains political agendas. That is why I think that scientific writing should be report as just that- scientific writing. By reporting science through quantifiable research and carefully written papers, that is the only way one can objectively report science without political agendas hindering the content. My question is this: Why are scientific papers/journals not “news” stories?

    • I like your idea that scientific papers should be news, why let a journalist explain something that a scientific researcher can explain just as well? They know how to write.

      • I completely agree with chadkels’s statement that the second article’s language is extremely vague. While reading, I was waiting to come across more scientific data and explanation for this global warming “generating more biodiversity” phenomenon. I also think that this article lacked the “why should we care?” aspect. Many of us in this class understand why biodiversity has a positive impact on the environment, but think the writer could have included more explanation here for people who do not know about this concept. If the writer explained the research more and included more evidence from the research, I think the article could have had more credibility.

        I do not know if we could publish scientific writing the way we do with news writing. I think scientific literature is vastly different from news writing in formatting and style. Especially in the research field, scholarly academic papers often include extensive data collections and sources from several other pieces of similar research that may not necessarily be incorporated in a news story. A news story is often much shorter than these scientific papers as well. Also, a journalistic piece and a research paper have different audiences–one is for the general public and the other is for academics. Scientific papers are not always easily understood by all readers, so it is the journalist’s duty to present the information in an interesting, concise, and easily comprehended way. I think that journalists could draw information from these peer-reviewed collections of data and research but I do not think that the researcher should be required to publish an article for the public at large.

  3. These articles depict the communication frustrations that Henry discussed in class. While scientific data is extremely complex, reporters often simplify its meaning.
    Oftentimes, simplification is necessary for the public to understand research findings. However, conclusions should be presented without political interpretations. While every person has a political leaning, it is the journalists’ responsibility to present news with objective writing. I do not believe that the first two articles presented fair representation of the scientific results.

    The first article used vague language because the information lacked precise data. For example, the lead author states “warm climates seem to boost biodiversity in the very long run, rather than reducing it.” What does warm climates mean? How many raised degrees counts as warm? What is the long run? Should we expect biodiversity increase in 50 million years or 500 million years? The article provides an argument with very limited data to support itself.

    The second article fails to address that scientists are worried about climate change, not solely global warming. While Dr. Peter Mayhew’s results may be legitimate, it does not mean that readers should no longer be worried about global warming/climate change, as the writer seems to suggest by saying “if you thought global warming is nothing but bad news for our planet, think again.” The writer takes advantage of the trend to use global change and climate change interchangeably. While these issues are not mutually exclusive, they do address a variety of different issues—and the consequences of these changes cannot be solely hypothesized by the loss or gain of biodiversity.

    Above, Chad mentioned that scientific writing should remain as scientific writing. Article three seems to provide an effective response to a disconnect between the media and scientific reporting. Using this solution, a significant portion of the population would be neglected of scientific knowledge. While we, as U-M students, are lucky to be able to understand many scientific articles, many people do not have the same privilege. I believe that science should be attainable to all that are interested—not just the ones who can afford a college education. That being said, could scientific journals create news stories? Journals, such as Scientific America, seem to be the closest we have to this solution. Does anyone know of other journals that write scientific results as attainable news—without bias opinions?

    One random thought: what do you think the author in Article 3 meant by the ivory tower in his quote: ““Some scientists are nervous about speaking to the press and worry they will be misquoted, but getting out of the ‘Ivory Tower’ is becoming very important.”

  4. To answer Katiebeth’s question about the Rapid Response team being a good solution, I affirm that it is. The websites mission is to “narrow the information gap between scientific understanding of climate change and what the public knows.” The only quote that concerns me is that there is a turnaround time “as fast as 2 hours.” I think we all know how long it takes to read a scientific paper, especially those representing complex ideas. Perhaps turnaround time should not be a priority when the stakes are high? In addition, I do not think the service should be used because the journalist is in a pinch and needs something to include in the article, this could lead to further misrepresentations. The journalist is getting paid as well, if they do not produce a story, there is no money. However if a scientist gives them a simplistic answer that sounds good, and they throw it in the article, the job is done. Anyhow, the article is laid out quite well by Palmer but could have definitely been more engaging; maybe staring with a narrative on Mandia’s morning routine checking emails, an example question from a journalist and the process of matching this person up with a scientist. Setting it up like this would intrigue the reader enough to continue the article on this sort of underground activist for accurate news, Mandia, and the vast amount of connections he makes every day.

  5. I agree with the comment that both articles are portraying a certain bias, and are therefore misleading. One obviously portrays a certain danger of global warming, while the other one suggests that we should not be so worried about climate change. A person with no prior factual information would read the first article and conclude that global warming is destroying biodiversity while they would read the second one and claim that it’s not really a big deal. I do believe that articles with political intention tend to get out to larger masses of people than the purely scientific articles, so the average non-scientific person would be led to believe that global warming is not such a big deal. I do support the a solution to the problem would be the rapid response teams, but how many people would read it? And do you think that because political agendas involve more money these factual based conversations and opinions wouldn’t be taken and turned to fit that certain political agenda as well? Politicians are able to better advertise their opinion to the masses, but how many everyday people actually take the time to research the truth?

  6. MOST PEOPLE ONLY READ THE BIG WORDS. I know I’m at least guilty of that when I’m skimming a newspaper/website! Read the kicker and the boxed quote in the first article, the “Research reveals contrasting consequences of a warmer earth” article. Yeah the last sentence of the article starts to balance out the bias in this article, but how many people are really going to get there and understand? The last paragraph of the second article says that “the present trend of current change is expected to cause diversity loss” but nobody will remember that when the first thing they see is that WARMING EARTH BOOSTS BIODIVERSITY.

    To address Chad’s question about why scientific journals aren’t “news” stories, I agree with Emjaffe that some people won’t understand– an even bigger problem, though, is that people won’t read science journals. Maybe because they know they won’t understand, yes, but also the general public, the ones who need to learn about climate crisis (and other news) won’t frequent or care to read science articles–journalists have the super hard task of DRAWING PEOPLE TO THEIR WORDS. Because, I agree Yemisi! People won’t take time to go research the truth.

    Also, Emjaffe, I think the “Ivory Tower” quote, here is a link to Wikipedia’s explanation (hopefully our friend Ken from the Hurricane Sandy page didn’t edit this one too): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_Tower . It basically suggests that scientists are way too disconnected from the common people, I think. I think the writer meant that scientists need to show common people their findings. Otherwise what will those findings be worth?

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