August 25, 2010

What is wrong with the Milwaukee daily paper?

Science reporting or legal reporting, I don't know which is worse. Here's the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's latest dismal effort:
[Ron] Johnson's recent comments about sunspots playing a role in global warming, as well as Johnson's more recent comment that Greenland was actually green at one time ...
Emphases added. Why is the J-S downplaying Johnson's own claims?

Now, if what Ron Johnson had said is that sunspots "played a role" in global climate, nobody would have batted an eyelash. Obviously solar activity contributes to changes in the Earth's climate over time.

It's the Earth's primary source of energy.

But that isn't what Ron Johnson said at all. What he said was — after dismissing "absolutely" the science of anthropogenic global warming in its entirety, something he'd earlier termed "crazy" and "lunacy" — "it's far more likely that it's just sun spot activity or something just in the geologic ├Žons of time where we have changes in the climate."

That's from Johnson's own website.

As noted here previously on more than one occasion, those are unequivocal declarations. Recall: Johnson dismissed "absolutely" any scientific evidence in support of anthropogenic global warming. "Absolutely": that was his word. There's no mistaking its meaning.

Thus, according to Ron Johnson, it's all the result of otherwise natural processes. Not anthropogenic. So, advises Ron Johnson to mankind, just keep doing what you're doing, burning carbon in unprecedented quantities to your hearts' content. It's all good.

Anyway, the alleged direct causal correlation between solar activity and more recent rising global temperatures is debunked. So it's not even "far more likely," as the Fox News Senate candidate put it.

Secondly, if Ron Johnson had said merely that 'some southern areas of what we now know as Greenland and that are now covered in kilometer-thick ice actually were green at one time,' then nobody would have batted an eye either. Again, as pointed out at this space earlier, scientists have discovered in a southern Greenland ice core (Dye 3) the genetic remains of creatures that dwell in forested areas.

Ergo, there must have been "a northern boreal forest ecosystem" in order for those particular creatures to thrive. That is an inference drawn from the genetic evidence, and it relates only to a specifically defined area in the southern portion of the island.

But that isn't what Ron Johnson said. This is: "There's a reason Greenland was called Greenland. It was actually green at one point in time. And it's been, since, it's a whole lot whiter now."

Except Greenland was only called "Greenland" about 1100 years ago, whereas the DNA recovered from the Dye 3 ice core (third from the west) by Eske Willerslev* et al is approaching one million years old.

Erik the Red, it may be safely assumed, was unfamiliar with Dye 3.

Is it really that difficult for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to perceive those crucial distinctions? Willerslev et al's 2007 paper is online. For free (so the J-S does not have to cut into Patrick McIlheran's salary for pricey subscriptions to scientific journals).

Furthermore several contemporary press accounts of Willerslev's paper completely misrepresent its relatively cautious conclusions.

Never — ever — trust the popular press to report reliably on scientific research papers. It exaggerates, and sensationalizes. That's where Ron Johnson and his denialist friends get their information, and it's why they apparently have barely a clue what they're talking about.

This is dreadful news reporting by the Journal-Sentinel, and moreover containing an exoneration of Ron Johnson's ill-informed views of the science that he most certainly does not deserve.

* Prof. Willerslev is an evolutionary biologist, by the way, whose work is unlikely to appear in the local creationist curricula candidate Ron Johnson enthusiastically approved to the Rock River Patriots.

4 comments:

Grant said...

Science reporting or legal reporting

But this isn't science reporting, you see. It's political reporting and the writer is bound to no responsibility for authentication and verification outside of transcribing the factional tick-tock.

illusory tenant said...

It's political reporting ...

Yep, that's my subtext.

stuart carlson said...

I have been irritated at the newspaper's repeated description of Johnson as a climate change "skeptic." Someone who says that he absolutely does not believe the science of manmade climate change is not a skeptic. He is a denier.

illusory tenant said...

I feel a cartoon coming on ...