Media Hyped Warming Study, Some Still Haven’t Admitted Its Flaws

Just a couple weeks ago the media were warning about “startling new research” by Princeton and Scripps scientists that indicated faster global warming, but it turns out that panic was overblown. The researchers issued corrections to the paper after a climate skeptic pointed out a math error in the study.

However, not all the media outlets which originally promoted the study’s claims have issued reports about the error. CBS, ABC and USA Today were among those that had yet to issue corrections the morning of Nov. 15.

CBSNews.com wrote about the “staggering rate” of ocean warming on Nov. 9, in a story still listed in “climate change” section of the website under latest stories. Noticeably absent from the list was a more recent article, pointing out the problem with that study.

On Nov. 9, meteorologist and CBS contributor Jeff Berardelli wrote of multiple studies including the erroneous ocean-warming study saying, “the recent revelations have been particularly alarming, and for scientists like myself, they deserve a big neon sign on Broadway.”

This Morning and World News Tonight with David Muir also mentioned the study in broadcasts, but later as reports of the error piled up Nov. 14, did not report that the scientists admitted a mistake. USA Today also hasn’t followed up with a story about the flaws, after initial reporting Nov. 1. USA Today did post a video from Buzz60 online admitting the corrections midday Nov. 15, but did not provide a story comparable to its initial report.

The math error exposed by scientist Nicholas Lewis was a big one. After he presented his concerns, the authors admitted he’d found an error saying “it became immediately clear there was an issue there.”

“Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean ... We really muffed the error margins,” co-author and climate scientist Ralph Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography said.

Even The Washington Post, which did report the correction, tried to downplay the adjustment after strongly promoting the original study claiming they “help resolve long-running doubts about the rate of the warming of the oceans before 2007.”

Its initial report was 1,382 words long, and said the study “could have important policy implications,” “underscores the potential consequences of global inaction,” and “the method offered scientists a reliable indicator of ocean temperature change.” Of course the Post also attacked the Trump administration’s environmental and climate roll backs.

The Post’s correction was a 966-word piece and downplayed the error by defending the “central conclusion of the study” as “in line with other studies that have drawn similar conclusions” — claiming “it hasn’t changed much despite the errors.”

The story acknowledged a problem with margin of error, but minimized the significance by not including direct quotes from Keeling saying they “muffed” the error margins or Keeling’s admission that those margins are now “too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean.”

The liberal news media are typically quick to hype warnings about the threat of catastrophic climate change, and Resplandy and Keeling’s study on ocean temperatures was no exception.

“A new study showing the Earth’s oceans heating up faster than expected, absorbing 60% more heat than previously thought. Scientists say that gives nations around the world even less time to drastically cut carbon emissions to fight the impact of global warming. That study in the journal, Nature,” said ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir on Oct. 31.

CBS This Morning reported on it Nov. 1. Co-anchor Norah O’Donnell cited the Los Angeles Times article about it saying, “a new study that suggests there’s a large build up of heat in the ocean. Over the past 25 years our oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously thought. The findings published in the journal Nature show greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere may persist for hundreds of years. That’s even if human emissions are reduced to zero.”

Lewis posted his criticism on climate skeptic Judith Curry’s blog. He wrote on Nov. 6, that he seemed to have found a miscalculation in their data, and that the uncertainty appeared “greatly underestimated” in their paper.

“The findings of the Resplandy et al paper were peer reviewed and published in the world’s premier scientific journal and were given wide coverage in the English-speaking media. Despite this, a quick review of the first page of the paper was sufficient to raise doubts as to the accuracy of its results,” Lewis wrote. “Just a few hours of analysis and calculations, based only on published information, was sufficient to uncover apparently serious (but surely inadvertent) errors in the underlying calculations.”

Lewis called upon the media that “unquestioningly trumpeted the paper’s findings now correct the record too.”

So far, not all of them have.


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Julia A. Seymour's picture