Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Good science and shoddy press coverage

From the indispensable minds at Real Climate, a trenchant analysis of the denialist spin put on a recent study of the Greenland Ice: A widely publicised paper in Science last week discussed the recovery ancient DNA from the base of the Dye-3 ice core (in southern Greenland). This was an impressive technical feat and the DNA recovered may well be the oldest pure DNA ever, dating back maybe half a million years. However much of the press coverage of this paper dwelt not on the positive aspects of the study but on its supposed implications for the stability of the Greenland ice sheet and future sea level rise, something that was not greatly discussed in the paper at all. So why was this?

As we have seen before, the frame for most media reports are set by the press release, and in this case, the press release from the Wellcome Trust (jointly issued by NERC) entitled "Greenland's ancient forests shed light on stability of ice sheet". This contained the quote "... this means that the southern Greenland ice cap is more stable than previously thought." from the lead author Professor Willerslev which ended up being the peg for many of the stories. This quote did not appear in simultaneous releases from AAAS, University of York or the University of Alberta, which were much closer to the text of the paper...

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