Stuff stuff up (another bloody ice age)

There’s a major fail today for the new science section of the Stuff.co.nz news web site — the web portal for Fairfax NZ, home to The Press (Christchurch) and the Dominion Post (Wellington) newspaper web presences. A front page teaser — “Could cooling sun cause ice age?” (see image at left) — leads to a page with a headline that screams ‘Solar minimum’ could trigger Ice Age [Web Cite]. It’s a short piece that originally began thus:

The world could be heading for a new ‘solar minimum’ period, possibly plummeting the planet into an Ice Age, scientists say. Researchers say the present increase in sun activity with solar flares and storms could be followed by this minimum period.

The period would see a cooling of the planet, refuting predictions of global-warming alarmists.

This alarming introduction, helpfully archived by morgue, has since been rewritten to change the final sentence:

The period would see a cooling of the planet, refuting predictions of further global-warming.

Two small problems for Stuff: “scientists” aren’t saying anything at all about a coming ice age, refuting predictions of global warming, or projecting new solar minima. The paper they’ve based the story on is a lot less exciting, suggesting that there may be a plausible link between changes in solar activity and regional climate a few thousand years ago as measured by varves from a German lake. The story — one of the day’s “top stories” on their iPad app — is made up nonsense. And there’s a second problem: it may have been lifted in part from an earlier item in Britain’s Daily Mail

My fellow Sciblogger, David Winter at The Atavism, covers the misreporting very well in a post titled An object lesson in the danger of poor science reporting, but I had a feeling I’d seen the bones of this story somewhere else a day or two ago. I’d certainly stumbled over the Science Daily press release in my RSS feeds1 but I’d also noted that the Daily Mail, a British tabloid noted for its amazingly successful web site and cavalier attitude to science reporting, had — in a manner typical of its coverage of global warming — gone completely over the top and suggested a new ice age might be on the way.

When you look at the Stuff piece and the Mail original side by side, it’s clear that the Stuff version owes a great deal to the original article by Rob Waugh. A couple of sentences2 are more or less identical, suggesting that someone at Stuff was guilty of taking a few shortcuts when putting the story together. An unkind person might accuse them of plagiarising someone else’s rubbish, and that’s never a good look, is it?

The people putting Stuff together might want to consider that using the Daily Mail as their newsfeed is not a good idea. It might even make them a laughing stock (h/t David Winter):

  1. It’s an interesting story, but what attracted my attention was that the varves come from the Meerfelder Maar, a remarkable lake that has a detailed annual — even seasonal — record of local climate preserved in its bottom muds, which have been used to date the precise onset of the Younger Dryas cool episode during the warming at the end of the last ice age to 12,679 years BP. Read more in An abrupt wind shift in western Europe at the onset of the Younger Dryas cold period, Brauer et al, Nature Geoscience, Vol 1, August 2008 (pdf). []
  2. These two sentences from Stuff: It was first noticed in the 1970s when the American astronomer Jack Eddy noticed a strong correlation between historic weather records and accounts of solar activity. He noticed that a ‘quiet’ sun correlates with cold weather and a ‘manic’ phase means warmer conditions. — are obviously edited out of these lines from the Mail: The link between Solar ‘moods’ and the weather down here on Earth was first noticed in the 1970s, when the American astronomer Jack Eddy noticed a strong correlation between historic weather records and contemporaneous accounts of Solar activity, most notably the long record of sunspots published a century before by the astronomer Edward Maunder. Eddy noticed that a ‘quiet’ Sun correlates with cold weather and a manic phase means warmer conditions. []

11 thoughts on “Stuff stuff up (another bloody ice age)”

  1. My attention was drawn to this story in The Register. When compared to the paper it purports to describe most of the artical was obviously denialist spin with the invention of an upcoming super minimum to boot.

    Hansen in his book, Stories of my Grandchildren, asserts that while humanity lasts there can never be another ice age. All it would take to head off a possible ice-age would be one factory producing fluorocarbons.

    However, the fingerprint of the merchants of doubt is the ignoring or minimising of the heating role of greenhouse gasses, particularly CO2.

    Noel

  2. This meme — which as you say seems to have originated in the Daily Mail — has been covered by Carbon Brief [ http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/mail-absolutely-wrong-to-infer-global-cooling-from-new-research ]

    Carbon Brief’s rebuttal includes this quote from the study’s lead author, Celia Martin-Puertas, of the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam: “…it is absolutely wrong that our study may predict a global cooling in the future.”

    1. The current version of the Stuff page includes an outline to David Winter’s deconstruction of the story, but as far as I know they have not acknowledged the obvious plagiarism… Perhaps that might be an angle Mediawatch might take up?

  3. How can any media organization claim to have a ‘science’ section if they can allow an article containing the disparaging phrase ‘global-warming alarmists’ to get to print? Again, that’s NIWA, the BoM, CSIRO, NASA, NOAA, etc. etc.

    And look at the recent pattern. This paper proves there’s an ice-age on the way. (It doesn’t.) Zunli Lu’s paper proved the MWP was global (It didn’t.) Then there’s that paper that proved Wind Farms were ‘causing global warming’. (This doesn’t even pass the laugh test.) Oh and Himalayan Glaciers aren’t retreating (They are, but extra moisture in the atmosphere means the upper sections still appear to be accumulating. And, anyway, this same research actually demonstrated that the global cryosphere was declining at a rate of knots! Which was the whole point of the exercise…)

    (Interestingly no-one yet seems to have bitten on the Grand Cosmobiological Theory of Everything interpretation of Svensmark’s most recent paper!)

    But the rest made it through to the media, particular the denier-compliant sections – but it’s notable that The Guardian was one of the worst offenders on the cryosphere paper, contradicting even their own previous reporting (and photography library!).

    And many a punter will only remember something along the lines of ‘but didn’t they prove there’s an ice age coming? / the world was warmer in Medieval times? / wind farms cause warming? / Glaciers aren’t melting?’, and will at least carry away the impression of a debate and the secret pleasure of believing that they need not contemplate abandoning the SUV or the bi-annual 747 pilgrimage around the globe anytime soon…

    Which is the point. This is how propaganda works.

    Watts was blatantly celebrating his success with the ‘MWP was global’ meme extracted from Zunli Lu. It’s also an interesting exercise to match the other memes to his website (it’s the ‘most popular Science website’ in the entire universe, after all!)

    And then ask yourself: is this just an amazing coincidence?

      1. same as it ever was

        (One of the rather small number of great videos, to my mind. I’d recalled a brief flash of Brian Eno – who’s providing fiddly bits and the flat tones in the chorus – at the end of that clip, but apparently not…)

  4. Read the new, revamped, accurate version, with the apologetic note at the bottom. The dodgy url is now the only flavour remnant of the original.

    I still think an explanation as to how the ridiculous phrase ‘refuting predictions of global-warming alarmists’ came to be there in the first place would be in order.

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