Sunday, October 01, 2006

More on press releases as scientific communication

So I'm having my students track the flow of information from scientific journal articles to newspapers, and already I've found a case of mistakes in transmission. The students were supposed to start with a secondary source (i.e., a newspaper article.) Many brought in this New York Times piece or this Reuters piece, both of which are based on this article by Josefino Comiso, forthcoming in Geophysical Research Letters. As I reported earlier, none of my students made it to this primary source.

Fortunately, the CJR is doing their homework for them. This post at the CJR blog explains how different news outlets interpreted the story. Comiso's basic finding was that the peak extent of winter arctic sea ice has been declining two years in a row. Unfortunately, the AP and the Sf Chronicle took this information and reported that the arctic sea ice is continuing to melt all winter long, which is just silly. The AP story is down, but the Chronicle story is still here. The CJR blames this misreporting on a bad press release, and links to this corrected press release. Is this right? Here is what I take to be the original press release. Note that both the Chronicle story and the press release take the "what does this mean for polar bears" angle. This New Scientist article, which has nearly the same bad lede as the Chronicle article, also goes with the polar bear angle.

CJR congratulates this Post story and this Atlanta Journal Constitution story for getting it right. Next assignment for the students. Compare as many statements of Cosimo's finding as you can and decide where the error in transmission took place.

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