On RealClimate.org I ran across this amusing example of the capacity of the media to inflate a science story to whatever their headlines demand – “Coldest Winter in 1000 Years Cometh – not“, which is adapted from the German original at KilmaLounge
It all starts with a journo in Poland looking at a claim by someone saying that the Gulf oilspill was slowing down the Gulf stream – which is somewhat unlikely – actually pretty damn nutty when you think about the relative volumes. Bit anyhoo…
The journo talked to Polish scientist Mikhail Kovaleski posing a hypothetical about what effect that a slowdown in the Gulf stream would mean for Europes climate. Now to anyone that follows the recent (ie last million years or so) of paleoclimate history of Europe, the answer is obvious – in fact I wrote a michevious post on it last Christmas “Those childish people of Northern European descent.”
This is what Mikhail Kovaleski had to say about the press reporting his comments.
The reports in some media are absolutely unbelievable. A journalist who interviewed me for radio had asked me about the theoretical climatic effects of a breakdown of the Gulf Stream. I answered that this purely hypothetic scenario would lead to much colder winters in Poland. A few days later I found on the internet the article of a journalist who mixed his own words with some of my quotes without their context so well that a completely new meaning came out. An absolutely absurd thesis. My quotes as such are correct, so I was not able to demand a correction.
Yep. The next journo to pick it up had the nutters parts trimmed out of the story, probably so that they could get the headline “Millennium Winter is Coming!”. So it was now that a Polish scientist was blaming the BP spill for slowing the Gulf stream.
Russian radio picked it up with Russian scientists saying it was exaggeration. That was probably a mistake as we know that journos tend to pick up those types of statements as a bit of a challenge. And yes the next headline is “The coldest winter in 1000 years”.
Ok that is enough to get one of world more renowned blogging nutters (Anthony Watts) on almost anything, but who seems to me to specialize in inflating any easy to read headline on climate into something beyond any reason – probably as a result of his media experience.. In this case he was suggesting that some kind of war was breaking out between Polish and Russian scientists. As the realclimate post kindly puts it…
Surely it’d stop there right?
Any credible journo would at least check the sources of such a story especially when it came from that source…. Ah no…. I guess that it is too good a headline so foolish journos start repeating other fools.
From then on, the story is repeated on many other European media, including serious newspapers and television.
It is staggering how one journalist just copied another, sometimes even embellishing the story, without ever bothering to check the source or ask Kowalewski himself. It took us less than ten minutes of googling to get serious doubts about whether this story was real. The familiar pattern of „Chinese whispers“ emerges here once again – the same that widely spread the false whatevergate-stories.
But the often self-righteous free western press can actually learn a lesson from its Chinese counterpart in this case. The Chinese news agency Xinhua checked the story and issued the following on October, 20.:
A forecast attributed to Polish scientists of the coldest European winter in 1,000 years has drawn plenty of media attention recently but investigations by Xinhua reporters have cast doubts on its veracity.
I haven’t bothered with half of the links, but they’re buried in the RealClimate article, including a link to a real science based blog looking at some of the science about the cold winters in Europe over the last few years and following up with a later post saying that Europe may be about to get their coldest winter since 1963.
Kind of weird that you have to rely on a Chinese news agency and some rational bloggers to get you some real information on what is really happening in the world. Did anyone see that story appear in the media here?
I feel like having some more fun – just like the title of this post is trying to inflate the story – just like a real journalist would… You know, like that TV weather presenter and media personality Anthony Watts that all the other journos take their stories from…