Newspaper pot calls science kettle black

One of today’s Observer editorials implicitly takes scientists to task for not being sufficiently frank about what science can and cannot explain.

That’s a bit rich, given that scientists are forever qualifying and quantifying the confidence they have in their theories, data and models. It is general news media that tend to gloss over or ignore the uncertainties explicitly detailed in scientific research papers and other presentations.

When it comes to climate science, a recent edition of Nature carries a feature article by Quirin Schiermeier which clearly outlines the gaps that remain in our knowledge of climate change. Has this essay been widely discussed in the mainstream media?

Few journalistic writers who do do not specialise in science reporting appear able to comprehend the concept of uncertainty, and editors routinely cut discussion of statistical confidence. Mention of “error bars” makes the eyes of many glaze over completely.

Spare us this faux-sagacity, dear Observer leader writers, and instead address the inadequacies in your otherwise esteemed organ’s coverage of science.

Further reading

Quirin Schiermeier, “The real holes in climate science”, Nature 463, 284 (2010)