The Observatory

Muller’s media circus

UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller was all over the media last week talking about his “total turnaround” from global-warming skeptic to adherent of the longstanding scientific consensus that the planet is heating up.

The question is: Did he deserve the attention?

The frenzy started with an op-ed published in The New York Times, in which Muller explained why he now believes that “humans are almost entirely the cause” of rising temperatures. At the same time, his team at the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, which he founded three years ago, published five papers on its website laying out the research that caused his conversion. According to the analysis, average world land temperature has climbed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the past 250 years, and about 0.9 degrees in the past 50 years.

The problem with BEST’s work was twofold, however. First, its bottom line didn’t amount to much more than what other scientists had been saying for years. Second, the research wasn’t peer-reviewed.

Meteorologist Jason Samenow, who blogs for The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, counseled readers, many of whom are reporters, to give the research a pass. He also advised them to disregard meteorologist-blogger Anthony Watts, who was in the process of pulling a similar stunt, having released an un-reviewed paper at the same time BEST did (Watts’s paper said that warming in the US since 1979 is about half of what federal government says it is):

Both studies staged high-profile releases and represent concerted efforts to influence public perception about what we know about climate science. But neither has been published in a peer-reviewed publication and there is cause to question their legitimacy…

“Prophet of Katrina” stays put

The man The New York Times called “a prophet of Katrina’s wrath” for his prescient coverage of New Orleans’ vulnerability to hurricanes and flooding has decided to stick with the city’s beleaguered newspaper.

On Tuesday, Mark Schleifstein, the Times-Picayune’s environment reporter for the last 28 years, accepted a job offer from the new Nola Media Group, which was formed in the wake a decision to cut the daily paper’s staff (by about 200 thus far) and reduce publication to three days a week. In an update on his Facebook page, Schleifstein wrote:

The decision to stay was difficult for many reasons, including my own anger at how the announcement was made (or not made) of the decision to move to 3-day-a-week publication of The Times-Picayune and the creation of the new/revised online presence, and my continuing concern about whether employees of the new entities will have any say in their direction, development.

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