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…

How creativity works? Not like that.

The author of a recent book about how creativity works is finding out the hard way that the answer is more elusive than he imagined.

Jonah Lehrer, one of science journalism’s brightest young stars, was accused of self-plagiarism on Tuesday after critics revealed that he had reused parts of old stories he wrote for other publications in blog posts for The New Yorker. So far, the magazine has appended an editors’ note to the top of six of Lehrer’s eight posts for its website, noting where else the copy had appeared and expressing “regret [for] the duplication of material.”

Lehrer, 31, didn’t respond to emails seeking comment, but “he understands he made a mistake, he’s apologetic, and it won’t happen again,” said The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson, who made a splash when he left features editing in March to manage and expand the magazine’s website.

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