Newsweek Antarctic ice story has flaws, sure, but noted climate skeptic’s rant is off the chart

Last week news about giant icebergs wreaking ecological havoc in Antarctica broke from a British Antarctic Survey team.  Their message, from the Antarctic Peninsula, is that winter sea ice that used to immobilize icebergs busting off from glaciers has thinned. This appears to have allowed these floating ice mountains to do more scraping, or scouring as it is called, here and there across the near-shore shallows. Some formerly rich bottom communities have given way to bare expanses of rock and plowed muck except for one hardy weed-like moss.    A media roundup will come momentarily.  But first here’s one example that, while suffering from over-generalization, unfairly got hit with a flamethrower from the right:

Bekiempis is writing here about studies along the Antarctic Peninsula. Their specific nature is seen in the paper in the journal Current Biology, linked below in Grist. However, her story refers prominently to Antarctica as a whole, implying that this iceberg scour drama has been seen playing out over most of its perimeter. It is easy to find a possible source of this over-generalization: the press release, also linked in Grist. To be sure, she also refers to the research having occurred in western Antarctica (an unusual term. It is normally called West Antarctica. It is in the Western Hemisphere. However, a western anything is hard to interpret in Antarctica. It’s entire shoreline is its northern edge, all the way around). The press release sets this wide tone by referring to how things work along Antarctica’s shore generally. It does get to where the new data arose, but could have been more specific. In any case, a reporter should keep in mind that letting a press release dictate terms is not strong journalism.

   Even with the lapse Bekiempis did not deserve this:

   Taylor is a prolific blogger from the right. Climate change is among his favorite bugaboos. He is a lawyer who talks sort of like a scientist – lots of charts and numbers. He is the Heartland Institute’s main public voice against global warming. He feels mankind is not the reason for whatever the climate is doing, and further believes fervently, as I read some of his recent writings, that the biggest threat from climate change is growth of state and UN hegemony over what we all do – particularly what business executives could do under unfettered capitalism. In light of his perception that such threat to personal freedom is the foremost consideration, he appears to forgive all those who doubt global warming’s reality or extent because their hearts are in the right place.

   He writes in his post bulleted above that Bekiempis’s article is “preposterous on its face” because it suggests that winter ‘fast ice’ that can fix icebergs in place is weakening. He cites genuine data that the aerial extent of Antarctic sea ice has nudged upward recently. That is true, the ocean around Antarctica has pasted the widest white winter skirt around the continent ever seen. But the Newsweek article never said that overall sea ice extent around Antarctic is down, only the near-shore fast ice. The paper behind the story says so too. Maybe both can happen. One would like to know more about squaring those two phenomena but Newsweek’s story is not close to preposterous. 

  Worse, Taylor accuses reporter Bekiempis of “ignorance and/or mendacity” when her story refers to recent studies on the Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica, and by implication perhaps most of the region’s ice sheet, as having gone past the point of no return. Such insulting language is on offense in itself. He also gets his own facts wrong, declaring that “the studies referenced by Bekiempis address only a very small portion of ice on the Antarctic Peninsula.” Nope, Bekiempis and the studies in question only places them rightly in western Antarctica, not the peninsula. In fact, Taylor himself in an earlier post at Forbes – while not terribly convincing overall – put those very same studies in the correct geographic place.

Other coverage of Antarctic icebergs scouring marine life:

 Grist for the Mill: Cell Press Press Release, Current Biology full paper ;

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