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How to ruin your credibility on a perfectly good story

December 8, 2012

Adam Morton, Ben Cubby, Tom Arup and Nicky Phillips have an almost excellent article, “Six degrees of devastation”  in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. It describes the type of climate that could be seen in Australia by the end of the century, it’s been written after much research and it’s true to the science. There’s no attempt at the type of false balance that so often mars climate-related stories.

Unfortunately, in the print version (it’s obviously been removed from the online version), the authors blow their credibility right at the start by committing a schoolboy error in the second paragraph:

The average global temperature, across night and day, is now 19 degrees. If that doesn’t sound much, consider it this way: an average day on Earth is 35 per cent hotter than it was during the 20th century.

Yes, they’ve actually calculated that the rise of 5°C is 35 percent of 14°C (which, according to the article, was the global average at the turn of the century). Apparently no-one associated with the story knew that the zero of the Celsius scale is only a relative zero, and that to calculate what they wanted, you need to use the Kelvin or absolute scale (which puts the rise at 1.7 percent).

What a shame! This otherwise excellent article will no doubt be seized by the deniers as a great example of how scientifically illiterate their opponents are. How can it happen that not one, but four science journalists can let this error past? Is this an indication of what’s happened to the science coverage at Fairfax?

One Comment
  1. I’m glad the error was removed from the online edition. People write all kinds of rubbish online, don’t they?

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