The relevance of global versus regional trends is confusing, however, because the applicability of either one depends on what the story is about. For example, last December, CJR and a number of other outlets blasted Politico for an article which reported that there is mounting scientific evidence for global cooling. The reporter cited data that shows only a meager rise in average temperature in the United States since 1930. Unlike the Daily Tech piece about sea ice, however, it was the global trend (i.e. in mean temperature) that Politico should have paid attention to. Unfortunately, the same kinds of mistakes are still far too common, as evidenced by a naïve column published last week in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that suffered from all the same flaws as Politico’s piece. (It’s a mystery how this column ever made it past the P-I’s editors, who are usually more astute about environmental coverage.)
The only way for reporters (and columnists) to avoid making these mistakes in the future is to pay more attention to detail. When reviewing scientific data, it is imperative to note whether the data reflects trends that are global, regional, seasonal, annual, perennial, etc. Such nuance is as fundamental to good science journalism as an understanding of the difference between weather and climate.
Correction: This article was changed to reflect that the University of Illinois has no “Arctic Climate Research Center.” The researchers responsible for the sea ice data are informally known as the polar research group.