I'm Annoyed at the Arctic Climate Research Center

At a time when there is big controversy going on concerning George Will's February 15 column, why on earth did this scientific institute--centrally involved in the issue--not leave their refutation of Will concerning sea ice up on their website?

You can see it in the Google cache here. But it is not available live, and I can't find it on the website.

True, the refutation has been quoted a ton, and so it has entered the public record. But why isn't the Arctic Climate Research Center proud to be taking a stand for the knowledge it produces? Do the people there just want to keep their heads down?

That would be unfortunate, in my mind. If science produces real, policy relevant knowledge, then that knowledge is worth standing up for. Period. And we journalists and bloggers need the help of the scientific community for that purpose.

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Yes, the ACRC doesn't seem to be nearly as media savvy as NSIDC. Plus, what's up with that web page design?

Sadly, this is a classic academic science response. They run like heck from anything to do with politics or debate, for fear it will ruin the supposed purity of their science. That stance is reflected in too many of their comments on blogs the last two weeks as well.

I don't know exactly what happened, but a few things to consider.

The Arctic Climate Research Center is basically Bill Chapman. He's a good guy, but he's only a single person. This in contrast with the NSIDC which is a couple of dozen people. His media and web skills are his alone -- no real chance to hand off parts to other people in the group who are better at some parts.

The note was taken down only a couple of days after it was put up. In the interval, it was discovered that the instruments used for determining sea ice concentration had deteriorated seriously (SSMI on DMSP F-13 and F-15). This was producing false trends in both NSIDC and Cryosphere Today area and extent curves -- just the curves Will was misquoting. As the sensor errors resulted in under-reporting of area and extent, it's possible that Chapman took down his comment as it was no longer representing the figures that would have been observed if the satellites were functioning properly. I don't think this rescues Will at all, since the best information available at the time he was writing said what he was saying was trivially false.

It's also possible that, given we're really only talking about one person here, and one at a state-supported institution, enough political pressure was brought to bear on Chapman that he took down the comment for that reason. His Daily Tech response is still up, however, so I favor the satellite degradation reason.

Just a quick thought: perhaps not the best idea to guess what his reason is? If he's a bright guy, there will probably seem some fairly sound reason, if it's not terribly exciting.

(Chris: I don't think stereotypes help much. In my experience, it is more that the institutions are reluctant to get involved in politics, than the staff themselves. Then there is the practical matter that university staff generally have little free time to get more involved than a quick response, then get back to what they were "supposed" to be doing.)

By Heraclides (not verified) on 02 Mar 2009 #permalink

Thank you Robert Grumbine for thoughtful, reasoned possibilities.

Mr. Mooney, one more idea: why not contact and ask for information prior to writing about a matter?

The blog entry begins with worthy questions, and then ends with "we journalists," however in between there is just speculation.

By Karen Runyon (not verified) on 03 Mar 2009 #permalink

If science produces real, policy relevant knowledge, then that knowledge is worth standing up for. Period. And we journalists and bloggers need the help of the scientific community for that purpose."

The reverse is true as well.

For FAR too long the scientists have held up their end of the bargain, by and large, and so-called "science journalists' have not done squat, or in many cases they have actually done the opposite. They have actually done damage by playing up "uncertainties", satellite disagreements with ground instruments and the like (perhaps you know which (reasonable) "science journalist" I am thinking about, eh?)

Unfortunately, you and Sheril are the exceptions, Chris, rather than the rule.

By Dark tent (not verified) on 03 Mar 2009 #permalink