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July 29th, 2008

Climate experts tussle over details; public gets whiplash

Tad Pfeffer was interviewed by Andrew Revkin (New York Times) for an article about how reporting of discordant findings in climate science are leaving many readers with "whiplash" from alternating "yes it is" and "no it isn't" messages. Such whiplash may fuel the mistaken notion that scientists can't agree on basic well-studied questions. Both reporters and scientists need to do a better job helping readers discriminate between what is well understood and what remains uncertain. For example, none of the recent "whiplash" articles impact consensus findings on the human role in recent warming. Future reporting should also clarify that an indirect path toward improved understanding is expected when studying the most uncertain questions in science.

"One of the things that troubles me most is that the rapid-fire publication of unsettled results in highly visible venues creates the impression that the scientific community has no idea what’s going on. Each new paper negates or repudiates something emphatically asserted in a previous paper," said Pfeffer "The public is obviously picking up on this not as an evolution of objective scientific understanding but as a proliferation of contradictory opinions."

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