In praise of Comments

speech-bubbles-hiPlease note – this does not apply to anonymous Comments.

An outstanding example of the value of Comments came not from medical journalism, but climate change reporting. Still, I thought it should be noted.

Charlie Petit, a contributing writer at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, expressed his pleasant surprise at finding “punchy, plain-as-nails writing” in  a new report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on climate change called “What We Know.”

To wit: “Against this backdrop of natural variation, however, something different is happening. Greenhouse gases have supercharged the climate just as steroids supercharged hitting in Major League Baseball. Over the course of a baseball season in the steroid era, we witnessed more and longer homers, even though we cannot attribute any specific homer to steroids.”

“Maybe the report writers cribbed it from somewhere?” —Charlie Petit, Knight Science Journalism Tracker

“That is just about as good as any explanation of specifics versus statistics I have ever read,” Petit wrote.

And he tossed off: “Maybe the report writers cribbed it from somewhere? Dunno.”

A commenter took what turned out to be unintended bait: Stephanie P. Ogburn, a reporter with Climate Wire, commented that she recalled that the person who first came up with the metaphor of greenhouse gases supercharging the climate like steroids do baseball players was Jerry Meehl at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

“I’ve heard it from a number of researchers but most often it has been credited to him,” Ogburn wrote, noting a video posted to YouTube in January 2012.

Ogburn’s recollection was corroborated in a subsequent post from Zhenya Gallon of the media relations department at NCAR and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

“We created that video as part of a collection of stories reviewing the ‘attribution question’ and the state of the science on extreme weather and climate,” Gallon replied.

“We wanted to capture Jerry Meehl’s great explanation and share it widely.”

Petit said he tossed in his comment about the originality of the description — but was glad of his moment of doubt: “At the last moment while polishing this I threw in the speculation that the simile is not original to this report. Had I not, your comment would have been, ‘Hey Charlie, that analogy has been around for years you dummy…’ Or perhaps something more polite but with the same sting.”

However, it seems there is a good deal of civility among the climate-change believers.~TM

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