Paying Attention to the History of Climate Change

One of the unfortunate consequences of the hyperbolic, circumscribed climate change discourse (It’s all hoax, No it’s not!) is that we don’t pay enough attention to the climate change that did happen in prehistory, specifically the mega-droughts that combined with other factors to cripple ancient empires.

These are complicated stories that are still being puzzled out by scientists, as I discuss in this longish piece at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. But I think these stories and the evidence of prehistoric drought are becoming clear enough for us to draw lessons from. Have a read and let me know over there what you think.

UPDATE: Via John Fleck, I see there’s an important new study on medieval megadroughts that adds to a robust body of literature.

Category: climate change, drought

The Very Real Danger of Unvetted Journalism

Yesterday, I called attention to a deeply flawed article published online by The Atlantic, that used this study as a springboard to raise concerns about GMO foods. Biotechnology, like climate science, is prone to distortion by those who feel passionate about it. The debate on GMO’s and climate change is most heated and misrepresented on blogs where the hosts have staked out a strongly-held position. These sites are the intellectual equivalent of funhouse mirrors, where reality gets absurdly (and often comically) twisted. But when a highly reputable magazine like The Atlantic puts up a muddled piece headlined “The Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods,” you have to wonder if, as Charlie Petit puts it, the magazine is descending “into the hurry-up-and-shock-me world of online journalism.”

Fortunately, there is a countervailing force in the blogosphere, like Charlie’s perch at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, and those of independent blogs, such as The Biology Files, where a detailed critique of the The Atlantic article was posted by Emily Willingham. That said, I agree with this commenter at the Atlantic site, who wrote:

If a journalist doesn’t have expertise in a subject they write about, it’s reasonable to expect that they, or their editor, will run the piece past someone who is knowledgeable about the field, especially when the article relates to human health.
Well, that’s now happening belatedly. Yesterday, the author of the article tweeted that he was “re-writing the piece with corrections.” As the old saying goes, better late than never.

Category: Journalism