It is unfortunate that political spin has so thoroughly infiltrated the science dialogue. Because it has, it is incumbent on the public to read critically and for reporters to question what is said in public, and how they might (or might not) have paraphrased it for print. I recently noted an article in the McClatchy-Tribune Regional News, “Speaker: Renewable Energy Necessary in Global Warming Fight,” published November 16, 2010. It was a report on a presentation given at an energy policy conference at Dakota Wesleyan University by Chuck Kutscher, an engineer and manager from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.
The following statement is taken from the referenced article:
This statement does not pass the straight face test. If accurately quoted, it should have been questioned immediately. If paraphrased, it should never have survived proofreading or editing. The quoted value is equal to 39% carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, at which concentration we would have all been long dead. The correct value 390 parts per million.
I don’t point this out simply to correct a typo or a misstatement. Science and math education in the U.S. is in dire straits. When these kinds of obvious errors can make it into print, how many less obvious errors, distortions, or junk statistics make the daily news? The public must be able to critically evaluate the information we get every day. This begins with disciplined science, math, and basic statistics education for everyone. To not understand…, to not question…, is to be led by the nose by histrionics and superficially plausible sound bites.