Twisting words bends nature out of shape

A NZ Herald headline today blares “Oceans’ acidity threatening coral and mussel survival”, making us imagine reefs and shellfish beginning to fight for their lives. The article begins:

Rising carbon dioxide levels are increasing acidity in the oceans faster than scientists thought, posing a greater threat to shell-forming creatures such as coral and mussels.

An eight-year project in the Pacific has found that rising marine acid levels will challenge many organisms, because their shell-making chemistry is critically dependent on a less acidic, more alkaline environment.

The study monitored seawater pH levels at the northeast Pacific island of Tatoosh off Washington state in the United States.

Notice how the scope of this alarmist item contracts dramatically from “oceans” in the headline, to “the Pacific” in the second paragraph, to “an island” in the third paragraph. That’s an important point: the scientists haven’t been studying the whole ocean, just one bit of it.

If a scientist claims to know what is happening in the whole ocean after studying a single island, should we award him a medal or just smile politely and agree to humour him? Continue Reading →