Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kristen Byrnes on NPR

Yesterday NPR published one of the most atrocious, absolutely embarassing pieces of scientific journalism I have ever witnessed.

David Kestenbaum -- who I thought was hired by NPR because he had some scientific training -- profiled a girl in Maine with a Web site that questions the canonical view on global warming:

"Teenage Skeptic Takes on Climate Scientists,"

Ms. Byrnes' Web site is an absolute joke, full of errors, entirely unscientific. For example, her graph of CO2 levels in the atmosphere showed it flat until about 1950, which is simply wrong. I corresponded with her for months and months about this, as did many other bloggers, until she finally hid her error without acknowledgement of what was correct.

You can see semblances of it at, "Global Mean Temperature over Land and Ocean," light blue line.

Profiling a high school girl as if her science stands up to the best peer-reviewed results from professional scientists and academic journals, as if she matters one iota, is a joke and reflects very, very poorly on NPR, and especially on their science desk.

This would not matter if global climate change were not such an important topic -- one that, literally, threatens the existence of future generations. Nothing but reporting the best science can suffice.

Kestenbaum should be ashamed. Personally, I will never be able to believe anything he ever reports again, and, for that matter, the entire NPR Science Desk. This is pathetic.


Anonymous said...

When I google Byrnes, yours is the first site I see which is critical of the NPR story. I think it would be useful for you to post more examples of errors on the Maunder site, similar to the CO2 level error you mention. Thanks for what you've put up so far.

Anonymous said...

Man, I've been working in science field for many years and I totally agree with you. Her publicity is just another example that shows how many irresponsible scum we have in the world. (By the way, they set up a scholarship fund for her. Great way to make dirty money) People support her because they don't want to change the way they've been living for the last 20 years or so and when some idiotic girl come up and said some rubbish they want to hear, they just worship her like every word she said is true. Pathetic!

I hardly see any real academic journal articles in her reference. Right, using wikipedia as reference. Very intelligent with creditability. See if any university will bother to review her shit

John Mashey said...

anoymouse 7:24 PM
That's because this story was spread last summer by sites who loved the idea that a 15-year-old student [who in fact would not yet have taken chemistry, physics, calculus, or statistics] had overturned the work of James Hansen and shown Al gore wrong.

There are plenty of other blogs, of which the following are a tiny sample:

but will get you started.

Dano said...

My jaw was agape for the entire time this piece of...of...this piece ran. What a pile. "Her science". What a joke. The Republican infiltration of NPR has resulted in a large dumbing-down of content. What a pile of sh*t that story was.



Cobalt said...

Jeez, NPR. Shame on you.

Thank you for posting this entry.

Michael Tobis said...

While the phenomenon of Ms Byrnes is unfortunate, I really don't see the NPR story the way everybody else does. I think the story raised important questions.

Luboš Motl said...

You're human trash, Mr Appell. The interview with Kristen was one of the fairest climate-related interviews that mainstream media have seen during the last decade.

Your own admission that you have been harrassing the young girl just because she doesn't confirm your completely idiotic, "canonical" myths about a dangerous global warming is another argument in favor of death penalty.

People like you should be removed from the face of Earth.

Marion Delgado said...

At what point will the science denialists seek to blame a combination of contrails and SSRIs for Lubos? Soon. Soon.

Marion Delgado said...

And David, while I often disagree with Michael on specifics, I have to admit I've seen him have really good instincts. This is a case in point, my reaction was identical to yours but I am rethinking it to a small extent.

MT said...

The piece is one in a series of a profiles, it explicitly places her in the camp of the "skeptics," warns up front that scientists hearing the story will cringe, reports that others who have visited her Web site and corresponded with her find it full of problems and find her unresponsive to criticism or argument. It illustrates that perspective is not all about numbers but also about whose testimony you trust--with quotes from her sister (friend?) who has not joined her in the "skeptic" camp--and it closes by cuing us to her particular cultural predispositions with her "hippie" remark. All and all it seems like a scientifically and politically well framed profile of well chosen subject for a series that is documenting public discourse about climate change. One way she's well chosen, which you ought to appreciate given your point of view on the science, is that she's young. That she's young suggests to listeners that, though she says she's looked at the data and concluded people aren't changing the climate, personally she's probably impressionable and quite likely to change her mind. That she's young also suggests she doesn't have a dog in the climate-science fight--unlike an oil industry spokesperson or a career scientist--and so her inquiry and what she has to say probably reflect good faith and impartiality on the primary issues. In this regard, I think the choice of her as a story subject is activist and prudent. She is unintimidating and vilification-proof--a depolarizing rather than a polarizing figure. If you're in the science camp, you don't want to write her off. If you're in her camp, you aren't made to feel defensive about your intellect or intentions; and so maybe you'll be open-minded about what else you're to hear in this NPR series. If I'd tuned into this piece in the middle and neither heard it whole or appreciated its context, I might have been dismayed too. But I think the content was worthy of airtime and did quite a bit to prevent and mitigate misconstrual. You're just hypersensitive on this issue, I think, and the subtle trace of nuts sent you into anaphylaxis.

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope that Ms. Byrnes is able to remain unbias when actually conducting and analyzing results of any future climate experimentation she may perform. Good scientists of course present their results whether or not it is what they expected or what others wanted to hear. I also hope that if she's wrong in her line of thinking that she will be a good person and refund all the money that people contribute to her "scholarship fund". I personally find it very cowardly that her step-father looks over and filters all the emails that result from her claims. I can appreciate that she's only 16 and that some people might send inappropriate emails, but at the same time she is stepping into the scientific world and making claims against evidence that very well educated and practiced people people have found. If she can't handle that maybe she should have waited a few years before taking whacks at real scientists and climatologists who have dedicated their lives to their work and gone through all the proper education and traiing to get them the credibility they've earned. In the world of science if you are going to make such a claim you have to be ready and willing to accept any criticisms that may come your way. Is her step-father going to be present to filter questions and criticisms at her thesis and dissertation defenses?

Joel said...

Well, the upside of this whole affair is that we have gotten to see Lubos Motl referring to someone else as "human trash"! Ah, irony is pretty rich sometimes!

Particularly amusing that a string theorist doesn't understand the subtle difference between verbs such as "corresponding" and "harassing". So, I supposed Lubos thinks that because she is a high school girl, she can say anything she wants and noone should dare to even politely correct her? I am sure he'd apply the same logic if a high school girl set up a web site making fun of some of the pseudoscience of some of the so-called "skeptics" like himself.

As for the NPR piece itself, I guess I didn't have as strong a negative reaction toward it (although Lubos' calling it "one of the fairest" is making me rethink a bit!)...I saw it as basically harmless fluff and felt that Kestenbaum was careful during it and at the end to emphasize that her conclusions are completely out-of-line with what the scientists studying the problem have concluded.

[By the way, I too politely wrote to Kristen to correct one of her more obvious errors...I think it was comparing the variations in solar irradiance to the CO2 forcing without accounting for the factor of 1/4 due to the difference between earth's surface area and its cross-sectional area, nor the factor of 0.7 to account for the earth's albedo. As I recall, I never heard back from her and when I checked back a week or so later it was not corrected although I can't say I really kept up with it after that.]

Anonymous said...

I have read a number of Kristen's comments. She is a 16 year old. She is definitively not a scientist and is better described as a reasonably informed and very interested commentator. In this she has many similarities with Al Gore, who is also definitively not a scientist. That NPR should hype her not insignificant contributions to the public debate on various climate blogs as a non-scientist is hardly an event to get hot and bothered about.
Time to get a life.

Anonymous said...

She was on a radio show yesterday talking about you, David. It seems that her parents screen her emails and think you are some sort of stalker weirdo and do not allow them through.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I see this segment as a way for NPR to rally the troops against the young girls twisted claims, which if you notice are goaded by her father. Her simple science can simply not match up to what many well trained, well rounded, unbiased scientists research unveils. Certainly we need to question what these scientists produce, but using a girl as your warrior to slay the mighty global warming scientists is shameless sensationalism.

Anonymous said...

What kind of sick, twisted wannabe reporter harasses a young girl for 4 months

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inchirieri apartamente cluj said...

It is an interesting article. It is important to let people know they are wrong. Hidding something after you and other bloggers corresponded is not the proffesional way of doing business. I believe that some apologies and an explanation about the misleading piece of info posted online are necessary.

This is a proof that this Byrnes guy is not a proffesional and if his information is not accurete this is a problem.

news games said...

All and all it seems like a scientifically and politically well framed profile of well chosen subject for a series that is documenting public discourse about climate change.