The Conclusions of a Press Release Should Match the Scientific Study, Don’t Ya Think?

Guest Post by Bob Tisdale

UPDATE: Repaired a few typos.

How often do we see this happen—a press release about a scientific study states or suggests that global warming was the cause of a factor being studied, when the paper itself doesn’t come to that conclusion…and/or the data contradict it?

An example crossed my desk yesterday. (Thanks, Anthony.)

The closing paragraph of the press release Why are seabirds abandoning their ancestral nesting grounds in the Gulf of California? from the University of California, Riverside reads(my boldface):

Increased frequencies of abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of California, possibly as a result of globally warming oceans, coupled with extremely high fishing pressure, are delivering a combined blow to the legendary productivity of the Gulf of California, forcing seabirds to fly away in search for more suitable environments, even if that means abandoning their ancestral nesting grounds and moving into highly transformed industrial landscapes such as the San Diego Saltworks or the LA Harbor Container Terminal.

That’s odd. The paper that’s the subject of the press release doesn’t come to the conclusion that global warming is causing the migratory practices of the studied sea birds.

The press release is about the Velarde et al. (2015) paper Warm oceanographic anomalies and fishing pressure drive seabird nesting north. The abstract reads:

Parallel studies of nesting colonies in Mexico and the United States show that Elegant Terns (Thalasseus elegans) have expanded from the Gulf of California Midriff Island Region into Southern California, but the expansion fluctuates from year to year. A strong inverse relationship between nesting pairs in three Southern California nesting areas [San Diego saltworks, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, and Los Angeles Harbor (1991 to 2014)] and Isla Rasa in the Midriff (1980 to 2014) shows that terns migrate northward when confronting warm oceanographic anomalies (>1.0°C), which may decrease fish availability and hamper nesting success. Migration pulses are triggered by sea surface temperature anomalies localized in the Midriff and, secondarily, by reductions in the sardine population as a result of intensive fishing. This behavior is new; before year 2000, the terns stayed in the Midriff even when oceanographic conditions were adverse. Our results show that terns are responding dynamically to rapidly changing oceanographic conditions and fish availability by migrating 600 km northwest in search of more productive waters.

The conclusions of Velarde et al. (2015) are (my boldface):

In conclusion, three factors seem to be playing a role in the range changes of nesting Elegant Terns. (i) The success of conservation measures in the tern’s nesting grounds both in Mexico and California has allowed an increased population growth of the species, and the exponential increase in the Isla Rasa colony in particular seems to be pushing reproductive pairs onto new nesting grounds in California. (ii) Superimposed on this systematic and continuous expansion, there is a pulse-like variation in local SST conditions in the Midriff, which seems to drive nesting pairs to emigrate toward California when surface seawater in the Midriff is too warm, the thermocline is too deep, and fish availability is poor. (iii) The decision by seabirds to abandon their traditional nesting grounds in the Midriff is compounded by the fishing effort during the previous season, which further increases the proportion of Elegant Terns migrating away from the Gulf of California.

Besides an overall growth of nesting Elegant Terns in Isla Rasa and southern California colonies as a result of successful conservation efforts, since year 2000 whenever Elegant Terns have confronted poor oceanographic conditions, indicated by high SST (>1.0°C) anomalies in the Midriff, breeding pairs have abandoned Rasa, a behavior that is further augmented by high sardine fishing effort and landings in the Midriff. This oscillatory migration dynamics between distant nesting sites suggests that Elegant Terns can make fast decisions and dynamically adapt to rapid changes in the global environment. The adequate maintenance of a healthy fish community in both the Gulf of California and the Pacific is an important priority that will help support healthy seabird communities, as well as healthy marine ecosystems in general and sustainable fisheries.

“[P]ulse-like variation in local SST conditions” and “high SST (>1.0°C) anomalies in the Midriff” do not equate to global warming. In fact, the data provided by Velarde et al. contradict the press release.

The January to April sea surface temperature anomaly data for the years of 1983 to 2014 are provided in the Supplementary Material for Velarde et al. (2015). See their Table S3 Oceanographic data. I’ve plotted their data for the Midriff of the Gulf of California and Baja California’s Pacific coast at the same latitude. See Figures 1 and 2. Both show cooling since 1983, based on the linear trends.

Figure 1

Figure 1

# # #

Figure 2

Figure 2

Note: as far as I can tell from the paper, the data for the Midriff of the Gulf of California is for the 1 deg latitude by 1 deg longitude grid of 29N-30N, 114W-113W.

CLOSING

It’s sad when claims made in a press release are not supported by the conclusions of the paper its advertising, even sadder when data supplied as part of a scientific study contradict that press release.

Shouldn’t truth-in-advertising laws also apply to press releases for scientific studies?

As a result of the false claims made in the press release, it has been picked up by alarmist mainstream media outlets. Examples:

ScienceWorldReport—Climate Change: Seabirds are Abandoning Ancestral Nesting Grounds in California.

The findings reveal that warm waters may be the cause behind these shifts. This, in turn, could be a result of globally warming oceans.

Zee News—Sea-level warming forces seabirds to abandon nesting grounds.

The reason for the migration is to be found in global warming.

Oy vey!!

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105 thoughts on “The Conclusions of a Press Release Should Match the Scientific Study, Don’t Ya Think?

  1. PS to Velarde et al: Your paper would have been much better if you had used sea surface temperature in absolute form and shown that the sea surfaces were cooler in the areas the birds had emigrated to when the sea surfaces in the Gulf of California had reached a specific threshold…not simply a 1.0 deg C anomaly threshold.

    • Bob,
      I have fished the Sea of Cortez for tropical pelagic fish species (dorado, marlin, sailfish etc.) for more than 40 years, just about every year in the June-July summer months..
      And that fishery has in fact steadily declined; but certainly not from increasing water Temperatures. Those water Temperatures have indeed gone down. Lots of SW fly fishermen wear a thermometer when they are out fishing, to look for the productive waters.
      Raiding of bait fish species for yuppie omega-3 chemical fixes, has bee a good part of the problem, along with other resource plundering..
      In recent years, sardine bait schools in the Loreto Bay region have been quite sparse, nd e sea birds do seem to disperse to other places, when that happens..
      As I recall, offshore migration of bait fishes, and then game fishes, off the Peruvian Coast, was the origin of the term “El Nino.” which marked poor rookery production and coastal fishing catches.
      g

  2. Bob,
    I believe the study area id the Gulf of California rather than the Gulf of Mexico. I know it is an easy typo, but two very different bodies of water separated by the entire Mexican mainland.
    Other than that, I agree, the press release really should accurately reflect the conclusions of the study.

  3. Reminds me of a UK beer advertisement years & years ago, & apologies if I have said it before (senior moment issue). The scene, two journalists sat in a public house, with a pint of beer each, & they were trying to sensationalise their headlines, & the conversation went something like this, “Man of cloth in schoolgirl scandal!”, “Clergyman in sin with saucey teenage temptress!”, & they went on & on in ever increasing dramatics, finally after supping their repsective pints, they came up with “Vicar opens school fete!” It’s ALL in the headlines you know! I wonder why the authors don’t protest more at the abuse that is heaped upon them by the journalists.

    • I wonder why the authors don’t protest more at the abuse that is heaped upon them by the journalists.

      It could be that the authors approve of the journalist’s exaggerated account and in a court challenge, they would come out looking good while the journalist would hang.

  4. Bob,
    I love it. I looked at the data and it seems to me that the conclusion was written before the paper was started. That is what lefty activists do, without shame. The dirty little secret is that few people are reading the body of the papers to see if the results jive with the data. I looked at the supplemental data too. Seems like Michael H. Horn, & Robert T. Patton are relying on that reality to sell their study? Where is the peer review? There was a spurious comment on rodent population eradication tossed in there too.
    From the abstract:
    “Isla Rasa in the Midriff (1980 to 2014) shows that terns migrate northward when confronting warm oceanographic anomalies (>1.0°C), which may decrease fish availability and hamper nesting success.”
    In the conclusion:
    “there is a pulse-like variation in local SST conditions in the Midriff, which seems to drive nesting pairs to emigrate toward California when surface seawater in the Midriff is too warm,”
    I was looking for this pulse like variation…??

  5. As a reference, prior to “The Blob” (which started forming in 2013) and the 2014/15 El Niñito, the satellite-enhanced sea surface temperatures for the entire East Pacific Ocean, from pole to pole, showed little to no warming for more than 30 years.
    https://bobtisdale.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/reynolds-oi-v2-east-pac-ssta-thru-2012.png
    Now consider that the East Pacific region shown above covers about 33% of the surface of the global oceans.
    Just in case you’re wondering about the long-term sea surface temperatures for the Midriff of the Gulf of California (29N-30N, 114W-113W), there are few ship and buoys samples.
    http://climexp.knmi.nl/ps2pdf.cgi?file=data/icoads_sst_-114–113E_29-30N_n_0p.eps.gz
    Velarde et al. (2015) had to have used satellite-based data.

    • And so it goes. I think I am right in saying that the ‘eating fat causes fat’ issues relates to two studies during the 1950s, and (worse) the ‘salt causes hypertension’ issue relates to one study that was poorly carried out with just six patients by a GP. I even wonder sometimes about carbohydrates. I know a woman with mental issues who only eats (well, virtually) ‘jacket’ potatoes…and she is as thin as a rake. Yet everyone keeps telling me to give up carbohydrates to slim! I went on a low-carb diet and lost three pounds in the first week, nothing in the second week, and put on a pound in the third. I gave up…and lost two pounds!

      • You obviously did not cut back on your food intake as normally happens with the Atkins diet. I went from 209 pounds to 154 pounds in a year on that diet and it transformed my life at age 68 (I am a very active 71, now). I agree with you about phony medical studies, however. If anybody out there is taking statin drugs and you are over 70, you are poisoning yourself. Do your own research using Google. You are robbing your brain and your body of valuable and needed hormones as a side effect.
        I question all new studies in any field now (guess that makes me a skeptic) as to their accuracy and value. First we had the military-industrial complex, then the medical-industrial complex, and now the CAGW religious-industrial complex. All have produced studies like the one above of dubious conclusions, while the mainstream media runs with them in support of the latest scare being touted.
        In the case of cholesterol, late studies are now saying that your levels (mine can hit 260) don’t mean anything. Reviews of past studies show manipulation of data and unsupported conclusions on the order we see today in so many Warmist studies and papers. Climate science isn’t the only field where we are seeing so much data manipulation and bad studies.
        If my diatribe seems a little off topic, I feel the need to point out that science across all disciplines is in bad shape and that that can lead to having an affect on our personal lives. Decisions are being made based on bad or purposely misrepresented studies by many departments of government. It is estimated that 20 percent of those taking statins are having bad side effects, some of which are permanent. The number could even be higher.

      • Yes you are right the fat causes fat was initiated by a study by ‘Keys’ then reinforced by Congressional dietary advice. Read ‘Good Calories Bad Calories’ and you will never trust an edict on what to eat from ‘nutritionists’ again but it will change your eating habits. The incorrect advice to avoid fat and high cholesterol foods, lower blood cholesterol and eat carbohydrates is what has led to the rise in obesity and diabetes and probably cases of cancer and senility.

      • @Ian – I would also add loss of mobility due to the destruction of joints and muscles in the case of statins. Any time I see someone my age using a walker or powered chair I want to ask them if they are taking statins. My doctor tried to get me to take one of the commonly available drugs for cholesterol. I lasted a week because my joints began to ache horribly. It took two months before the pain finally stopped. I spent some of that time researching side effects and discovered a horror story.

      • Widespread beliefs on nutrition are a very good example of how easily the public is misled. Heart disease is a scourge that kills more people than cancer yet we have a “diet industry” that profits by spreading misinformation to sell frozen and other processed foods and nutritional products that almost certainly do far more harm than good.
        Anecdotally, not one person that I know who has gone on the “Atkin’s Diet” or any other high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diets has kept the weight off long term. Many have caused themselves serious health problems up to and including death. If you are an overweight or obese middle aged man you shouldn’t be playing games with your heart by following nutritional advice originating from New York advertising agencies. One would think that common sense would eventually prevail in this area but unfortunately so far that is not the case.

      • Jim Cooley’s Ghost – what you experienced is to be expected on a low carb diet. The weight you lose in the first couple of weeks is mostly water weight and most people put some of it back on in weeks 3 and 4. I suspect you didn’t read Dr. Atkins’ book since he covers this. It sounds like your body was cruising through the Induction phase faster than most people. If you had hung in there a couple more weeks I’d be willing to be you would’ve seen the weight start coming off permanently.

  6. Our family consumption of sardines changed when the supermarket chain produced its inferior house brand. While I am not suggesting that these birds are as discriminatory as we are, I am suggesting that there are so many difficult variables in this study that the combined effect of their errors, properly calculated, could well exceed the effects being claimed. That would make it of doubtful value.

  7. Well you see Bob, they used the magic word ‘possibly’. That gives the media license to insert pretty much anything they want after the ‘possibly’ and, when pressured, they’ll simply say “well, I did say ‘possibly'” so I didn’t lie or claim something that was untrue.
    Unfortunately readers (or people with a pre-existing bias to see ‘Climate Change, Global Warming, whatever’ will mentally skip right over the ‘possibly’ and zero in on what they want to see. The author could just as easily stated ‘possibly as a result of an oncoming alien invasion’ and it would be equally valid. Conspiracy theorists do this all the time.

    • Another is ” Some say” As in some say eating beans causes climate change. It usually means the reporter thinks that’s the case.

    • ‘possibly’ and ‘based on IPCC climate model predictions’ are probably the most important terms in all UCSB climate research I’ve read in the last 3 years.

      • “Is not inconsistent with” may be my all time favorite, although there are several runners up and a whole laundry list deserving (dis)honorable mention.
        The science of equivocation is strong in this group…the warmistas.
        If you eliminated all “maybe” words from their lexicon, they would have a difficult time saying much of anything.

  8. How often do we see this happen—a press release about a scientific study states or suggests that global warming was the cause of a factor being studied, when the paper itself doesn’t come to that conclusion…and/or the data contradict it?
    Are any of these a proper scientific answer:
    Usually
    Mostly
    Almost Always
    Does the Pope exhale CO2?

  9. I, too, would point out that Figure 1 says Gulf of Mexico which I swam in as a child and teenager up and down the Texas coastline. Obviously, you meant Gulf of California, which starts 32 miles south of where I am writing this in Yuma, Arizona. During the winter we see a lot of sea birds nesting just north of here on the Colorado River. It was quite a shock for me to look up at a formation of Pelicans flying overhead when I first moved here in November, 1989. I shall keep an eye out in the future for this interesting looking bird among the varieties of Herons and Cranes and other birds that nest here.

    • BTW, the SST anomaly map has been showing that the Gulf of California is up to 6 degrees higher than is normal. I find myself wondering if geothermal activity along both coasts is also higher than normal as a contributing factor.

      • There is a geothermal energy complex in the Salton Sea, just north of the northern tip of the Gulf of California – it’s sited on a dormant volcano.

      • @bobburband – Visited there and the one at Holtville, CA, many times. There are also documented hot springs along the Gulf of California, also, and a mud pot volcano a little ways into Mexico from Yuma, AZ. The entire region is not exactly geologically stable.

    • I heard of a fellow from that town who decided later to get into the counterfeiting trade. He was a metalsmith, and figured out, oddly, that he would be better off with coins rather than bills.
      Having an abundance of copper, he created counterfeit pennies and began putting them in circulation. But not only was the economic approach flawed, so were the pennies themselves … leading to his arrest.
      They hung him for his strange cents of Yuma.¹
      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
      ¹ I’ve been told that something like this might happen to me.

  10. Sea-level warming?
    Sounds like they got their alarmist talking points all scrambled up in a mish-mash. Since they do not know what they are talking about, they have a hard time writing about it coherently.
    This is so dumb it is almost funny. Or it would be, if this nonsense was not being used to frighten innocent children with no ability to think critically and dismiss such alarmist propaganda for what it is.

  11. It seems the culprit is Iqbal Pittalwala, a public affairs writer for UC-Riverside. His job is to summarize scientific findings by UC-R researchers to make them more understandable to the public and press, but not to speculate or editorialize. As stated by above, most journalists are not going to bother reading the actual paper to verify the press release. It is an ethical imperative for university press offices not to embellish. A complaint should be sent to Mr. Pittalwala and his office and give them an opportunity to issue a correction. This, of course, would still be too late as none of those who’ve run stories based on the release will issue the correction.

    • Mumbles McGuirck: “It seems the culprit is Iqbal Pittalwala, a public affairs writer for UC-Riverside. His job is to summarize scientific findings”
      No, his job (in the sense of why his employer budgets money to pay him) is to get UC-Riverside’s name splashed across the media as much as possible. He has succeeded nicely and is probably in line for a raise. Welcome to the 21st century, in which university administrators are more concerned with branding than with the quality of teaching and research at their institutions, let alone insignificant little things, like truth.

      • Well that’s all the more reason for Mr. Tisdale to file a complaint. Make it uncomfortable for them to approve splashy (but sloppy) work. It’s embarrassing to be caught out and more work for them to issue a correction. They will continue to do it if’n no one slaps their wrists.

  12. The alarmists’ wordsmiths have come up with another clever phrase to get the Guardian readership tut tutting:
    ‘Their (the birds) ancestral breeding grounds’.
    This subtle connotation of this phrase Is that the birds have some sort of reverence for their ancestors and to drive them away is interfering with their Faith.
    Far more emotive than ‘Their traditional breeding grounds’.

  13. I recall seeing recently a paper that looked into public perceptions about science. One of the conclusions was that the public gets a very skewed view of the science when a press release is the major driver of the news coverage. I wish I could remember more about that paper. o.O

  14. Our results show that terns are…..not stupid and capable of learning and adapting
    What idiots…they think birds are so stupid they are going to stay in one place and die

    • “they think birds are so stupid they are going to stay in one place and die” – that’s WWF’s non-extinction criteria. If a species eats all of the fruit or bugs or whatever in one spot and migrates 50′, it’s history.

  15. I think a reasonable conclusion is that these birds are very good at finding where the best food sources are to be found, and respond accordingly.
    But like many alarmist screeds, the imication is made that anything that changes is a disaster.
    I doubt if terns are sentimental about “their ancestral nesting grounds”, preferring instead to go where the getting is good.

  16. What a surprise. Animals, fish, birds and insects migrate and have done so throughout millennia without the need for political rationalisation from mankind.

  17. The following got my attention:
    “ … and moving into highly transformed industrial landscapes …”

    • They learned that trick by watching seagulls move their “ancestral” breeding grounds to landfills, 1000 miles inland.

      • Actually, that is just a smarty comment and doesn’t reflect the true nature of Gulls, with some species likely present in inland North America, long before we got here.

    • Like all the seagulls flocking over the Sierra Nevadas to Mono Lake, California where the gorge themselves on the annual massing if shore flies. Billions of flies.

  18. Following the post-modern lead of the IPCC, whose summary for policy makers didn’t fit its science, such as that was.

  19. Thanks Bob. This really does get to the nub of much of the CAGW scaremongering. It is a confected concensus of ~ 97% of press releases that is used to establish the scare campaign which is quite distinct from the science. It is the John Cook’s and Naomi Oreskes of the world who are responsible for the ebola like spread of CAGW.

  20. Only in this heightened political environment could a report about a greatly increasing population of birds following their food source leave one thinking the birds in question were actually on the brink of extinction.

  21. Ecology is a dead end science. Presumably there is some point at which the “sweet spot” is arrived at where the planet is forever in a steady state of oscillating dynamic equilibrium around islands of climax community steady state. There is no room, actually, for evolution in the environmentalists world view. So chase those terns back where they belong and stop harvesting sardines! By all means don’t pollute the atmosphere with life giving gases it will have an effect like a 5 mile wide asteroid hitting the planet!

  22. What I cannot understand how people keep churning out this cr@p, when everyone, including the warmists agree, that there has been no warming for 18.5 years. Logically any contemporaneous study carried out in the last few years must be wrong!

  23. How often do we see this happen, about has often as see the authors of the papers totally fail to correct the press statement , as they know that such statements are ‘useful’ in so many career enhancing and grant farming ways.

  24. Can definitely see the ENSO signal but something long term is lowering the RMS value.

  25. Sounds like the birds didn’t leave their ancestral breeding grounds, even with higher water temps, before positive conservation efforts increased their numbers. Maybe at their lower numbers, a deeper thermocline didn’t matter, there were still enough fish.
    But if you have increased fishing pressure, and increased numbers of nesting terns, then there isn’t enough food.
    So it is the combination of overfishing, increased numbers of terns, and a steeper thermocline (decreasing fish availability) that leads to migration to S California locations. Success story for elegant terns, not so much for sardines.

  26. “…the exponential increase in the Isla Rasa colony in particular seems to be pushing reproductive pairs onto new nesting grounds in California.”
    ————
    Yay for them reproductive pairs – one good tern deserves another.

    • I believe “reproductive pair,” formerly known as a “marriage,” has been recently redefined. No doubt the birds’ behaviour will soon evolve to conform to the new, enlightened and politically correct meme.

  27. One important piece of this puzzle was the observation in the abstract that the number of birds has risen sharply.
    (i) The success of conservation measures in the tern’s nesting grounds both in Mexico and California has allowed an increased population growth of the species, and the exponential increase in the Isla Rasa colony in particular seems to be pushing reproductive pairs onto new nesting grounds in California.
    So, the conditions in the Gulf of California are so bad that the total population has exploded and the habitat will not support, not the original population, but the increased population. If the conclusions were honestly reached, they would have said that the warmer waters have produced such good conditions that the total habitat for nesting pairs had to be increased to accommodate the increased populations.
    But that conclusion wouldn’t pay the bills, and certainly wouldn’t pay for the raises, upgrades and extras that all the public trough seem to want as a natural right.
    pbh

  28. Excellent catch Bob. You should send your analysis to the University of Riverside and suggest they retract the press release.

  29. In the bizarro world of climate change where flawed computer models are called settled science anything is possible. The stories keep getting wilder and wilder as we approach the 2016 elections in the US. If a conservative president is elected and I think this will happen. The message to NOAA will be, “grab your lug nuts it’s time for an overhaul”.

    • That message has already been sent by the Republican Congress. The latest budget agreed upon by both Houses moves money away from climate studies and into weather research. Of course, the Dems are threatening a filibuster. We wouldn’t want to pass an actual budget, now would we??

  30. The paper notes that the terns were found on Isla Montague at the Colorado Delta during el Ninos of 1992 and 1998. Those years were unique in that exceptional precipitation allowed the Colorado to flow to the Gulf as it did 70+ years ago before all the water was diverted. Those terns may have been paying a visit to their ancestral homeland for a glimpse of the way things were.
    Perhaps the diversion of the Colorado River had an effect on upwelling in the gulf.

    The [Colorado River delta] marshes were once a primary stopover habitat for millions of birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway. Today the decline in wetland habitat has forced many migratory birds to use alternative water sources, including agricultural waste ponds and the Salton Sea, that favor the spread of avian disease and result in increased bird mortality…
    Before the dams so much fresh water flowed down the river that the tidal estuary extended an estimated 25 miles (40 km) into the northern Gulf of California…With those flows gone, the estuarine environment is becoming increasingly saline, threatening many of the species that inhabit the gulf region including the endangered totoaba, a large relative of the white sea bass, and the vaquita harbor porpoise, one of the rarest mammals in the world.
    http://www.biol.wwu.edu/trent/alles/TheDelta.pdf

  31. Ha! They caught nature adapting to change. What – did they think the birds would just sit and die?

  32. It’s the “climate change communicators” doing their job. Their Fascist propagantist heroes would be proud.

  33. Globally warming oceans?
    How exactly do warming oceans on the other side of the world cause sea birds in CA to migrate to new locations?

  34. The Conclusion of a Press Release Should Match the Scientific Study, Don’t Ya Think?
    Well, why should it when we see that the conclusions of so many “scientific” climate studies don’t match their data?
    “Man is the measure of all things” — Protagorus. In American Progressivism the Truth is whatever the Superman says.
    Eugene WR Gallun

  35. Now that would be a good title for a book about American Progressivism —
    WAITING FOR THE SUPERMAN.
    Eugene WR Gallun

  36. Also, in Oklahoma it has caused the Cedar Waxwing to extend its stay and the Western Kingbird to move eastward. I’m pretty sure that’s the cause. I know it’s not the fine particulate matter from fireworks.

  37. Don’t expect the press to get anything right or do the right thing. Their mode of operation is ‘we decide the news and the worse it is, the better the sales.’

  38. Just reading a book, entirely unrelated in topic, where the author describes a job he once had writing abstracts of scientific papers, for one of the first on-line suppliers of such things. He was given a daily quota, and a schematic on “how” to write abstracts, and his quota steadily increased as he continued work there. The quota system did not give him any time to genuinely understand the papers he was to “abstract”, and many of them (if not most) were so far from his background that he would have needed at least one college course just to get the (genuine) gist. For that matter, the “schematic” on how to write abstracts was purely mechanical, wholly divorced from the content of any given paper.
    (fwiw, his book is not about this job as such)
    I don’t know if press releases are handled similarly.

  39. Perhaps journalism should be treated like medicine and required to practice ‘evidence-based journalism’? 50%+ would lose their jobs overnight!!

  40. Not being flippant or anything, just gratified by the fact that there is such a thing as an Elegant Tern.

  41. I learned this lesson back in the late 1980s. I had a dream job that tasked me with reading scientific literature looking for anything that could have a profound effect on the large corporation I worked for. Anything was fair game, from technology breakthroughs to health issues.
    At the time, the AIDS epidemic was on the front page. One study I read indicate the number of new female cases locally had taken a jump over a period of a week. The numbers were small, going from something like six in one week to nine the next. The (CDC?) study explained that the increasing awareness of AIDS among medical professionals, and actively looking for it, led to the jump.
    I was stunned when I read how it was finally reported in the newspaper. No actual numbers were given, nor the explanation for the increase. Instead, they reported that the number of cases had increased 50% in one week, and at that rate, the disease would overwhelm the entire female population of the US in less than one year!
    That was about the same time that personalities such as Oprah Winfrey were warning that 20% of heterosexuals in the US would be dead within three years from the epidemic.
    For those who do not remember or were not around at the time, politics and personal agendas created the AIDS scare, though you won’t see much of a explanation why all the predictions were wrong. At the time, C. Everett Koop was the U.S. Surgeon General. He was a conservative, pushing monogamy in marriage or abstinence. The gay community, which was (is) at serious risk, wanted huge government funding for a cure and a vaccine. Newspapers, of course, wanted sensational headlines. They had no need for conclusion to realize that each could advance their agenda by supporting the scare. Not so surprisingly, few of those on the receiving end of the grants objected to how their studies were twisted by others, or if they did, it never got published. For those who do remember those years, have you ever seen an explanation for why the epidemic never materialized, or hear an apology from the fearmongers claiming the end of civilization was at hand?
    From that time on, I’ve only trusted my own interpretation of the original research, or the conclusions of a small number of trusted sources, most of whom publish on this site.

  42. The Elegant Terns have done well in a changing environment. I hope someone spares a thought for the Inelegant Terns. Ugly, ignored, friendless, wallflowers of the avian world.
    Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

  43. Gosh, so the Elegant Tern birds have become smart? That’s why species tend to survive.
    Some venture and succeed, others follow (as birds tend to flock), and those who venture have greater reproductive success.
    Other apparent cases of populations shifting are robins showing up further north, as they were circa the 1940s when the Arctic was in a warm period, and Shad fish showing up in the Fraser River estuary this spring.
    An example of a population with some adventurous members is Gray Whales. Those Darwin Candidates only feed in the Bering Sea, which is ice clogged some years. But a few hundred feed off of the BC coast, and a few thousand skip the commute and stay off of the OR coast. The species will survive.

  44. A common problem in research reports is possibilities are identified in discussion but not in Conclusions, eco-activists jump on the possibilities not what researchers stand behind as conclusions.
    I’ve also seen Conclusion sections that are too short – perhaps rushed, or too verbose.
    And in one almost hilarious case eco-activists were flapping about a study showing that huge amount of farmland that would be flooded by the site C hydro-electric dam on the Peace River in NE BC. Except….the Conclusion of the report stated that the analysis was wrong, a simple look on the ground showed that there was little low farmland north of the river whereas the analysis said there was. But researchers didn’t have any more money to figure out why the erroneous result.
    Is the behaviour of eco-activists irresponsible incompetence or dishonesty?

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