The Nature Problem

James Annan has had several posts that were spot on over the past year (see here and here) about what I call “the Nature problem” – scientific results that get hyped all out of proportion because they appear in Nature.

My favorite case in point is the paper in Nature last year by Bryden et al. suggesting that the thermohaline circulation is slowing. It’s an interesting result, but by no means dispositive. But because it’s a dramatic headline-grabber – Europe Headed for Deep Freeze! – it makes it into Nature and into the newspapers.

Compare that with the coverage (or lack thereof, as I could find no coverage) of Latif et al., which recently appeared in the Journal of Climate. I’ve no expertise to judge, but it looks like a solid piece of work:

Indications of a sustained THC weakening are not seen during the last few decades. Instead, a strengthening since the 1980s is observed.

So to review: scary “Europe headed for deep freeze” conclusion, Nature, boffo headlines. Unscary “Europe not headed for deep freeze” conclusion, Journal of Climate, no boffo headlines.

One Comment

  1. So “Nature” is the NYTimes of the scientific world?

    Does this mean that to counter it soon Roger Ailes will launch a sensational journal based on the “FOX News” model, with little actual journalism and lots of fire-breathing right-wing hosts? That’ll be fun. I can’t wait.

    (By the way, John, let me thank you again for tipping me to two separate scientific studies I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise, which made it into two separate stories I wrote…I would have thanked you via email, but I can’t seem to find the address on the site…)

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