Yesterday, the New York Times ran an excellent cover story on sea level rise, together with two full pages inside the paper, fancy graphs and great photographs (online version here). The author, Justin Gillis, researched the piece for months, visited Greenland and talked to most of the leading scientists in the field – many of which he cites in the article. The science presented is correct and up-to-date and the story is a gripping read. That’s how science journalism should be!
In the area of sea level rise, science has moved along quite a bit since the last IPCC report was published in 2007 (see for example my commentary at Nature together with that of Jason Lowe and Jonathan Gregory), and Gillis shows that most of the experts now assume a considerably higher rise until 2100 than IPCC: about one meter, potentially even more. I also had to change my position on this – only a few years ago I assumed lower values, too (see for example our book Our Threatened Oceans). By now, several US states use our projections for coastal planning (e.g. California, North Carolina) and Obama’s science adviser John Holdren shows them in his presentations.
Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of journalists that reported on our work, but seldom was the cooperation so professional and the result so convincing as with Gillis. It is an example for how professional journalism can prove its advantage over the growing competition by blogs – few bloggers could afford such in-depth research to give a broad overview of the state-of-the-art of a particular scientific issue. This is on a completely different level than the standard quickly-cobbled-together pieces based on a press release by Science or Nature, which are so hilariously spoofed by Martin Robbins (who made me laugh out loud).
Naturally, every journalist would love to do a big story like Gillis – it’s up to the editors to grant them time and travel expenses for such a project, and then two pages of the paper. Kudos to the New York Times for making this possible even in times of tight budgets!