If They Could Do Math, They Wouldn't Have Been Journalism Majors

Further proof that no one in the media is capable of even the simplest reality-checks when it comes to publishing numbers they get from activist press releases.  This whole concept below is a howler (the idea is that global warming causes volcanoes) but it is the last paragraph that really caught my eye:

So much ice in Iceland has melted in the past century that the pressure on the
land beneath has lessened, which allows more of the rock deep in the ground
to turn to magma. Until the ice melted, the pressure was so intense that the
rock remained solid.

Carolina Pagli, of the University of Leeds, led research which calculated that
over the past century the production of magma had increased by 10 per cent.

The research team, reporting their findings in the journal Geophysical
Research Letters
, said an extra 1.4 cu km of magma has been created
under the Vatnajökull ice-cap in the past 100 years.

Since 1890 the ice-cap has lost 10 per cent of its mass, which has allowed the
land to rise by up to 25m (82ft) a year. The volume lost between 1890 and
2003 is estimated at 435 cu km.

Leaving aside cause and effect (e.g. does ice cap melting cause more hot stuff in the ground or does more hot stuff in the ground melt ice), consider the statement that the ground has risen under the ice cap by 82 feet per year for 118 years.  This gives us a rise in the land of 9,676 feet after just 10% of the ice mass has supposedly melted.  Note that this is an enormous, totally non-sensical value.  It implies that a full melting of the ice might increase the land height by 10x this amount, or nearly 100,000 feet  (airplanes stay away!!)  As another check, 9,676 is more than the entire depth of the Iceland ice sheet (it is about the same as what scientists think the Greenland ice sheet depth is).  Another way of looking at this is this is about 1/8-inch land surface rise PER HOUR for the last century. 

I am not sure how any writer or editor on the planet could look at "82 feet a year for 118 years" and not smell a rat.

  • http://counterblasted.blogspot.com Ari

    "consider the statement that the ground has risen under the ice cap by 82 feet per year for 118 years."

    It clearly does not say that. It says "Since 1890 the ice-cap has lost 10 per cent of its mass, which has allowed the land to rise by up to 25m (82ft) a year." Even if in only one part of Iceland in only one year the land had risen 82ft, while in other parts of Iceland and in all other years the land had only risen 1 foot, the statement would be literally true.

  • Anon

    Call the writing bad, if you want to, but it clearly says "up to". So, if in just one year, there was a rapid rise, then that suffices.

    Furthermore, why does Coyote believe the relationship between height and pressure should be linear?

  • brotherStefan

    > Furthermore, why does Coyote believe the relationship between height and pressure should be linear?

    Maybe because for relatively small increments, it is. How do you think a bathroom scale works?

  • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

    What are you gonna believe - them, or your lying eyes?

    Man, you gotta BELIEVE! You've gotta BELIEVE in the Church of Global Warming! AlGore's the Man! The Man who's gonna SAVE us! But you Gotta BELIEVE!

    Do I hear a "GAIA!"? Come on! Give me a "GAIA!", or she's gonna melt the icecaps and wash your asses away! You ever see a donkey swim? You don't want that, believe me!

    /televangelist

    Seriously - have you ever noticed how a lot of folks are not at all critical about this global warming stuff? Hey, I'm a believer in it - but it took a lot of convincing, and one of the things I found is that it's not a recent development. If you take a look at William F. Ruddiman's paper on anthropogenic global warming at http://courses.eas.ualberta.ca/eas457/Ruddiman2003.pdf - it's pretty clear that we've been changing the climate since about 6000 BC. Which is a good thing - otherwise we'd be up to our eyebrows in an ice age at this point in the climate cycle. (See page 3, figure 1.)

    But for some - this has ALL the trappings of a religion. You have prophets. You have folks who interpret the 'scriptures'. You have sin, and you have penances for that sin. You can buy absolution. And you dare not question it, or you'll be accused of heresey.

    Journalists have pretty much no scientific background. They'll report darn near anything that'll get them eyeballs on a page or viewers on a screen. The worse the better, too - because good news doesn't get viewers like bad news does.

  • Troll Feeder

    Ari and Anon:

    Nonsense. By your "logic," the author may just as well have said "...by a million kajillion feet per year," even though he knew the rise was only a few inches(just to pick a number). The statement would be factually correct, but utterly misleading. Hades, the land could have sunk, and the statement would still be correct.

    The author used a specific number (82 feet per year) over a specific time (118 years) to given a specific impression of the evil that we have done and beclowned himself in the process.

  • mishu

    Well, if it was "up to" 82 feet per year, which year(s) did it happen? Wouldn't it be a significant event to report when it happened? Where was the press then?

  • http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com M. Simon

    I believe in global warming.

    I fear global cooling.

    But most of all I fear politicians fookin with our economy.

  • Max

    82 feet per year

    Is this perhaps a major seismic event that they are referring to? - how often did the land in any region of the ice cap rise by this amount in a single year?

  • Frederick Davies

    /comic hat on

    AGW is supposed to produce a sea-level rise of several feet, but if is also going to raise the ground by several feet as well, then we will all be alright, wouldn't we?

    /comic hat off

    Seriously, how stupid do they think we are!? Global Warming is starting to turn into a circus.

  • diz

    I can't believe a commenter is defending 82 ft per year as being reasonable.

    My guess would be it was supposed to be 25mm not 25m.

    Even that's pretty quick in geologic time.

  • George Weinberg

    The article actually gives the increase in the volume of magma: 1.4 cubic km.
    Iceland has an area of about 100,000 square km, volume = area x height, so I get an average height increase of 1.4 cm.

  • Anon

    > Furthermore, why does Coyote believe the relationship between height and pressure should be linear?

    Maybe because for relatively small increments, it is. How do you think a bathroom scale works?

    First, how do you know the earth's crust behaves according to Hooke's Law under the pressures in question? Second, suggest why you think that extrapolating out to a 100% of the ice mass is a "relatively small increment"? Remember here that it is Coyote who is doing the extrapolation, so it is up to him to justify it, not me.

    Nonsense. By your "logic," the author may just as well have said "...by a million kajillion feet per year," even though he knew the rise was only a few inches(just to pick a number). The statement would be factually correct, but utterly misleading.

    Uh, no. Only if there actually was one year where there was a million kajillion feet rise would the statement be factually correct. The understanding here is that "up to" means "maximum". You are interpreting "up to" to mean _any_ upper bound. Suppose a store offered discounts of "up to 30%". You would expect that there were some items at that discount. Like I said, call the writing bad (or even misleading if you want). But Coyote is claiming that it is evidence of mathematical illiteracy.

    Come on people, get a grip. There's plenty of real examples of journalistic mathematical illiteracy without resorting to grasping at straws. You are nit-picking at one minor sentence in one minor MSM article by one minor journalist about one minor academic paper. Attack AGW all you want, but please do a better job of it.

  • http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2008/04/if-they-could-d.html tallman

    The bottom line is still right - Journalists don't understand numbers.

  • bobby B

    "Even if in only one part of Iceland in only one year the land had risen 82ft, while in other parts of Iceland and in all other years the land had only risen 1 foot, the statement would be literally true."

    Is that, then, the threshhold one must meet as a journalist? Not to accurately convey information - not to present honest depictions of the facts so that we might decide what those facts mean to us - but to advocate intellectually dishonest partisan positions using supporting statements that are only "literally true"?

    I note that "literally true" is a phrase that's only used when the shorter, simpler "true" won't quite suffice. Perhaps if you're a jouro who's satisfied with having "the appearance of honor" instead of actual "honor", it's enough. To me, though, it makes you a hack.

  • agesilaus

    Well I went to the Geophysical Research Letters site and searched for Pagli and got zero hits. Has anyone seen this article? It must have been older than the articles maintained on that website.

  • L Nettles

    More math folies

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,347850,00.html

    A 26-year-old British woman whose weight reportedly dropped to about 27 pounds after she walked up to 12 hours a day is finally gaining weight, according to London's Daily Mail.

    Lauren Baily obsessively walked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in an effort to lose more weight. By 2006, Baily’s weight was that of an average five-year-old, the Daily Mail reported.

    Turns out her weight was given as 3 stone which is 42 lbs but still an amazing number.