Friday, April 6, 2012

One Example of How Media Reporting of Howarth Study Misleads Good People

Last night offered me another vivid example of how damaging to public understanding is the combination of huge media coverage of Prof. Howarth's 2011 study and the near lack of coverage for the 5 subsequent studies that debunk it. I was participating in a panel discussion about sustainability and energy choices at Montgomery County Community College, near Philadelphia, when a panelist who is a geologist and well meaning referenced the Howarth study, and took out the NYT gas reporter's significant story reporting on it.

Not too surprisingly, given that the Howarth study got a tsunami of press coverage and the subsequent studies debunking it received little or no ink, the panelist was unaware of the debunking studies such as those from Carnegie Mellon University, the Cathales' paper (the other Cornell University study), and the Worldwatch Institute.

This example also underlines the influence of the NYT and its gas reporter.  From Boston to Washington DC, the NYT shapes opinion.

My co-panelist was genuinely surprised and gracious when I noted the existence of the multiple papers that conflicted with Howarth.  He was glad to have the information. Had I not been there, one more audience would have been mislead about the state of the science.

But last night was another example of how Howarth, the NYT, and the lack of coverage of conflicting studies  mislead good people.


  1. Concerned ScientistApril 6, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    Yup it's become conventional wisdom for many.

    Our friend Abrahm Lustgarten could help build the middle ground by doing a story on all of the other papers that found that gas emits half the GHGs per unit of energy. It would also be helpful if he could point out that in a deeply dishonest move Howarth chose to stop his analysis pre-combustion and that combustion is where gas is way better than coal.

  2. Do you have links to the other studies?

  3. See the postings in August 2011 and November for some of them. The CMU study financed partially by the Sierra Club was published is in the August postings, as is the Worldwatch Institute study. Cornell Professor Cathales first paper is in the November postings. He published a second paper in 2012. Search the blog using NETL and you will find the NETL paper. The University of Maryland and IHS consultancy have also issued papers about which I blog.

  4. Concerned ScientistApril 9, 2012 at 6:25 AM

    This has links to a lot of the papers debunking Howarth

    This page has links from Andy Revkin to the Cathles criticisms of Howarth et al -

    Revkin says "But, again, the notion that gas holds no advantage over coal, in weighing the climate implications of energy choices, is fading fast (to my reading of the science and that of many others)."

  5. The lie got a huge lead on the truth. Perhaps the truth will catch the lie.