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.