Are Forbes articles peer-reviewed

Climate Feedback: Scientists rate journalists

If journalists report incorrectly or incompletely, readers have few options to react: They can write a letter to the editor, call the editorial office or post their opinions and corrections online under the article. But a number of online media are in the process of restricting their comment functions - the tone of voice in social media is no longer acceptable, according to a survey by the industry magazine, according to many publishers journalist. The English-language online platform "Climate Feedback" has been offering a new way of commenting on media reports since March 2015. A selection of climate scientists regularly comment on and rate articles on climate change there - a kind of retrospective peer review. The researchers here do not analyze the work of their specialist colleagues, but that of journalists.

The idea for the project came up a year ago from climate scientist Emmanuel Vincent of the University of California: "I was often very frustrated with climate reporting, but had no effective way of sharing my comments with others," explains Vincent. "On the other hand, I have noticed that many of my friends were confused by the different reports on climate change. And I have noticed that they benefit from my comments, that they are grateful for a classification and evaluation."

"Climate Feedback" rates media reports on a scale from +2 to -2

This service for friends has now become a community of more than a hundred commenting scientists - both from the USA and from abroad (for example from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute or the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, PIK). The project title is a play on words: The English "Feedback" (in German: "Rückkopplung") means both "Feedback" and "Rückkopplung" - and the term "Climate Feedback" is used by experts to describe various feedbacks in the climate system that either intensify or increase climate change can weaken.

In the first year of its existence, the project has already analyzed 24 articles - and this is how it works: "Climate Feedback" selects one contribution, for example a text on Arctic sea ice from the UK Daily Telegraph dated July 25, 2015. In it, columnist Christopher Booker claims there is an increase in the amount of ice at the North and South Poles, refuting warnings of global warming. The experts' judgment on the scientific correctness of this article: -2 on a scale of +2 to -2. So it doesn't get any worse.

To an article in Daily Telegraph (left) the evaluation of the scientists from Climate Feedback (right in the box) was: "Scientific reliability -2, very low"; Figure: climatefeedback.org

There is a brief rationale for the verdict: "This article contains significant scientific inaccuracies. It uses anecdotal claims as evidence, tries to refute the long-term trend with annual ice changes, and is based on a cherry-picking selection of information to reach its conclusion." In order to make the judgment transparent, the individual reports of the participating scientists can be read on the project website.

Software allows the original text and comments to be read in parallel

The special feature of the project is revealed when you click on the note: "See all the scientists' comments in context". The entire article will then open in the original layout in a new browser window - and passages on which the experts have commented are marked in yellow. If you click on the corresponding passage there, the respective comment opens in a separate window to the right of the main text. It explains, for example, why individual claims are unfounded or which specialist literature examines the topic in more detail. If, for example, the Booker text claims that data from the European Space Agency ESA showed a drastic increase in ice volume at the North Pole - then the corresponding note from the ESA press release on exactly these data cites the indication that the increase is a short-term phenomenon and nothing changes in long-term ice shrinkage. In 17 comments from eight recognized experts, the article is conservative telegraph- Columnists so dissected point by point.

This clear commenting is made possible by the freely usable software Hypothes.is - it works like a kind of foil that can be placed over any web content and labeled with comments. The content to be commented only has to be accessed via the Hypothes.is website. The handicap: The rated articles are often read by hundreds of thousands of people, the comments by far fewer. "We had a really questionable article in Forbes magazine that generated up to 920,000 clicks - that shows the scale of the problem," says Emmanuel Vincent.

The evaluation process is continuously developed by the researchers. After selecting a contribution, a coordinator asks the expertise of scientists inside and outside the community. Researchers are encouraged to check the facts, suggest sources and literature, and evaluate the contribution as a whole: is it precise, logical, objective?

The one that stands out positively New York Times out, negative that Wall Street Journal

The project doesn't just give bad grades. An article of the The New York Times for example, from January 20, 2016 received a +1.9. He was therefore certified as having a very high scientific reliability. But even in this text by the science editor Justin Gillis about the temperature record year 2015, the experts still found inaccuracies. Where Gillis writes that there has been a "phase of relatively slow warming" (of the earth) since 1998, Professor Eric Guilyardi of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris notes: There may have been a slower rise in temperatures above the surface of the land - but if you also take into account the temperatures of the water in the world's oceans (which absorbs 93 percent of man-made warming), there has been no slowdown in global warming.

Of the 24 articles that the project reviewed in the first year of its existence, eleven received a very good rating. "Scientifically accurate" contributions were particularly common in the New York Times and the Washington Post - negative reviews received that particularly often Wall Street Journal or the business magazine Forbes. Unfortunately, the now large number of article reviews is not really clearly presented, and there is no compilation of the feedback according to individual media, authors or topics, for example.

The project is to be expanded through crowdfunding

In its idea, "Climate Feedback" is similar to the Dortmund project "Media Doctor Environment", which has been in existence for three years and evaluates media contributions on the subject of medicine and the environment. There are predetermined criteria there, both general journalistic and subject-specific. The "Media Doctor Environment" also gives a grade after the analysis: One to five asterisks indicate how serious the article is overall. However, the reviewers here are not experts from science, but other journalists.

The founder of Climate Feedback believes the work is already bearing fruit. "The Daily Telegraph for example, has published our review, "reports Emmanuel Vincent." And a journalist for the magazine Slate came up to us directly so that we could comment on his article on the consequences of climate change. "The idea also seems to be well received by the public: Vincent started a crowdfunding campaign at the end of April 2016 in order to expand the project and put it on a safe footing in the long term asked for 30,000 US dollars - and after just over a week more than half of it was collected.

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