Ethics and journalism

There’s an article in the Financial Post today titled, “Arctic sea ice back to 1989 levels, now exceeds previous decade“. The author is Lawrence Solomon and he goes on to say that arctic sea ice is higher today than on April 14th, 2013. He ends his article with, “The only evident trend in the ice, as in the weather, is variability”. How accurate is this report?

I went to woodfortrees.org to plot the data for myself. The data comes from the National Snow & Ice Data Center which gets information from the satellite imagery which began in 1979.

If I graph the Arctic sea ice index on the y-axis (See NSIDC for definition) using April 1989 as my starting point, here’s the result:

from-1989

Yes, I can see that the starting point is lower than the ending point, thereby making truthful the statement that there is more sea ice in April 2013 than in the same month in 1989, but is this a misrepresentation of the facts? I also took the liberty of graphing the amount of sea ice since records began. My graph includes the trend, which is clearly downwards. The blue line represents the trend from the date Lawrence Solomon has chosen which is also downwards.

1989

If we draw a line directly (purple line in the graph below) from the two dates he has chosen, it becomes obvious that those dates have been specifically selected to support a biased point of view and are not an accurate reflection of the truth which is that Arctic sea ice is declining over time.

trend-1

Is it ethical to do this? The International Federation of Journalists provides a declaration of principles online and right at the top is: “respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist”.

Put your hands up if you think Lawrence Solomon and the Financial Post have acted unethically in this example? My hand is in the air.

5 thoughts on “Ethics and journalism

  1. I also had a look at the graph. What you say is true but it is important to compare the ice depth at the same time each year as it varies seasonally. If one should run a line from the top of the graph point in 1989 to the top of graph point in 2013 it is almost a straight line i.e there is little difference. However, if you do the same for the lowest points reached in those years there is clearly a significant decline so what you say is true. As we all know, there are lies, made lies and statistics and the media don’t care for the facts.

  2. I think you should be applying for a job on media watch! It’s funny, I was just having a conversation today about media bias and the decline in journo ethics…. Does any media outlet even pretend to attempt an unbiased report?

    1. I want to know that I can read an article in the newspaper without feeling like I need to go and verify it for myself. Isn’t that what the journalist is supposed to do?

    1. George Monbiot is extremely scrupulous. He even publishes a full disclosure of his sources of income for all to read – http://www.monbiot.com/registry-of-interests/ – and urges other journalists to do so. It’s very easy to verify what he writes because he provides references.

      It’s fun watching him debate people. There are quite a few debates on youtube – with David Bellamy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eOFYAg_DPw
      Ian Plimer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEsygjXunTs
      Helen Caldicott – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8p0d05M5JpY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s