It's getting warm in here
As an alumnus of the Columbia J-school, I opened the inaugural issue of 21stC with great interest. The Metanews item "Global climate change: Which experts are getting warm?" (p. 4) attracted my attention right away, but I was disappointed. Your author, Adrienne C. Brooks, committed the very error that she accuses other journalists of making. She argues that reporters covering global warming tend to quote scientists whom they agree with. To support her point, she quotes Steve Ross as saying that philosophy, not rigorous reporting and cool analysis, often determines what journalists say on the subject. Yet in her story, Brooks quotes only one scientist, David H. Rind, who personally believes that there are still too many outstanding unanswered questions to say whether global warming has begun. Is he the sole repository of wisdom on this subject? Does he have the answer? I think not. No one scientist does. His view is valid, but there are other equally valid views.
Brooks was on the right track at first. Journalists should talk to as many sources as possible when doing a story on such an important and complex subject, but they should not give equal weight to both sides of an issue if, in fact, the balance of scientific opinion weights on one side over another. Reporters should assess where the balance lies and report what they learn to their readers.
New findings in the past year have found specific patterns of change to climate and weather that are difficult to explain in any way other than man-made greenhouse gases. As one previous scientific skeptic says in Shawna Vogel's "Has Global Warming Begun?" (Earth Magazine, Dec./Jan. 1995/96), the evidence gathered so far may not be enough to convince 12 jurors that greenhouse gases are guilty of global climate change beyond a reasonable doubt. But it's certainly enough to convince 10 of them. Do scientific uncertainties remain? Yes. Has the case against man-made greenhouse gases been proved beyond a reasonable doubt? No. Do some scientists still profess skepticism? Absolutely. All that being said, there is no denying that most climate scientists believe global climate change is inevitable, and an increasing number believe that it has probably begun already. Where were these mainstream scientific perspectives in Brooks' article? By leaving them out, I think she perpetuated the misinformation that she eloquently decried.
I believe we journalists must make an attempt to determine how much disagreement exists between scientists on issues like global warming. If opinion appears to be evenly split, then it's entirely justified to give equal weight to the opposing viewpoints. However, if most scientists believe in a certain theory and fewer disagree, then we should not give equal weight to each viewpoint. The skeptics should get time, but not equal time.
Editor, Earth Magazine
We believe Tom Yulsman's letter raises issues deserving a substantive response, and we have enlisted experts on global thermal change and the sociology of science to comment. See this issue's features section for Wallace Broecker's discussion of the greenhouse effect in the light of geologic history and Allan Mazur's meditation on how the related debates bring scientific and social processes to light.
21stC goes underground
I was captivated by your publication [Fall 1995 issue] as I read excerpts of it over the shoulder of a fellow subway rider last night. She was kind enough to forgive my intrusion and gave me the issue when she was finished.
I was so impressed with your publication that I read it from cover to cover.
Congratulations on the launching of what will undoubtedly be a very successful publication. The articles were well presented and provocative. Your magazine was informative and stimulating and piqued my intellectual appetite. As a commuting, working mother, my only exposure to these topics since college has been through infrequent perusals of newspapers, which I gave up reading long ago because they were depressing and sensationalistic. It was so refreshing to read a responsible and informed presentation of sensitive ethical and social issues. Thank you!
Catherine V. Cottitta
Bessemer Partners & Co.
New York, N.Y.
Size isn't all that matters
Keep the large format. Most readers are unaware that the overwhelming conformity in magazine page size is due to the need to fit standardized newsstand display slots. Being subscriber-based,21stC is not bound by this restriction. Its generous size provides a refreshingly roomy feel and allows for a versatility in graphic design not possible with typical 8.5" x 11" dimensions.
Bruce G. Foster
Office of the General Counsel
I think some of your readers missed the mark by looking principally at the publication's size. In theory, the tabloid size offers the opportunity to use large graphics and large photographs. The reality of your first two issues did not take advantage of that opportunity.
The first two issues of your new publication have the appearance of a graphic arts project run amok, where form and function become disconnected. One of the challenges of a large format publication is avoiding those l-o-n-g legs of copy. Long passages of sans serif type, such as those in the middle section of your second issue, are difficult for most readers to handle.
You have some excellent material. It is just unnecessarily difficult to read and digest. Perhaps in future issues your designers could be less concerned about being trendy and more concerned about being readable.
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Indirect costs: We're running a tight ship
I enjoyed the second issue of 21stC even more than your first issue. . . . I particularly enjoyed Dr. Samuel C. Silverstein's article, "Underrating the Overhead." It was meaningful to me because Dr. Silverstein spoke about the burden of overhead and the need to explain it from his viewpoint both as a faculty member and also as a department chair.
One small item of interest here which your readers should know: Dr. Silverstein writes, "Indirect costs constitute approximately 33 percent of all monies provided by federal research grants." In 1994, Columbia's percentage was only 31 percent for federal research grants, the lowest level in well over a decade, and 28.31 percent for all research grants. I refer here to the Office of the Vice Provost's Fiscal Year 1994 Research Report.
James P. Lewis
Office of Projects and Grants