Weather or Not
July 3, 2001
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The front-page weather forecast in the right ear of yesterday's New York Times predicted that the high temperature for the day would be 76. The front-page weather information in today's New York Times says that the high for the day was 72. In other words, the New York Times was off by a full four degrees in predicting the next day's temperature in its own hometown.
Not much of a surprise there: anyone who lives in the Northeast is used to the fact that weather predictions are not entirely reliable. Yet check out the lead story in the Science Times section of today's paper. "Supercomputers," the article informs readers, have assured that "weeklong weather forecasts are generally reliable." The article goes on to discuss models that predict, on a global basis, "roughly an average rise of 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit if greenhouse gases double from the concentrations measured before coal and oil burning and forest cutting significantly altered the atmosphere." The article is about the difficulty of modeling global climate change, but it seems like it may even be understating the difficulty. If the Times, supercomputers and all, is off by four degrees on the next day's temperature in its home town, what are readers supposed to make of a 3 to 8 degree prediction over a period of decades for the entire planet? This is not intended as an argument for doing nothing to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions, and, in some cases, it's easier to make a prediction for the long term than for the short term. But even with the cautionary "generally," the Times's own weather forecasting experience is a sign that the Science Times is overstating the reliability of weeklong weather forecasts.
A Turkey on Turkey: An item in the "World Briefing" column in the international section of today's New York Times reports that "The International Monetary Fund postponed an important review of Turkey's economic progress, saying the government has not adopted enough reforms, particularly in the banking sector. The delay means that Turkey will have to wait to receive its next installment of $1.6 million from the fund."
An item from Bloomberg News in the Times business section, however, reports, "The International Monetary Fund delayed a decision today on whether to make a $1.5 billion emergency loan to Turkey, saying its government has failed to carry out promises to overhaul the banking industry."
So which is it? "$1.6 million," as the "World Briefing" item in the international section reports? Or "$1.5 billion," as the article in the business section reports? If the Times thinks this news is important enough to merit reporting twice, in two sections of the paper, it might also be important enough to merit reporting accurately.
Johns Hopkins: The New York Times lets Michael Bloomberg off easy again today in an article in the national section that runs under the headline "F.D.A. Faults Johns Hopkins Over Process in Fatal Study." The article never mentions that Mr. Bloomberg, a candidate for mayor of New York City, is chairman of the board of Johns Hopkins. In fact, Mr. Bloomberg's name doesn't appear at all in the article. If an institution is being faulted for a fatal study, you might think that the fact that the institution's chairman is running for mayor of New York would be a fact worth sharing with readers.
Yeshiva: An article in the metro section of today's New York Times reports on a court ruling in a case of lesbians suing Yeshiva University for denying them access to married-student housing. The article goes on at some length without ever mentioning the fact that Yeshiva University is essentially an Orthodox Jewish institution, and that Orthodox Judaism traditionally frowns on homosexuality. It would seem like that's a fact worth at least including in the article, the merits of the underlying case entirely aside.
Globe: An article in the national section of today's New York Times reports on the naming of a new editor at the Times Company's Boston cash cow, the Globe. The article quotes the Globe's Boston-based publisher, but makes no mention of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. or other New York-based Times Company executives, who had to have had at least something to do with the decision to pass over such talented Globe assets as Greg Moore and David Shribman and instead hand the paper over to a white male who, as the Times article to its credit points out, "is the first top editor of The Globe in at least 50 years who has never worked at The Globe or lived in Boston."
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