About That Garbage Patch…

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | November 13, 2009 4:16 pm

Miriam Goldstein–chief scientist of SEAPLEX–is leading the voyage to understand the the island of garbage in the North Pacific Gyre to attempt to understand the effects it may have on marine life. She has a new blog post up entitled ‘“Millions, billions, trillions”…of scientific errors in the NYT‘. Yikes! Here’s how it begins:

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an article on the North Pacific Gyre called “Afloat in the Ocean, Expanding Islands of Trash.” Written by Lindsay Hoshaw, it was the culmination of a $10,000 freelance journalism project* in which she visited the gyre with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Unfortunately, this NYT article was far below their usual standards. Not only did it not add anything new to the discussion, but it significantly misrepresented the state of the science, presenting broad estimates & conjecture as facts.

I sent a list of corrections to the New York Times, and I am republishing them here as well. They are in the order they appear in the article. Because there are so many, I have kept each explanation brief, but please ask in the comments if you would like elaboration. Thanks to my SIO colleagues Kristen Marhaver and Mike Navarro for their suggestions!

In this remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement.

The gyre is not a current, but a lack of currents. Please see Pete’s explanation of convergence zones for more detail.

And that’s only the beginning… Go take a look.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Education, Marine Science

Comments (6)

  1. Sean McCorkle

    Its too bad about the errors, but I am glad the story is getting some press attention.

    For me, the garbage patch triggers angry reaction, like what I felt about the Exxon Valdez spill.
    (How dare they spoil such a pristine paradise). But in this case, its not an evil corporate boogeyman doing it.
    This time, the target is us – ourselves – consumers of bottled water and plastic-wrapped and eaters of sushi.
    There’s a lot of lifestyle momentum to change and the collective consciousness needs to raised before that can even start, so thats why I’m happy to see any kind of press attention on this.

  2. Its too bad about the errors, but I am glad the story is getting some press attention.

    Agree 100%!

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Sheril! But I would love to see you or Chris tackle this question – is media coverage where the science is inaccurate better than no media coverage? I fear that inflated claims like the ones in the NYT article may cause the public to discount the whole issue, once they find out that some of the facts are exaggerated or false.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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