Cosmic dust and Chinese whispers
- 06 Apr 2012, 08:45
- Verity Payne
Credit: NASA, ESA
We like exciting new climate science research, so our interest
was piqued this week by a Mail Online article asking whether "
Could space dust be at fault for climate change?" - adding
"New research links particles in space
to ever changing weather conditions."
Sounds intriguing ... The new research is attributed to
Professor John Plane, an atmospheric chemist from the University of
Leeds. But Plane told us that "the title of the Mail article is
So what's going on?
Written by the ubiquitous 'Daily Mail Reporter', the article
seems to be based on a trail of chinese whispers which has threaded
its way through the blogosphere - starting with an innocuous
press release that was changed ever so slightly in re-posting,
and culminating in the
Mail Online article.
The story begins at the 2012
National Astronomy Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society,
held at the University of Manchester at the end of March, where
Plane presented a
paper discussing Cosmic Dust in the Terrestrial Atmosphere
(CODITA) - an ongoing
research project into how much cosmic dust gets into the
earth's atmosphere on a daily basis. The plan is for scientists to
incorporate Plane and his team's results into climate models in
order to better understand how cosmic dust is transported through
the Earth's atmosphere.
The Royal Astronomical Society issued a
press release entitled "CODITA: measuring the cosmic dust swept
up by the Earth". The press release discusses the ways that cosmic
dust particles can be "involved in a diverse range of phenomena
linked to climate change", but this does not equate to suggesting
that cosmic dust causes climate change, or that cosmic dust is
relevant to the warming that has occurred over recent decades.
Plane told us:
"There may be a link between cosmic dust
and climate over much longer timescales, when the solar system
contained a lot more dust. But we are talking around 1 billion
The press release was however re-posted by the Daily Galaxy
blog, under the new and rather less accurate headline:
EcoAlert: Does Cosmic Dust Play a Role in Climate Change?. The
Daily Galaxy do not expound any further on the notion that cosmic
dust might play a role in climate change. They have simply
re-posted the press release, along with an additional
paragraph from a NASA website.
'Daily Mail Reporter' then seems to base its article on the
Daily Galaxy's headline - converted into the claim that
"Cosmic dust that fills space could be
playing a part in climate change according to new scientific
We asked Plane whether 'Daily Mail Reporter' contacted him to
check that this interpretation, based solely on a blog headline,
was correct. Plane told us that he was not contacted by the
This isn't the first time that the Mail have been overzealous in
their reported inferences about climate change. Remember their 'global
warming will make us shrink' story? Nor, apparently, is it the
first time that they have based their inferences
on blog posts, rather than the original research papers.
The story is now being picked up by
climate skeptic bloggers. So we suspect that this one might run
for a while yet.