2012-02-29 16:28:58Steven Goddard Cherry-Picks a New York Times Typo


In another thread we were discussing an old NYT article when Sphaerica spotted that the figure 1970 could be a fake.  I had previously suggested it was a typo, but now I think it is more likely to be a deliberate fake.  I'll explain that later.  Meanwhile, in the absence of conclusive evidence of typo or fake - a direct pdf from NYT - I think it better to go for the 'typo' + cherry-pick story.

I have not been able to get hold of an original from NYT due to Paypal-NYT not being on speaking terms.  Perhaps someone else can try?

I've decided to make a blog of this, using the entire NYT article from the WUWT copy.

In the absence of conclusive evidence of forgery, I shall simply put it in terms of Goddard and others relying on an obvious typo.

Other sources citing Bernt Balchen - I will link them in the article - give 2000 as the date by which he said the Arctic would be ice free.

The NYT article conforms to those other articles in all particulars except the 2000 date, which in the WUWT sourced pdf is 1970.

My blog post will cite the full NYT article as plain text, with a link to WUWT source and to NYT source.

Steven Goddard Cherry-Picks a New York Times Typo.

bottom lines of article show -

The journalist Walter Sullivan, writing in 1969 (genuine date) says:

" Col Bernt Balchen, polar explorer and flier, is circulating a paper among polar specialists proposing that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade or two."

"Within a decade or two of 1969 suggests 1979 to 1989.

" Both Soviet and. American specialists predict continued cooling in step with an expected decline in sunspot activity through the nineteen-eighties."

"Through the nineteen-eighties" ties in precisely with the range 1979 to 1989.

" Those who argue for such radical thinning, cite a report by Fridtjof Nansen from 1893 that the pack was 43 feet thick. Col. Balchen cites a succession of subsequent reports indicating a steady thinning of the pack that, the data suggest, could vanish by 1970 (sic) or sooner."

1970 does not fit the other dates and ranges in the news story.  It is simply wrong.

link below.

2012-02-29 18:09:491st draft ready


First draft ready here.


comments welcome

2012-02-29 18:55:10
Alex C


I would suggest somehow altering the text of the article so that it stands out from the rest of the post.  Also, make red, or bold, the section in question and the other sections you pulled out to show Goddard was cherry picking, otherwise it will be difficult to tell where they are in the full thing.

Mainly formatting issues, otherwise it looks good.  There might be some spelling or grammar things I haven't caught yet, but frankly where I like I ought to be getting some sleep.  I'll have another look at it tomorrow.

2012-02-29 19:07:54


" I'll have another look at it tomorrow."

Me too - I need some sleep.  Thanks for the suggestions.  I agree with the need to make things stand out more, but I need someone more used to the SkS editing to help with the formatting.  Any takers please?

2012-02-29 20:05:25
Tom Curtis


I suspect Goddar's response to this would be to laugh it of as SkS not getting a joke.  Unfortunately, therefore, despite your effort I do not recommend publication.

2012-02-29 21:25:43Do we really want to respond to Goddard?
John Cook

Once I posted a response to an incredibly stupid and misleading blog post by Goddard. Shortly afterwards, he was posting a picture of his web stats, boasting about the surge in traffic. I resolved never to respond to him again. Often now, he published blog posts so stupid,I just have to grit my teeth and turn away. Sometimes, I almost suspect he's posting posts intentionally stupid to bait pri-science blogs into responding.

I recommend not responding. It elevates his blog and his traffic. Goddard doesn't deserve the dignity of a response.

2012-03-01 01:43:27


John Hartz suggested that it may simply have been poor wording on the part of the author, refering to a 1970 prediction by an older study:

The data contained in a chain of reports (beginning with Nansen's 1893 report) cited by Balchen, suggests that the Arctic could be ice free by 1970. The article does not specifiy the date of the last report of this chain. I presume it was early in the 20th Century.

He did get a copy of the NYT article and confirm that it matches, so it was not faked.

But the logic still stands... the 1970 "prediction" was an obvious error of some sort, and Goddard and Watts both put it out there for people to eagerly swallow like a fish on a hook.

But in the end... I don't think Goddard gets traffic or gets taken seriously.  Hitting Watts would be worth it, if it was a direct blow to the head, but there's no reason to elevate Goddard's status by noticing the bug.

2012-03-01 02:06:36
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley

Taking Goddard seriously is the pretty much the shibboleth of irredemable denierhood (don't like the term denier, but sometimes it is unavoidable).  I would agree wtth JC that the value in correcting things that appear there is somewhat questionable.  Anybody who believes what they read at realscience [sic] is almost certainly beyond the reach of rational argument. 

2012-03-01 02:52:55
Dana Nuccitelli

Everything Goddard posts is utter stupidity.  As John notes, when we respond to any of that stupidity, we just boost his traffic, and then he celebrates that he provoked us into a response.

Plus on this story, the prediction (ice free by 2000) is still wrong.  Sure, Goodard screwed up (what else is new?), but if we correct him, he'll both be happy to have elicited a response, and then say the prediction was still wrong anyway.

2012-03-01 04:41:59
Doc Snow
Kevin McKinney

I think I agree with the sentiment that this is a fly not worth swatting.  Nevertheless, the story is an interesting one:  what became of Col. Balchen's paper?  If it were never published, it would tend to show the exact converse of the point Goddard was attempting to make:  an intriguing (and 'alarmist') idea was floated (no pun intended), and, found wanting by informal peer review, it quietly sank.

2012-03-01 05:05:09
Doc Snow
Kevin McKinney

Following up on the previous comment, I find no sign that Col. Balchen ever published anything in the scientific literature.  Moreover, I find no paper prior to 1989 that expressed concern about a thinning Arctic ice pack.  (I'd want to search harder before going public with such a claim, though.)

2012-03-01 05:09:36


The article is still missing some links to other sources.

My reasons for publishing:

1 - The Goddard piece was published on the GWPF site.  It is a very strong proof, acceptable in any British court, that the GWPF publishes biased articles. That is in connection with my Feb 13th legal application to have the GWPF removed from the register of charities on the grounds that it is not a charity, but rather it is a publisher of clearly biased policy statements backed by misrepresentations of scientific fact.

2 - the NYT article is similar to a piece published by the Christian Science Monitor.  The CSM date is 2000 instead of 1970.  Those articles are part of a 'they got it wrong' denier meme which has been picked up by Fox news. Watts picked it up from a commenter who got it from a forum which got it from a blog which got it from Fox News.

3 - Watts published the NYT article July 2008 and made it available on his site.  If it is genuine then there are copyright issues.  If it has been altered, then ...


I agree that Goddard is an attention-seeker.  I'll do some more edits and then either post this on my own blog or print it as evidence for the Charity Commission.  Or both.


As to verification: John Hartz gave this link which is to NYT pay-per-article page.


I cannot get Paypal to talk to NYT so as to buy a copy.


Anyone searching the web for a copy of the pdf will find the copy posted by Watts. 

For example Eli Rabbet links to Watts' hosted pdf.

The pdf may have been deliberately altered. 

Please, can someone post a copy here which was purchased directly from NYT


A typo would be in place of 1998, 1999 or 2000.  The digits 1970 are simply too wrong to be a straightforward typo.  I have compared other digits from the same document and there are discrepancies.

If the pdf has been altered then we have evidence that Watts is hosting a modified document purporting to be original.  I can place that as a matter of legal record before the Charity Commission, the relevance being that GWPF frequently uses Watts as a "scientific" source.  Please do a Google search for - site:thegwpf.org anthony watts

2012-03-01 11:15:24
Tom Curtis


logicman, given your reasons for publication, may I suggest that a more extended post which:

1)  Looks at Balchen's predictions and the reasoning behind them;

2)  Contrasts Balchen's too pessimistic predictions with the too optimistic predictions from climate models'; and

3)  Briefly mentions the denier focus on a clear misprint mentioning Goddard's GWPF article as one of several examples,

would be appropriate to, and interesting for readers of SkS.  By taking the focus of Goddard you remove the reason for peoples doubts about the proposed blog.


With regard to the misprint, as I have stated elsewhere, the lead paragraph of the NYT article reads:

"Col Bernt Balchen, polar explorer and flier, is circulating a paper among polar specialists proposing that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade or two."

A decade or two from 1969 (rounded for convenience) is 1980 to 1990.  I am sure that is just journalistic sensationalism.  However, given that the journalist is trying to sensationalize the claims, it is very plausible that he should write,  "...the data suggest, could vanish by [1990] or sooner".  Such a claim fits perfectly with their lead paragraph, and hence is IMO the original number. 

I presume Balchen's predictions actually came with a range of estimates, with 2000 being the central estimate.  If his prediction where 1980-2020, for example, it would be typical of many journalists to focus on the earliest possible period with out regard to how that distorts the story.  If you can in fact find the range of Balchen's predictions, you could make further points in your article about the systematic distortion of scientific predictions in the popular press, as also evidenced by the "scientists predict a new ice age" meme.  If the range does in fact extend to 2015 or later, you can make the further point that Balchen's actual prediction has not yet been proved wrong.

For tactical reasons, the last may not be a direction you want to go.  Specifically, if Balchen did not refference global warming as the cause of the ice reduction (as seems likely), drawing to much attention to the non-failure of his prediction (if that is indeed the case) will just feed the "it's all natural cycles" trolls.


Finally, you should not quote the entirety of the article, even as reproduced by WUWT.  Doing so is a breach of copyright, and will make SkS (and John Cook) liable.  Quoting individual paragraphs as needed is, of course, fair dealing, but the total amount quoted should not exceed about 20%.  (10% is the figure normally given when advising undergraduates about copyright, at least at UQ).

2012-03-01 13:21:11


I would opine that bringing attention to Goddard is a loss, no matter how tight the post. It just elevates crazy-talk to the level of something to be taken seriously. Goddard's site (Alexa rank 1,737,000) is pure tin-hattery, and should not be dignified by SkS (Alexa rank 102,000). That only spreads the myths.

I would not publish this.

2012-03-01 14:00:24


I can lose the Goddard link for SkS but keep it in my legal submissions. (GWPF often cites Goddard.)


Point taken about copyright, but if I can get a true original and it does not show 1970 then a point-by-point comparison to set the record straight and to protect the good reputations of NYT, Sullivan and Balchen would constitute fair dealing.

Balchen predicted an ice free Arctic by 2000 due to global warming and there was an AP release to that effect published in a few newspapers now archived online.  I even have Goddard citing that date.  Sullivan links 'a decade or two' and 'through the nineteen-eighties', so the 1970 date is obviously wrong.  Further, if 1970 was intended then surely Sullivan, writing in 1969, would have written 'by next year'.

The article also clearly shows that the warming effects of CO2 were at that time believed to be partly or wholly offset by atmospheric particles.

" Until recently there was a suspicion that the warming trend of the century preceding 1940 was a by-product of the. industrial revolution. Carbon dioxide, produced by combustion, makes the atmosphere less transparent to infra-red radiation, thus trapping. the earth's heat like the roof of a greenhouse.
 There is evidence that the carbon dioxide content of the world's air has risen from 10 to 15 per cent during the last cenury. However, the cooling trend of recent years indicates that other factors are at work, including perhaps the volume of dust and smog in the air. This tends to reduce the solar heat reaching the surface.
 According to Dr. Reid Bryson, professor of meteorology at the University of Wisconsin, transparency of the atmosphere above the highest summit of the Hawaiian Islands has been decreasing at a rate of 30 per cent each decade. In view of  the summit's remoteness from industrial areas; this is taken as an index of global air pollution."