Sunday, April 23, 2006

Do blogs get it right about the environment and species extinction rates?

How accurate are all of these weblogs on the internet? The vision statement for this very weblog cautions the reader to form their own opinion. A recent policy forum article in Science ("Environmental Science Adrift in the Blogosphere" by Alison Ashlin and Richard J. Ladle in the April 14th issue, supplemental info here) probes this accuracy by asking what bloggers write about the number of species that go extinct every day. They simply used the Google blog search and looked for the phrases "Extinct per day" or "Extinct every day".

Since I am committed to duplicating scientific work and figuring things out for myself, I did duplicate the efforts of the article, and found 47 posts, only 33 of which actually had estimates of species extinctions every day. Ashlin and Ladle report that the scientific consensus estimate for the rate of species extinction is between 74 and 150 species/day. The chart below is similar to the one in the article and shows species extinction estimates out on the internet of from one to thousands per day.

The authors of the Science article decry this inaccuracy, especially the overestimates. We can be positive and note that the most common stated rate is 200/day, which is not much different than the estimate above and that fully 30% of the weblog estimates fall within the scientific consensus range.

The authors do make an important point that the scientific community should engage in a dialogue with the public to enhance environmental education and they make the obvious suggestion that scientists should use blogging as a way to do this. Because many blog readers think that blogs are more accurate than print media and other news sources it may be very important for this discussion to begin. One interesting effect of the article: Google Blogsearch revealed two blog posts which reference the Science article and who have the extinction rate correct because of it.

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