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Was climate change a factor in Hurricane Sandy?

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By The ed17
Hurricane Sandy, seen on 25 October

Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record and has caused millions of dollars in damage. Naturally, Wikipedia covered it.

The page was created on 23 October as a brief stub detailing the newest tropical storm of the season. Over the following days, the page evolved and was retitled to reflect its upgraded status as a hurricane. Kennvido (Ken Mampel) quickly became the top contributor to the article. This in itself would not be worthy of reporting, but Mampel's interview in Popular Science with reporter Dan Nosowitz has caused controversy.

In the interview, he claims to have single-handedly kept any mention of the possible influence of climate change on Sandy's strength out of the article:

"Someone did put [climate change] in," [Mampel] told me [Dan Nosowitz] via email on the night of November 1st. "I took it out stating not proven. They put it in again. This time someone else took it out before I even saw it...warned the person...and it never was put in again." When I mentioned that many reputable scientists and publications have pointed out the connection, he said, "It's still in debate in the world community Dan ... even if EnviroGore thinks there is no need for debate."

The article unfairly focuses on Mampel's personal life, and certainly tries to paint him in a negative light, with an unflattering picture, posting many of the asides in his emails to Nosowitz, and focusing on his current employment status. As commenter Thyork noted, the article seemed like an "attack ad" and it seemed "as though you are begging your more extreme readers to [harass] the man."

With regards to the Wikipedia article, Nosowitz believed that the "problem" of excluding climate change would eventually be addressed, and this much has proved true. Mampel was blocked for 24 hours for edit warring related to the topic of climate change, and the article now includes a "Possible relation to global warming" section. The basic premise, though—that one editor was able to keep out any mention of an important part of a major article—is valid and has raised many questions about the true nature of collaborative editing on Wikipedia. As Nosowitz said in closing his article: "for days, the [I]nternet's most authoritative article on a major tropical storm system in 2012 was written by a man with no meteorological training who thinks climate change is unproven and fought to remove any mention of it."

In brief

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One could argue that this story proves that Wikipedia works: Even with a determined, persistent editor pushing his POV, the article was eventually corrected. Of course, if the topic had been less of a hot issue, perhaps the POV would have persisted for much longer. In contrast, there are lots of major media that have reported on Hurricane Sandy without noting the connections to global warming. However, the global warming connection should be noted in the article's WP:LEAD, as it is a significant part of the article. -- Ssilvers (talk) 23:03, 6 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Several media reports argue the opposite: Wikipedia didn't work because at the time when the article was of most interest to the public, it was not neutral. Andreas JN466 00:36, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, they did argue that, but I would say that those media don't understand the nature of Wikipedia - we are an encyclopedia, not a newspaper, and articles improve in coverage and quality over time.... -- Ssilvers (talk) 00:52, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Well, they're taking a pragmatic view: the value of an article lies in its interaction with readers, i.e. in being read. According to the Popsci article, much the same complaint was brought up here in Wikipedia on the article's talk page: Regarding the global warming issue, one contributor wrote: "With the article being edited heavily with updates at the moment, many of whom are in the storm, my view is that it can wait for a day or two." Another said, "it sounds more like, 'We'll keep all mention of global warming out of the discussion until after nobody's interested in this storm any more.'"
Wikipedia is unlike other encyclopedias in that it does cover current affairs, and does so within seconds. (You can already read here that Obama is projected to have won the election.) Its reach for breaking news is probably greater than that of almost any newspaper. No other encyclopedia is like that. Andreas JN466 05:26, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

It's disappointing to see a writer get a story from someone and then turn around and repeatedly stab them in the back. AutomaticStrikeout 23:12, 6 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

  • The Wikiarticle suffered, and still suffers, greater flaws. It's far over WP:SIZE; efforts to split out the largest sections according to WP:SUMMARY STYLE having failed to pare it. Perhaps a task group should make ready to handle big news events so they won't get so sloppy. Not me; I only looked at the article because I could hop on my bike and get pictures of storm damage. Jim.henderson (talk) 23:22, 6 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • To make the obvious pun, a tempest in a teapot. It doesn't really matter much if the article says "Scientists aren't really sure if climate change is having an effect on hurricane severity or not, but it might.", or if it doesn't mention it at all. It's not a topic that's particularly relevant to any one single weather event. Gigs (talk) 00:02, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Major media have covered the explanations by scientists of the effects that climate change had on the storm, its destructiveness and its path. So the Wikipedia article is required to report on that coverage in a way that is proportionate to the media coverage of the storm as a whole. -- Ssilvers (talk) 00:35, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I don't think "required" is the right word there. We aren't a news summary service, and we aren't required to have up to the minute coverage, especially when it's something like this, a few climate scientists making general comments to interviewers who were probably beating their doors down so they could run their "Climate change caused Sandy" scare headlines after cherry picking from the interviews with experts. The climate scientists of course will, and generally did, qualify their statements with the proper scientific cautions that there's a large element of randomness in any particular weather event, but that kind of stuff tends to get left out of news coverage. We generally avoid using news media coverage as a source on scientific matters because the media is really, really bad at reporting on scientific matters, not only on this, but on pretty much every scientific topic. Gigs (talk) 00:55, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • This article (not the PopSci article) reads very opinionatedly. "The article unfairly focuses on Mampel's personal life," sounds like the writer is trying to compensate for the PopSci writer's bias. This writing is coming from the Signpost editor-in-chief so what gives? Marcus Qwertyus (talk) 01:01, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • The correct way of going about that would be to ask for Mampel's assessment of the coverage to include that in the story. You could even summarize the sentiment of the readers by saying: "The post drew some backlash from readers and Wikipedians who accused the journalist of "unfairly focusing on Mampel's personal life" and "stooping to sensationalistic tabloid-style journalism."" Non-editorial-style journalism is about facts about facts and facts about opinions, never opinions about opinions/facts. I can ask for an informed second opinion from somebody if you want (I'm pre-enrolled at a major journalism college). Marcus Qwertyus (talk) 07:31, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
    • Sometimes journalists have to call 'em as they see 'em, and not just report both sides of a story. The latter idea is what has led to nonsense in modern media like "While the majority of scientists support the theory of evolution, some disagree." Powers T 18:14, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I concur: the article seems devoted to defending Mampel's behavior by impeaching the journalist's methods (which do not seem that excessive, given what Mampel openly admitted to). --Orange Mike | Talk 18:15, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I agree. The tone of this article does not seem very objective. Ironically, it's more opinionated than this week's Op-Ed, which has very little opinion. I hope the Signpost doesn't continue this trend towards becoming another tech rag rather than a respected news source. Kaldari (talk) 18:56, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • As usual, Kolbe fails to "get it" - Wikipedia is not a news site, and does not focus its efforts according to what we are "supposed to" have on our site at the exact moment that news-hungry hordes choose to visit it. --Demiurge1000 (talk) 01:40, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Continuing to refer to someone by only their surname is incredibly rude. But, as usual with you, civility is only for other people. I'd call you a hypocrit, but at this stage you're far beyond that. (talk) 02:12, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I accord the esteemed "Wikipediocracy trustee" the same respect as I would anyone else who puts themselves in the public eye, pushes their view of a story to journalists, associates with a website whose "staff" declare a desire to "fly to London and cut a few nerdy little throats", and broadcasts Jimbo's private emails to their special "Wikipediocracy trustee" circle, as Kolbe has admitted doing. I'll assume you mean "hypocrite" and merely made a typing error, but I'm puzzled what you mean by it - I've not opined on whether calling someone by their first or last name is best. Do you know Dan Murphy, by the way? --Demiurge1000 (talk) 03:05, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Kindly stop lying by omission, Demiurge1000. What really happened was that I posted the following exchange from the uk.wikimedia watercooler site in the Gibraltarpedia discussion thread on Wikipediocracy:
There have been changes here - can we get Robain's report to the Board on September 8th up here, linked from the board meeting reports? From memory, the project will now be managed by a new Welsh non-profit company, who will get this and any future grants or WMUK money for this project. Originally we were going to manage it & now we won't. One reason is that a specifically Welsh body can help with getting grants. The project remains well within WMUK's mission, & I think the limited support given so far, plus some future support, is an appropriate use of funds. Johnbod (talk) 16:23, 22 September 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Are you saying it is an appropriate use of Wikimedia supporters' donations to pay travel expenses for a Wikimedia UK director (and/or other Wikipedians connected with the project) so that he can get a £17,500 grant for himself? Andreas JN 20:46, 22 September 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Then another user posted:
Sorry, can I just clarify if I am reading this right:
WMUK paid expenses for a WMUK trustee to work on getting a grant from elsewhere that will not go to WMUK, but in fact will go directly to the trustee?
Granted you could probably argue the expenses claim was a microgrant by WMUK in order to achieve a goal that they have an interest in seeing happening... But ethically that's dodgy as fuck...
In response to that Eric Barbour posted:
I gotta stop reading this thread. It just makes me want to fly to London, get a box-cutter, and start slitting nerdy little throats. These bastards simply aren't worth the effort.
That was followed by another post by someone else, saying:
They seem to be doing a fairly efficient job of slitting their own throats. Might as well stay home.
The last two of these comments were redacted. Cheers, Andreas JN466 04:58, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
So the "someone else" at Wikipediocracy (I suspect they are in the screenshot I have, but haven't checked) managed a more sensible tone than Barbour, who is staff there. (Is he one of your "Wikipediocracy trustees" that got treated to a copy of Jimbo's private email to you, I wonder?)
And then, by the sound of it, someone at Wikipediocracy decided Barbour's comments were clearly beyond the pale. Which they clearly were.
Careful who you accuse of lying, you who spend your time plotting with your little band of "Wikipediocracy trustees". --Demiurge1000 (talk) 07:38, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Take it elsewhere, guys. Kaldari (talk) 18:58, 7 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

For what its worth the opinion of the editor who first tried to add GW to the HS article on Oct 29 thinks the whole thing shows that there is a large core of regulars on the board that buy into the WP:BRD and WP:CONSENSUS process and that the system works as designed. Its just that the design by definition requires time and driveby readers do not know that. So if there is a systemic problem to be gleaned from this drama it is that we need to do a better job explaining to driveby readers during breaking news what wiki is and what it is not so they do not drive off with a false understanding based on an unconscious false expectation. The only specific ideas I can think of is to make the breaking news type of templates work as a popup people are expected to read. They still might skip over it but at least they will be forced to click first. Or how about a rolling scroll bar? NewsAndEventsGuy (talk) 16:24, 8 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Yes, the ignorant who have heard that everyone can edit Wikipedia, and take a big story as an opportunity to try, is one of what I see as two main problems. From our end it's an outreach opportunity, but the helter-skelter additions need careful management by the experienced.
The other problem is WP:COATRACK by established editors who ought to have learned better but can't pass up the chance to save the world from global warming, or from trumped-up fears of global warming, or some other horror. Last month I had a similar experience in the preamble of cat over evolution. That one calmed down pretty quickly, perhaps showing that cat people are naturally less tempestuous than storm people, or perhaps that evolution is less seriously controversial.
2012 United States presidential election was a hot story at about the same time as Sandy, and far better handled. Of course, that one was expected far in advance. Presumably a cabal of dispassionate old-timers were ready to trim instantly the heated controversies over birthers, voter ID, super-PAC, the dog on the car roof and the rest, shuffling them off by link to branch articles. The PopSci article revealed the harm done to the Sandy article by a small group or one stubborn editor passionate about a particular issue. We need a small group that's stubborn about article quality rather than particular global issues. Jim.henderson (talk) 01:05, 9 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]


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