Today we heard the alarming news that the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting at an unprecedented rate. Over four days the surface went from mostly not melting, to 97% thawing. However that’s not what I initially thought when I initially looked at this figure in the Guardian (right). The caption reads:
The Greenland ice sheet on July 8, left, and four days later on the right. An estimated 97% of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12.
Now if I’d been reading this carefully I’d have notices that they mentioned just the ice sheet surface. However, I looked at the graphic and thought that the Greenland Ice Sheet had gone. It wasn’t until I went to NASA and saw the original graphic (left) that I understood the color coding.
Why have the news outlets removed the legend? This isn’t a satellite photo to be added as an attractive image to illustrate a point. It’s a scientific plot. Without the legend it has little meaning and is wide open to misinterpretation. It’s like providing a graph without axes. And it’s not just the Guardian, many other news outlets (BBC, Telegraph, Independent) have all used the right hand image with the legend removed. There’s been some indication this image came via Reuters, which means they might have been responsible for the crop, but 2 minutes of digging on the front page of NASA would have set this right.
Should news organisations crop scientific plots? Am I the only one that misread this story at first?
And all credit to Suzanne Goldenberg at the Guardian for the story, it’s a well written piece that gives some important context to this event.