Here’s an example of how science reporting gets distorted and misinterpreted – whether intentional or unintentional – as it’s truncated and repeated by the media. Let’s work our way backward.

On Twitter, The Australian‘s Samantha Maiden suggests research news refutes Ross Garnaut’s suggestion that we should eat more kangaroo meat in place of livestock:

samanthamaiden (samanthamaiden) on Twitter_1270759444159

Her tweet was based on this headline from the Drudge Report:

DRUDGE REPORT 2010®_1270759914331

Matt Drudge’s headline was based on an article from the Telegraph with this headline:

Cows absolved of causing global warming with nitrous oxide - Telegraph_1270760122213

The article itself says that:

Authors of the paper, published in Nature, say the research does not mean that producing livestock to eat is good for the environment in all countries. However in certain circumstances, it can be better for global warming to let animals graze on grassland.

Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, carried out the study in Inner Mongolia in China. He found that grassland produced more nitrous oxide during the spring thaw when sheep or cattle have not been grazing. This is because the greenhouse gas, also known as laughing gas, is released by microbes in the soil. When the grass is long snow settles keeping the microbes warm and providing water, however when the grass is cut short by animals the ground freezes and the microbes die.

Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane.

But Dr Butterbach-Bahl pointed out that the study did not take into account the methane produced by the livestock or the carbon dioxide produced if soil erodes. He also pointed out that much of the red meat eaten in the western world if from intensively farmed animals in southern countries.

And it concludes like this:

He said the study does not overturn the case for cutting down on red meat but shows grazing livestock is not always bad for global warming.

Take that, Garnaut.

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