Accuracy in Media


After the news broke about the Amazon rainforest wildfires, many media outlets and social media accounts claimed how disastrous the wildfires were. Although the wildfires were devastating, recent information exposed how overblown the media coverage became.

Most media coverage mentioned a startling statistic that the Amazon rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen supply. That statistic spread like wildfire in the news cycle and on social media platforms, but no one asked if that statistic was “fake news” or not.

National Geographic published a fact check in the form of an article of that statistic and said it was false. The organization noted how CNN, ABC News and Sky News were among many news outlets which publicized the erroneous statistic. Also, the organization pointed out how multiple politicians and celebrities made the same mistake in claiming it was a verifiable and true statistic, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), actor Leonardo di Caprio, and former American astronaut Scott Kelly.

Instead, National Geographic called the statistic “a gross overestimate,” due in part to the rainforest’s nickname as the “lungs of the Earth.” Multiple scientists have since said that “the Amazon’s net contribution to the oxygen we breathe likely hovers around zero.”

Michael Coe, director of the Amazon program at the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Research Center, told National Geographic that the claim about 20 percent of the world’s oxygen “just doesn’t make any physical sense.” He said it was because there is not enough carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere for trees to then photosynthesize into 20% of the world’s oxygen.

National Geographic then cited data from an Oxford ecosystem ecologist, who suggested that the Amazon rainforest accounts for about 16 percent of oxygen produced on land. But other scientists then downgrade the 16% to about 9% when taking into account the oxygen that phytoplankton produces in the ocean.

The organization could not find where the false statistic originated, though scientists like Coe said it probably came from the fact “that the Amazon contributes around 20 percent of the oxygen produced by photosynthesis on land—which may have erroneously slipped into public knowledge as “20 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere.””

The media’s coverage of the Amazon rainforest wildfires lacked accuracy in reporting the false statistic that the rainforest produces 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, which led to hysteria on social media and other news sources. Next time, the media ought to check its facts to avoid misleading the public.

Photo by celeumo.brazil




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