WASHINGTON—There’s a time for research and a time for panic. Despite what you already may have read about the reduced levels of ozone in Antarctica, NSF officials say that insufficient data pose a greater threat to scientists than ultraviolet rays.

“Antarctica is a naturally occurring laboratory to get a good research program going,” said Peter Wilkniss, director of the Division of Polar Programs at NSF. “And we need to understand better what goes on down there.”

Scary headlines appeared the day after Wilkniss and others told Congress that ozone depletion had reached record levels in September. The new information, witnesses were quoted as saying, raised concern about the health of scientists who might be exposed to the harmful rays as they conducted experiments at the South Pole.

But the truth, as always, is a bit more complicated. Once NSF officials suspected that the ozone hole was deepening, they asked a...

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