(April 27, 2012) Why media ignore scientists who tackle taboos.
True to form, the overwhelming majority of press outlets failed to report the juiciest global-warming gossip of the week — a change of heart on the issue by one of the world’s most celebrated environmentalists. Also true to form, the press failed to report the most profound science story of the week — a startling theory that not only absolves humans of blame in global warming but sheds light on another taboo subject: shortcomings in Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Unlike their coverage of the political establishment or the corporate establishment, journalists will rarely be skeptical of the scientific establishment. Perhaps these unskeptical journalists don’t question scientists out of a belief that scientists’ pronouncements are free of the self-interest that taints politicians or corporations. Or perhaps these journalists, who are themselves rarely scientifically literate, blindly accept the views of scientific authority figures because they lack the training to assess rival views. Or perhaps these journalists fear being subjected to ridicule if they buck politically correct views. Whatever the reasons for journalistic deference to dogma in science, the victim is the information-consuming public, which at best is kept in the dark, at worst is duped.
Take the juicy global-warming story I referred to. Several years ago, environmentalist James Lovelock made headlines when he announced that global warming would end the world as we know it — he predicted that “billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.” Google searches associating his name with global warming and climate change now exceed one million hits, and understandably so, given his reputation. Lovelock has infused environmental thought for decades through best-selling books describing Earth as a living organism — Lovelock is the one who coined the Gaia concept. Among many other honours heaped on Lovelock, Time magazine featured him in a series on Heroes of the Environment.
So, why, when Lovelock this week recanted his past views on global warming as being “alarmist,” did virtually every major news outlet on the planet ignore his change of heart? It wasn’t because he minced his words.
“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago,” he admitted, adding that temperatures haven’t increased as expected over the last 12 years. “There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now.”
What else has the press, in its wisdom, decided to keep from the public in recent days? One eye-opener is the advance of ice in both the Arctic and the Antarctic — both are now at or above average levels. Another is an announcement by researchers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Riken research foundation that the world may be heading into a prolonged period of global cooling — the Japanese study compared sunspot activity today with sunspots that preceded the Little Ice Age in the 17th century to find close similarities.
Had questioning of global warming not been taboo to most journalists, these stories would have doubtless merited ink and air time, not least because they tell a fresh story. Because the subject is taboo, the press censors itself.
The freshest story of all this week, which by rights should have rated stellar coverage, involved a powerful refutation of Darwin’s theory of evolution and its mechanism, natural selection. “Natural selection acts only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a great and sudden leap, but must advance by short and sure, though slow steps,” Darwin wrote. Now, suggests a study published by the U.K.’s Royal Astronomical Society, life on Earth did not evolve smoothly at all: To the contrary, the planet owes its diversity to intense periods of productivity interspersed with immense periods of stagnancy. The mechanism for this evolving theory? Climate change on Earth, driven by galactic cosmic rays originating from exploding supernovas — the final act of stars.
This study, Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth, does have a problem, although it convincingly correlates the development of life on Earth with the explosion of nearby stars over the past 510 million years. The problem is its author, Henrik Svensmark, a professor of physics at the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish Space Research Institute, who is reviled in the global warming science establishment for studies showing that the Sun and cosmic rays, not man, drives the current climate on Earth.
Reporters on the global-warming beat and their editors have long ignored if not disparaged Svensmark. His latest study, which shows cosmic rays to have also driven the ancient climate, provides most journalists with reason enough to continue to ignore him, even though his study has been published by the world’s oldest and one of its most illustrious astronomical societies.
There is hope, however, both for Svensmark and for the information-consuming public, which is not only starved of balanced information on global warming and evolution but on numerous other politically correct scientific subjects, popularly known as junk science. Svensmark has shown that evolutionary change can occur very rapidly after long barren periods. Journalists themselves may soon evolve into science-capable skeptical practitioners.
To see Svensmark’s study dealing with evolution and global warming, click here.
For a graph showing the correlation between cosmic rays from supernovae and biodiversity, click here.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe.
This article first appeared in the Financial Post.