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
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
“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
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.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com
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.