Recently I’ve been engaging with a lot of popular science, because I have time, and also because I enjoy feeling smart when I explain how plants employ quantum effects during photosynthesis at the swanky dinner parties I attend, you know, like…practically every night. While a lot of the material I encounter is in “fun fact” form, like the quantum photosynthesis thing, lately I have noticed that scientists and science reporters have been increasingly writing and lecturing on the dangers of climate change denial. Understandably, they seem more and more frustrated with the prevalence of mainstream denial of climate change in publications that have national and international distribution; indeed, Wilson Da Silva, editor of Cosmos Magazine, lambasts The Australian for giving editorial precedence to its political agenda at the expense of accurate and credible scientific reportage:
“Even worse than not covering science is to dismiss it when it doesn’t meet political prejudices. Sounds absurd, but that’s what The Australian appears to do, particularly on climate change. Many of its articles dismiss or underplay scientific concerns, undermine widely accepted scientific evidence and highlight minority opinions from scientists with little or no credibility among their peers. Its editorials are even more ludicrous: reading them, you could think man-made climate change is nothing but a conspiracy of left-wing scientists determined to de-industrialise society.” (Editorial, Cosmos 32, p. 5)
It’s not just scientists and science reporters who are fed up with irresponsible editorialising spouted by publications like The Australian. Jonathon Holmes (the guy on the ABC’s Media Watch) actually managed to get into a textual stoush with Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman over his use of an unsubstantiated quote in an article attempting to ridicule climate change science. Holmes often condemns the pervasiveness of editorialised climate change denial in the mass media, and eloquently teases out the intricate tactics that allow dickheads who promulgate denial (under the guise of “healthy scepticism”) to get away with it. Furthermore, if you listen to a podcast of last week’s Science Show (ABC Radio National), you can hear a bunch of actual scientists from America (where climate change denial is virtually endemic) discussing the cultural implications of denial, and how it will impact the way we actually deal with the lived reality of climate change.
The climate change “debate” is so beyond a joke now that I worry for the future of scientists’ credibility in matters of even the most ubiquitous and mundane technological advances (male contraceptives? a new, organic substitute for nylon? the cataloguing of species inhabiting Tasmania’s waters?). For a while, I was convinced that scientists needed to overhaul their PR methods, that it was the pressure to publish new findings as soon as you can vaguely substantiate them, and corporate funding for research that was causing all the problems. These are still major issues for all research scientists, everywhere. But the ostensible decline of scientists’ credibility in the mainstream media has moved beyond the realms of PR. Media organisations need to be held accountable for the geyser of bullshit they’re spouting. It’s scientists, experts in the field of climate science, as well as all other scientific researchers who know that climate change denial is an irresponsible lie that has mass appeal, that need to know how mass media operates and challenge the very mechanisms that are undermining their own credibility! Damn it scientists, you can do better!