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Sensationalism in the Service of Scientism

By David Warren

The more I think about "global warming", in light of the most recent United Nations report, the more confident I become in averring that it is a fraud, a political stunt, a criminal imposture, that every intelligent journalist should be helping to expose. We need more reporting on the circular assumptions built into the IPCC's ludicrous computer models, on their use of misleading and conveniently changing baseline years, and on the trends within their own trends. (For instance, they have quietly reduced their middle-range prediction of temperature rise in the coming century by more than one-third; their mean sea-level rise prediction by more than one-half, since the last IPCC report in 2001. Yet this was not the headline.)

We have, I confidently predict, a repeat of the "ozone layer" imposture. The ozone layer is like a cloud in the upper atmosphere, that thickens and thins, disappears and reappears, constantly. But by selective readings of it, a scare was put about that, "The ozone layer is shrinking!" That controversy has itself blown over, because there was nothing to it. Likewise, the extrapolation of long-term trends from short-term temperature variations will blow over. The studies only misstate a truism: that the earth's climates are in constant flux. (It was warmer in Europe in the 13th century, than the IPCC now predicts it will become by the 22nd. Was that caused by uncontrolled CO2 emissions from rampant industrialization in the earlier Middle Ages?)

The good news is, that it should not take long for the latest environmental scare to join the "ozone layer", "global winter", the Club of Rome forecasts, and many other crocks on the shard-heap of history. The bad is, it will be succeeded by more Chicken-Little expostulations, with the same propagandist theme: "Unless the planet is delivered immediately into the iron embrace of the environmental bureaucracies, we're all going to die!"

Once upon a time, there were two modes of journalism, called tabloid and broadsheet. The distinction was clear. The first (tabloid), aimed at the more ignorant and credulous section of the population, was shamelessly sensationalist, and indifferent to its own track record. The second (broadsheet), aimed at the more intelligent and sceptical -- businessmen, especially, with money on the line. It cultivated greyness and sobriety, and was fixated on reputation. Tabloids were for fun, broadsheets were for information.

In my own lifetime as a journalist I have watched this distinction evaporate, and the unrestricted triumph of the tabloid ideal.

But at the same time, there has been a swing, among the class of people who staff the media. Where before they were generally short on academic qualifications, but long on street smarts, now we have a broad creamy froth of journalism-school graduates with zero street-smarts, but thorough indoctrination in the art of attitudinizing. Or to put it another way, the political outlook has swung dramatically from right to left.

Nevertheless, so long as our (human) race can stay out of the trees, there will be a demand for good solid information and lively but responsible analysis. These have not disappeared, but gone largely underground, or more precisely, into the aether of the Internet. People who feel the need to know what is actually going on, are increasingly by-passing the "mainstream media" and going directly to the best sources.

This is not something that pleases me. I should prefer to be proud of my own vocation and trade.

So far as I can make out, there has been similar "progress" in the scientific world. The academic researcher, like the broadsheet beat reporter, was once a rather grey man who feared overstatement, but could give you a straight answer to a straight question, even if it was, "I don't know." The best were (in both cases), broadly grounded. That is, a researcher in some arcane area of, say, climatology, would have a good general science background, including the history required to contextualize his own work. He was therefore not naive.

The decay of standards is not subtle. The academic science world, persisting on tax money, has been intellectually flatlining. It becomes increasingly a closed camp of ideologues whose job security depends on their avoidance of apostasy. In a word, science is being swamped by an almost religious scientism. Whereas serious, open-minded research has retreated almost entirely into the corporate research labs, where a different ethos prevails.

This is the environmental scare that should worry us. That we are becoming, increasingly, the prey of sensationalism in the service of scientism.

© Ottawa Citizen

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