Where newfound facts suggest people alter their
ways, first reaction is to either ignore it or oppose it vehemently. The
is anti-science propaganda that could harm society and science, but that
could also strengthen it.
Scientists by nature of their specialisation,
have isolated themselves from the public and society at large. Communication
is necessary to allow the public to play their part and to make science
benefit society. How to do it, is a form of art.
New Ideas in Science: Dr.
Thomas Gold analyses the herd instinct that leads to scientific consensus.
knowledge can be considered a resource, so how could it be managed? (22
timetable of mankind:
the most important discoveries affecting the course of history. (24 pages)
threats: a summary of the
world's problems, arriving from many directions. (20 pages)
the principles and practice of conservation with emphasis on marine conservation.
belief systems: a summary of
the many beliefs, still active today, stifling rational thought. (23 pages)
what the Seafriends web site is all about. (11p)
Reader please note that the issues raised in this article, have been
caricatured. So when it says that scientists can't do this or that,
it should be read as most scientists... or in general, scientists
.... Exceptions to a rule can always be found. The name Man
is used to denote mankind. Also please note that this document is
updated from time to time.
For suggestions and feedback, please e-mail
the author. Read tips for printing
for best results.
The whole document covers about 0.15 MB, 35 printed pages.
even discussions of our environmental or societal problems depend very
much on the ruling political mind-set. What can be done in a democracy
could be unthinkable in a communist block, and vice-versa. But even within
Western democracies, the political mind-set sways sufficiently (usually
from left to right), to be of considerable importance. In recent years,
under the influence of neo-classical economists like Milton Friedman, democracies
have swayed to a mind-set of
less government: government expenditure is a burden to society.
Governments upset the forces of supply and demand.
less taxes: taxes drain profits from businesses, making them less
competitive. It is a distortion of the price mechanism. It prevents people
from buying more. It stifles the economy.
free enterprise: free enterprise solves all problems. Only rules
restrict it from achieving optimal delivery.
freemarket rule: the price mechanism is superior to rules and laws.
less accountability: government corporations are no longer accountable
to the public.
In the process, the democratic government structure has changed in important
ways, as shown in the diagram. A democracy is about the public being in
charge, and government with its bureaucracy being its servant. Nowadays,
governments have become dictatorial, not serving the public but rather
dictating to it. It has resulted in massive restructuring of businesses
and the public sector, with few if any tangible benefits and many liabilities.
New Zealand is a point in case, where nearly twenty years of reform (since
1984), backed by extensive national and international propaganda trumpeting
export-led growth , has resulted in exactly the opposite.
The freemarket mindset The freemarket mindset has come with a few more attributes affecting,
and indeed poisoning, rational thought. The assumptions listed below have
been accepted widely as common wisdom, even though they are not at all
based on any scientific evidence, and even proved wrong on many occasion!
the new economic paradigm: it is necessary; there is no other way
(TINO); we can't afford; there is no way back; the bottom line counts
- has become faith.
economic growth is essential: growth is caused by making labour
and capital work together to produce new capital. There must be growth
in populations and GDP. Without growth, the economy will spiral downward
we can't afford: public works, superannuation, free medical care,
free high quality schools, parks, etc. are slowing down progress, wealth
and economic growth. We can no longer afford these.
the user pays: resources can be allocated more efficiently if everyone
is charged for what he uses. Why should I pay for schools when I have no
children? Why should I pay for public transport when I drive a car? Why
should I pay for the poor when they have the same chances as I have? Why
should I pay for scientists?
the market dictates: the market consists of consumers. Let them
vote with their money.
business knows better: business leaders are used to making decisions
about resources, people and their lives. Let them do it, rather than the
the invisible hand rules: let the price mechanism rule. If people
won't pay for it, then they don't want it (like taxes).
lean, mean, high profit, short term outlook is best: evolution is
based on this, so what's wrong? Failure is part of success.
create a level playing field: take out all unreal distortions like
laws and rules, subsidies, restrictions, because they interfere with the
market mechanisms. They interfere with the vote of buyers.
free markets are necessary: the economic ball-game is that of efficient
delivery, so let the markets free, locally and internationally.
global economy, global competition is necessary: why should we pay
more for locally made goods, rather than importing cheap goods from other
countries? Competition is healthy, even if products are produced by slave
labour, or cause environmental damage in some other country, or make some
people stinking rich.
free flow of capital: since labour cannot flow freely across national
boundaries, capital must be enabled to do so, even if that means lost jobs
hands-off government: even government can be privatised: police,
courts, prisons, etc.
A few years ago, university economists stood to lose their jobs, when questioning
the above points, but on this web site, we like to call a spade a spade
and subject all our actions to honest criticism. There is also a new movement
(2001) criticising the assumptions of neo-classical economics, calling
itself post-autistic economics. (L: auto= self; autism=
complete self-absorption and unable to communicate with the outside world).
When science funding is done according to the freemarket competitive
mindset, the following undesirable situation is achieved (see also www.psa.org.nz):
time fragmentation: multiple sources of short term research funding
lead to the fragmentation of researcher's time and fragmented research
that does not join up to become a whole.
no long term research: funding for strategic long term research
problems or directions is largely absent from the competitive funding model.
Fundamental research misses out, and with it long-term opportunity.
no say in decisions: there is little opportunity for scientists
to contribute to science policy decision making. Decisions are often made
by politically-driven fund managers who have no scientific minds.
profitability matters more: measures of scientific institutions'
performance are dominated by financial indicators (e.g. return on capital
and equity, weighted average cost of capital) which do not make any estimate
of the long-term social, economic and environmental benefits arising from
fundamental research and a skilled, scientific workforce; and hence the
funding system emphasises short-term profitability at the expense of fundamental
job uncertainty: contestability leads to career instability and
time lost in moving to other institutions or countries. Time is also wasted
in changing careers. Scientists cannot be creative where job uncertainty
commercial sensitivity: whereas previously the sharing of knowledge
and information was the norm, it is now jealously guarded as a commercial
advantage over competitors. This does not serve either science or the public.
"The whole thing about competition
is not that you are seeking to achieve perfect markets . . . but an excess
and unfair market share. We try to build barriers, be it through advertising
or creating a brand. That's what business is about." - Hugh Fletcher,
director Fletcher Challenge, 1984, New Zealand.
The upshot of this freemarket mind-set is that scientific institutions
have been turned into profit-seeking businesses, guarding their successes
jealously. Universities have been turned into BSc and MSc factories. So
let's now focus our attention on what comes out of these universities,
Strengths and weaknesses of scientists
Having looked critically at how science works in practice, let's now cast
a critical look at its practitioners, the scientists. Please note that
this is not a scientist-bashing exercise, but merely an attempt at objectively
assessing the tools society has, to solve the problems facing us in the
future. It also gives an indication why scientists may not be the right
tool for some problems. Note that some of the items discussed here, have
been touched upon already.
Positive and negative qualities of the scientist:
+ high level, thorough investigation: beyond any doubt,
scientists backed by reputable institutions and adequate resources, do
high quality work in the tradition of the objective scientific method.
+ international communication and peer review: scientists communicate
across national boundaries, and their results are published and read internationally,
assuring the widest exposure, to invite imitation or rebuttal.
+ scientists are intelligent: only intelligent people make headway
as scientists. They are eager to learn throughout their lifetimes, and
in the course of it, amass a vast store of ready knowledge.
- not enough scientists: it is a complaint heard most often
by scientists themselves. (See next point)
- not enough money: if only we had enough money and scientists,
all problems of the world could be solved. However, society is limited
by how much it can afford to spend on science.
- expensive, high overheads: scientists are expensive. They
have high overheads, use expensive equipment and materials, require overseas
trips to stay abreast, and so on.
- slow progress: the thoroughness of the scientific method tolerates
no shortcuts, but it also increases costs, while ignoring that sometimes
an approximate answer is all that is needed. Businessmen and politicians
often need an 80/20 solution, with 80% accuracy, yet for 20% of the cost,
but this is not scientific.
- no local presence or knowledge: problems arise where people
do things to nature. These are typically not the places where one finds
scientists, hence their lack of local knowledge. Often scientists move
into a community, focusing on the problem, while ignoring to use local
knowledge. In doing so, they can miss important information, or misrepresent
- poor continuity: scientists change place and interest quite
frequently, thus providing for poor continuity.
- can't act in uncertainty: scientists can't act in uncertainty.
It is unscientific. Yet many environmental problems require us to do so.
- can't act on sudden environmental disasters: scientists need
a justification for everything they do, for every expense. When a natural
disaster strikes, they cannot rush in to investigate, because some budget
will have to pay for them, and discretionary or disaster budgets are not
- can't blow whistles: scientists face high risks, sticking
their necks out to blow whistles on the environment or their institutions,
particularly where uncertainty remains. They could get ridiculed, lose
grants and more. Usually they refrain from blowing whistles, or they form
consensus groups, so that none can be singled out.
- should carve new paths but don't: for the same reasons as
above, scientists run high risks (but also high rewards) when carving new
paths. Peer review obstructs them further. Ridicule is their first reward.
- should doubt knowledge but believe: in the backs of their
minds, scientists should doubt the knowledge they use. However, partly
because of their education, and partly because they have to rely on the
knowledge of others, they believe more than they should.
- scientists believe they are objective: but they have to make
value judgements in selecting research topics, choice of research method,
application of theory, and interpretation of facts and many more.
- competing for funds, rather than co-operating: in the modern
world of contestable funding, scientists are pitched against one another,
which makes it difficult for them to co-operate and to share their ideas.
- confidential results: when paid by industry, scientists are
obliged to keep their results confidential in order not to undermine the
commercial advantage so obtained. This goes straight against one of the
most important principles of science, that of publishing results. Now that
one government department 'purchases' research from another, even publicly
paid-for research is held confidential. Most technological research results
are not publicly available.
- user pays, user says: scientists are no longer to do free
research, when they tender for grants or customers. It can also affect
their impartiality, as has been shown with tobacco research and others.
- duplicating effort, not experiment: duplication of experiment
is a worthy cause in science, since it may support or refute the work of
others. As science becomes dearer, duplication of someone else's work becomes
harder to justify. Where results are kept confidential, others need to
duplicate the work, without duplicating experiment.
- have narrow field of expertise: scientists depend very much
on the expertise of others to complete their thinking/opinion. Because
science has become so involved, it is almost impossible to judge the work
of others outside one's immediate area of interest. A multi-disciplinary
approach is nowadays almost always needed.
- believe their computer models: scientists trust so much in
their computer models that they can be excused for thinking that there's
something wrong with nature, in explaining the differences :)
- seldom say that they were wrong: scientists usually don't
publish or stress where they were wrong, thus undermining their credibility,
while leaving others in the belief that their proclamations are still valid.
- are unaccountable: unlike engineers, but like politicians,
scientists are not held accountable for what they say, or for their advice.
They are protected by the maxim that what they say is the best we know
collectively, and thus they can not be blamed for being wrong.
- are impractical: by far, most scientists have never lived
in the real world of commerce, business and working for a living. They
have never learnt to be practical, like working with uncertainty and imperfection
while minimising costs. Scientists seem to ignore the 80/20 rule where
most of the result can be achieved with minimal effort.
- like sniping from the rearguard: scientists condemn a publication
as 'grossly inaccurate' for a few trivial mistakes. They condemn as 'unproved',
the things they haven't thought about or even looked at.
- writing in jargon: scientists write (necessarily) in subject-related
jargon, but in doing so, also make bad use of English language, like writing
in nouns and verbs, while underutilising adverbs and adjectives. They find
it difficult to write for the layman.
The formidable perpetrators of environmental damage are technology and
humans. So let's look at these two next.
Strengths and weaknesses of the public
One could rightfully ask what the public has to do with a discourse on
science. Well, they pay for it and may demand results from it. They are
the stakeholders, but not only that, they are also possible partners by
helping to mitigate our problems, and they are the ultimate cause of environmental
Like the scientist discussed above, the public has also qualities which
deserve critical evaluation:
+ eyes everywhere: the public lives where the problems
arise; indeed they may be the very cause of them.
+ local presence, local knowledge, historical knowledge: the
local community has a wealth of traditional knowledge or 'anecdotal evidence'.
They have often dealt with similar problems before. Sometimes they have
developed a tradition of conservation in one kind or another.
+ good continuity: because the locals live where the problems
are experienced, they provide good continuity, useful for scientific pursuits
+ cheap labour: whereas scientists are expensive, because of
their high pay and overheads, the local community is often prepared to
donate free time. They can help scientists after-hours or during their
+ untapped human resource: the public is largely an untapped
resource for assisting scientists. When motivated, a large human resource
can become available.
+ high diversity: among the public one finds a high diversity
of talents, like educators, artists, writers, publishers, cinematographers,
photographers, engineers and so on. These talents can be used in many different
+ quick response: because many people work near the place where
they live, they can respond quickly. Because they are free, no special
budgets have to be assigned before coming into action.
+ co-operating and sharing, not competing: the public does not
have an interest in the science of a case but in its solution. So they
are not likely to compete with one another. Yet, conflicting interests
may exist in the use of resources by stakeholders.
+ have an interest: the public has an active interest in the
outcome of solutions to problems, and are often highly motivated.
+ can act in uncertainty: people are used to acting in uncertainty,
simply by applying common sense. Businesses are used to manage in uncertainty,
and to make decisions. Remember that random decisions are still right half
+ can blow whistles: although the public has a stake in the
solution of their problems, people can take political action and blow whistles
much more easily than scientists.
- do low level investigation: a serious handicap of using
the public is that it can do only low-level research.
- need much education and hand holding: a great deal of education
has to be done to reach adequate levels of knowledge and to maintain these.
- easily believe in myths and superstition: not being trained
to think scientifically, the public can be fickle in its retention of knowledge
and interpretation of events. It can be very susceptible to anti-propaganda
and bad influences.
As one can see from their list of strengths and weaknesses, it may not
be surprising that the public and scientists complement one another very
well, reason for suggesting that they should learn to work together where
possible. Where our scientific resource is already overloaded, the public
may bring welcome relief by being able to contribute, even though the work
may need to be done in small amounts by many contributors.
Seafriends has recognised this synergy, and this web site is testimony
to the above philosophy. By providing the necessary education, it is hoped
that the public can, of their own accord contribute to saving our environment
and solving our problems, even without working directly alongside scientists.
How science is affected by brownlash
Brown-lash is a word coined by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, presumably composed
from blackmail and backlash, but not quite either (brown).
It describes the anti-conservation, anti-science propaganda espoused deliberately
by those who fear they have much to lose by changing their habits - politicians,
businesses, global corporations and so on.
Being funded by business, and often operating under deceptive names like
Alliance for Environment and Resources, these people are well resourced
and dangerous to common sense. It is true that scientists have often overreacted,
forcing doubtful expensive solutions on business, eroding their bottom
line, and brownlash can partly be explained as a reaction redressing the
balance. In this respect, scientists and greenies have only themselves
to blame. We can learn from the brownlash arguments.
The arguments toted by the brownlash movement offer opposing viewpoints,
which are essentially these:
there is good news about the environment, insufficiently published:
True, because bad news enjoys more coverage than good news, but it can
easily be overrated because irreversible environmental change happens so
slowly that it doesn't attract press coverage either.
population growth is economically beneficial: cigarette manufacturers
once calculated that cigarettes are beneficial to the world's economy.
By killing people early in life, the economy is spared their pension payments,
which can now be used for more productive purposes. As populations grow,
economies expand, but per capita prosperity may shrink. Economic growth
can bring prosperity, but it has been shown that real income per capita
has been declining since 1970. The problems of population growth in all
cases far outweigh its advantages.
overpopulation does not exist: The USA is essentially empty. Look
at Holland, Bermuda, Monaco, Singapore, HongKong, Sao Paulo etc. They prove
that the world can stand much higher densities. However, these nations
can exist only because other places of the world are not overpopulated,
providing food and ecosystem services they need. Holland, for example,
uses 17x more space, outside its borders.
We need more people in order to have more geniuses to solve our problems:
It would be immoral to keep them from being born. Geniuses occur as a predictable
percentage of any population. So it is reasoned, population growth will
give us more geniuses and thus more prosperity. Well, far more criminals
than geniuses are born too. Furthermore, geniuses need to be provided with
hunger is less, not more: food scarcity exists only regionally;
food production is unlimited; the earth is capable of feeding 40 billion
people. It is true that distribution of food is a problem. But agriculture
has mounting, real problems, which can not be overcome by new technology
like Genetic Engineering. The USA will stop becoming a grain exporter well
within 20 years time. The amount of food produced per capita is declining.
technology has saved us and will keep saving us. We have always
relied on technological solutions, often at the expense of cheap oil. But
in reality, technology is falling further and further behind, while the
environment becomes degraded by its practices. The amount of fossil energy
is not unlimited. There are also physical and environmental limits, like
those of not ever being able to run a two-minute mile.
natural resources are superabundant or infinite. Resources
exist for the benefit of those seeking private, short-term gain, rather
than being public for the common good. All resources can be substituted
for others. Because of the 'uniformity of energy/matter', resources can
be found everywhere and in infinite amounts. Neo-classical economic theory
has brought some irreconcilable fallacies in the thinking of economists,
like this one. But economic exploitation is possible only where minerals
are concentrated. The cost (and energy) of refining is disproportionately
related to dilution of the resource.
there is plenty of energy: if left to their own, energy industries
can supply us with all that is necessary to power industrial civilisation
far into the future. Overregulation stifles exploration. In practice, blackouts
are now occurring everywhere in the world, where once energy could be relied
upon. Energy suppliers are not interested in the reliability of supply,
but in profit. If scarcity drives the price up, then so be it.
resources are becoming more abundant, as one can tell from their declining
prices. This is another fallacy inherited from neo-classical economics.
The price paid does not reflect its value. Only exploration costs are paid,
which have been going down due to technological improvements, marketing,
transport, etc. Also external costs such as tax credits, subsidies, pollution
and global warming, are not taken into account.
extinction of species is natural. Going against it is unnatural.
Only a small portion of the planet has been altered significantly. Yes,
extinction is natural, but the rate of extinction experienced now, is not.
The question is really: who wants to live in a world which no longer looks
like Earth? About half of the terrestrial surface of Earth has been altered.
Climate change, acid rain and change to the water cycle, change the rest.
global warming, acid rain are no problem. There is no solid evidence.
Global warming exists only in computer climate models. There is plenty
of time to adjust - buy a bigger air conditioner, lighter dress, shirts.
But humans can readily adapt; warm-blooded creatures too; cold-blooded
creatures not. Forests and plants adapt too slowly and will perish or change
entirely. The old specimens of long-lived species like many trees, will
ozone depletion is a hoax. It existed before CFCs were used. CFCs
are too heavy to rise into the stratosphere. However, some larger molecules
are quite mobile. If not, the atmosphere would have been layered as follows:
krypton, ozone, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, argon, oxygen, nitrogen,
water vapour, methane, neon, helium, hydrogen. But the atmosphere mixes
its gases quite well.
volcanic hydrogen chloride is 50 times more than the entire CFC production.
Mt Erebus alone does so. But HCl is water soluble, and rains out quickly,
whereas CFCs are insoluble. CFCs act as catalysts, being destructive in
very small quantities. No correlation of ozone hole and volcanoes or hydrochloric
acid has been found.
people can avoid UV radiation increases easily: by moving towards
the equator, and by protecting themselves. True, but the environment can't.
Because all forests are now surrounded by agricultural lands, trees can
no longer seed themselves progressively further towards the poles. Neither
can oceanic plankton escape UV, because it has to live close to the surface
of the ocean.
acid rain is only a minor problem. True, the environment can
absorb some. But organisms are sensitive to the alkalinity of their environment.
Sulphuric and nitric acids, come as wet and dry deposit. 85% of Adirondac
lakes have been acidified, seriously affecting their health. Many dead
lakes now exist, that once were full of life.
toxic substances risk and poisoning are highly exaggerated. without
heavy use of pesticides, starvation would stalk the planet. Monocultures
require pest control. Yes. However, pesticides don't work as well, because
organisms adapt. Only a small percentage reaches its target; most is lost,
affecting innocent species. Pesticides have proved to affect a large number
of species, bad and good, and some affect humans even in very small quantities.
Once thought beneficial, pesticides have come close to being a liability
at high cost.
too many chemicals have been overregulated. it is true that bureaucratic
regulations have become draconian and stifling, aiming for 100% safety
and security, where a lesser standard would be acceptable, certainly in
some areas. Also people have become paranoid about threats they can neither
see nor measure.
infectious diseases eliminated & minimised. True, but: HIV is
spreading rapidly, population density invites classic diseases; many people
avoid vaccination; hospitals are rife with biocide-resistant infectious
pathogens. Disease risk is proportional to population size and is critically
related to population density and to the number of people without resistance
(children). Other new diseases have appeared such as Creutzfeld-Jacobs
(mad-cow), Ebola, West Nile, and others. The incidence of malaria is rising
all direct measures of human welfare have increased. Life expectancy,
leisure time, purchasing power will increase indefinitely. The American
dream? Life expectancy has increased world-wide, but leisure time has decreased,
and so has purchasing power. People also live under more stress.
environmental regulation is wrecking the economy; it is slowing
down progress; denying people their pleasures, and the freedom of housing
and movement. True to some extent. In the world of tomorrow we will be
forced to travel less, waste less, live in smaller homes, have less freedom.
But the environment will also become big business, providing employment
unhindered capitalism is good for the environment: just look at
Russia. In the USA, environmentally friendly companies incur higher costs,
and die by competition. The key to cleaning up our environment is unfettered
free enterprise. False. History has proved time and again that capitalism
cannot be left unchecked. Just remember the smoke stacks in all developed
countries. Only by overarching regulation can all be forced to clean their
environmental regulation makes American industry less competitive.
True, but world-wide demand for green products is rising; also the public's
concern. Americans are rich enough to make the change; poor countries are
not. Greening the Industry, Reduce Reuse Recycle, Total Quality Environmental
Management and environmental compliance are becoming competitive issues.
Monsanto's business depends on well functioning ecosystems and societies,
so it changed. Investors now choose green companies.
with the collapse of Marxism, environmentalism has become the new refuge
of socialist thinking. To think environment, is to think for the public
good, and if this is called Marxism, then all environmentalists are Marxists.
As one can see, the arguments used to discredit the environmental movement
are rather simplistic and can be rebutted quite easily. So why do they
have such effect? The factors listed below, serve to remind us that they
could have been working in favour of the truth, in favour of the environment.
It also shows how society has been depriving itself of good information.
challenging thought: discussion is healthy.
just challenging conventional thinking: brownlash is just honest
criticism of conventional scientific thinking, but scientists often overreact
or don't react at all (true).
propaganda: the methods to sway people are used and abused extensively
by businesses, politicians and more.
sounds more logical and acceptable and simple: half-truths are easier
to understand; take a shorter time to broadcast.
most people do not understand knowledge: rational and logical thinking
citing other writers: creates the impression that everyone agrees.
exploiting dissent between scientists: the slightest disagreement
between scientists is explained as doubt about the whole.
entraining insufficiently knowledgeable scientists for their comments
& viewpoints: as long as a scientist or PhD is quoted, it sounds
as if it represents the scientific viewpoint.
entraining celebrities for their viewpoints: people always listen
to what celebrities say, and these are bribable.
no need to lie: but only ignore evidence to the contrary, or omit
it from publication, or quote only who agree.
easily accepted lies are widely quoted and accepted as fact.
exaggerating unprovable claims: so many jobs lost, houses not built,
dollars GNP, export opportunities, loss of competitiveness, foreign relations,
undercover institutes have environmentally friendly names: Wise
Use movement, National Wetland Coalition, Friends of Eagle Mountain, The
Sahara Club, the Alliance for Environment and Resources, etc.
most people believe and/or are religious: a religious or spiritual
angle sways many people.
people seek certainty: they are reluctant to accept probability
most people are self-centred: they are profit-seeking, right-winged.
The American Dream is to get rich quick.
people still hanker back for the cowboy times when there were no rules:
the frontier mentality is still rife.
people are mostly conservative and don't want to change their way of
life: change can be painful and uncertain.
defend the status-quo: most people do not like change. They are
don't like bad news: bad news is unsettling. People don't like to
the smallest creatures are the most important: the little things
that run the world (E O Wilson), are most worthy of saving because they
are most important. But people dislike their kind.
media and journalists: our news institutions have serious problems.
most media are owned by those benefited by brown-lashing: those
who have the most, have the most fear.
journalists and newspapers like controversy: any dissenting voice
gets disproportional coverage.
journalists don't have time and resources to dig deeper: they just
report other people's opinions.
newspapers skimp on background research in order to cut costs, employing
young reporters rather than experienced ones, while not allowing enough
time to do a decent job. Reporting 'style' has become more important than
content; 'entertaining' more than informing.
journalists must write more stories in less time: bombarded by news
stories, and pressed to produce, journalists have been forced to fill column-centimetres.
news is subject to fads, hype and public opinion: often reporters
'make' news by focusing on the story of the day, amplifying it and presenting
it in all the media at the same time. The story then creates hype and momentum.
readers are tired of bad news and scary stories and being held responsible
editors want 'balanced' coverage: giving equal time to protagonists
and antagonists, right or wrong.
newspapers don't want to sound 'educational': but prefer to be 'entertaining'.
journalists use a computer database (Nexus?) to look up everything
that has been said on any subject, or by any person, so rumours repeat
themselves and myths are born. Rumours and false statements cannot be erased
from the database. False statements are recorded for history as faithfully
as are true ones. If enough people are wrong, the issues will be remembered
wrong, and future generations will not be able to learn from them.
bribes: who pays, says.
paying (consulting) any contrarian scientist who sounds right for
'sound science' and 'balanced view'. Paying such people to do the rounds
as after-dinner speakers at meetings of influential people. They talk the
right language, sounding familiar, while taking away anxiety. They bring
highly funded: the anti-environmental movement is well funded, well
lobbied for; represents invested business interests, and promotes 'less
taxes', 'deregulation' and 'necessary budget cutting' to cut environmental
movements down. However, scientists are also paid, by Government.
silent scientists: why are scientists silent?
scientists are easily attacked by half-truths: to contradict these,
costs too much time.
science itself consists of doubting the truth, so criticising it
is a 'scientific' process.
scientists don't defend themselves well: they won't get involved
with politics and won't fight untruths. They are not trained in speaking
scientists don't recognise the power of propaganda, or its ingredients.
They are essentially enshrined within protective institutions and organisations,
which shelter them from the winds of the real world. They live in their
own arcane world, being perhaps a little naive. They often take the bait,
scientists go into too much detail, focusing on the problem rather
than how it relates to people; not speculating on results which are what
we are interested in; not giving certainty to simplify the issues; not
caricaturing to make the issues clear. Caricatures are scientifically imprecise.
(un)objectivity: scientists consciously or unconsciously make value
judgements in selecting research topics, choice of research method, application
of theory, and interpretation of facts. It should make them doubt their
own work. This renders honest scientists vulnerable.
scientists are vulnerable: scientists do not dare speak out because
it is often not considered scientific by their colleagues. They are bound
by institutional contracts which essentially take their voices away because
it is the Public Relations Department's task. Scientists fear losing their
scientists know too little: although very specialised in their own
field, scientists feel unqualified to speak where other fields of science
are involved, such as is necessary in the bigger picture. It essentially
means that they know too little of what goes on outside their specialisation.
As one can see, the brownlash movement is just one of the orchestrated
movements of which there are many in society, using the well-known techniques
of propaganda and division. So how could society improve the quality of
information necessary to reach well-founded, often painful decisions for
our common future? Here are some suggestions.
the media must be made more aware of the unequal battle and be more considerate
to scientific viewpoints.
scientists must be trained in communicating their ideas, being more to
the point (the need of the reporter).
scientists must make their knowledge readily available in a form that is
easily understood (educational resource).
scientists should immediately react to misinformation by writing letters
to the editors, writing in their local papers.
scientists should recognise that public outreach is part of good science,
and is necessary, also to present good role models.
scientists should learn how to work with multiple disciplines and the public.
scientists must involve themselves with school curricula and update these
with new knowledge resources.
scientist should hold public lectures to make people more aware.
prepare school students better in facts and the techniques of propaganda,
so they will be aware of manipulation.
These rules do not apply only to scientists, but also to anyone keen to
uphold the truth, and keen to make others aware of the plight of the planet.
Ehrlich, Paul R and Anne H (1996): Betrayal of Science
& Reason; how anti-environmental rhetoric threatens our future.
Brown, J A C: Techniques of persuasion, from propaganda
to brainwashing. 1963. Penguin Books.
How to communicate science
The situation the media have manoeuvred themselves in, may be deplorable,
but their business is still to bring news. If only the scientific message
could be brought as if it were essential news, the public could be better
How to deal with the media:
start with a ten second sound bite which catches attention; a newspaper
top down pyramid writing. Important conclusions first, then the
next level of importance. Details last.
use analogies, metaphors. These are very powerful in guiding the
reader's mind. They can bring gutfeeling into the arguments. Many people
think instinctively, emotionally.
use simple language: aim at the level of an eleven year old. If
the cleaning lady can't understand you, you don't know what you are talking
about. (Ernest Rutherford). Use caricatures.
use some propaganda techniques: people are used to these. Be enthusiastic,
passionate about what you say.
avoid scenarios because these can be seen as predictions, promising
certainty where none was intended.
avoid doom saying because the public doesn't like this. Also give
a positive way out. Give hope.
make clear distinctions between what is optimal (best), practical
and what is policy advice (values).
have your press release reviewed by peers and uninformed friends,
before going public.