Summary: In their desperate race for survival in a world with too many journalists, they’ve given a warm reception to all kinds of doomsters. Events this week suggest that at least some journalists have realized that they have no competitive advantage at clickbait, but that there will always be a market for good journalism — especially when challenging the conventional wisdom.
- The bee-pocalypse.
- The sea rise over our cities.
- For more information.
(1) The coming bee-pocalypse
The story of the bee-pocalypse shows why we’re so poorly misinformed despite the massive growth of the news media, both professional and amateurs. The story has run for years, but with little debunking in the major news media. That they don’t grapple with major stories, especially such easily debunked ones, shows one reason they’re in decline.
For 8 years we’ve heard about death of honey bees (probably due to pesticides) and the resulting wreck of agriculture, told with varying degrees of hysteria by a wide range of publications. Some examples are “Better Planet: Beepocalypse. Can we save honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder?“ by Josie Glausiusz in Discover (July 2007), “Honey bee apocalypse may not be caused by evil corporations after all” by George Dvorsky at io9 (June 2012) and “The New Silent Spring: America is one bad winter away from a food disaster, thanks to dying bees“ by Todd Woody at Quartz (May 2013).
Feeding the hysteria, Bryan Walsh wrote incendiary articles at the once-great Time magazine…
- “Going Green: Beepocalypse Now?” (Sept 2007).
- “Wildlife: Where Have All the Bumble Bees Gone?” (Jan 2011) — “Scientists call it the Beepocalyspe.”
- “Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees Are Still Dying — and We Still Don’t Know Why” (May 2013) — “More than 5 years after it was first reported, colony-collapse disorder is still killing honeybees around the world. If scientists can’t pinpoint the cause, the economic and environmental damage could be immense.”
Journalists at the major news media covered the story as a technical story, as if oblivious to the horrific claims made elsewhere.
- “New research on honeybee illness“, Washington Post, Jan 2011.
- “Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms“, NY Times, March 2013.
- “The Head-Scratching Case of the Vanishing Bees“, NY Times, Sept 2014.
Readers of the FM website learned the truth, that the hysteria was almost totally baseless: Is the bee-pocalypse coming, when the bees die and our crops fail? (June 2014) and Much of our news is people crying “wolf”. Do we still listen to real warnings? (January 2015).
But the time are changing. This week Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog did some strong de-bunking: “Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high“. Does this mark a change of policy?
(2) The sea rise over our cities
For 2 decades the journalists have given uncritical applause to scientists’ papers giving forecasts far outside the range described as likely in the IPCC’s reports. That might have changed this week with the coverage of announcement of “Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2°C Global Warming is Highly Dangerous” by James Hansen and 16 other eminent scientists.
A media barrage coordinated by the “strategic communicators” at Grover Park Group preceded publication of this non-peer reviewed paper, sensible since it seemed designed to build public support for action at November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The media kits included this terrifying excerpt from the paper…
We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.
This image of our planet with accelerating meltwater includes growing climate chaos and storminess, as meltwater causes cooling around Antarctica and in the North Atlantic while the tropics and subtropics continue to warm. Rising seas and more powerful storms together are especially threatening, providing strong incentive to phase down CO2 emissions rapidly.
Hansen followed the successful template of Carl Sagan, who published “The nuclear winter” in Parade magazine (30 Oct 1983) — followed by a massive media campaign. The paper appeared in the 23 December issue of Science, and was far weaker than the decisive analysis Sagan described in Parade. Go here to see the details.
However the paper did not include that alarming excerpt, and was more measured in its conclusions than the press release. Other oddities to this episode were the number of prominent climate scientists, including some usually on the “alarmist” side of the public debate, criticizing the paper, and the general low-key news coverage. Coverage since publication has been even more critical. See summaries of the coverage at Climate Etc.
Time will tell if journalists have reacted to an over-reach by Hansen et al, or if this marks the start of more critical coverage of alarmist press releases and studies.
For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see The keys to understanding climate change, all posts about information and disinformation, about doomsters, and especially these:
- Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off (2008).
- Spreading the news: the end is nigh! — A compendium of peak oil-related doomster predictions.
- Today’s conservative doomster warning (ludicrous but fun) — Paul Craig Roberts see the End, published in the Leftist “Counterpunch” (2010).
- The IPCC rebukes the climate doomsters. Will we listen? (2013).
- A warning about the end of the world — The so-called “NASA” end of civilization prediction (2014).