Why Science Journalists Rarely Get Their Stories Right

by | Aug 6, 2022 | ,

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As I sat down to begin this essay, I turned on the television to see the beginning of Stage 19 of this year’s Tour De France bicycle race. Before I got to the correct station, I passed a morning news program with a reporter stating that today’s headline news was Scientists discover that humans are now causing the greatest mass species extinction in history.”

It was undoubtedly the inspiration to build on material from Alex Epstein’s new book Fossil Future to support my headline for this article. I am optimistic that most of the public is beginning to ignore these constant scary headlines, which have no basis in fact.

The problems can be placed in the order of efforts that must be applied to all research that generates a near limitless amount of specialized knowledge that only the rare scientists can know close to everything in their own fields. There is no better example than climate science, where specialists may prevail in paleoclimatology, climate physics, oceanography, climate modeling, or others.

The knowledge must be synthesized, disseminated, and evaluated to prepare the research results. This is always performed by other than the researchers. Synthesizing means organizing, refining, and condensing. Disseminators are those who broadcast the synthesized knowledge such as newspapers, radio, and television. Evaluators are those who tell us what should be done with the information, which could be making policies of all kinds.

Along the path from research to public knowledge lies a minefield of obstacles to the ultimate truth of everything. I recognized this in my early work in environmental science, so I contacted 50 different scientists working in the environment and asked if they had experienced similar distortion of their work before it reached wide recognition. One and all had witnessed the same problems and agreed to write an original paper explaining their individual issues. It allowed me to compile the articles into a new book titled Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns. It was published by the company now known as John Wiley & Sons in 1991. I was honored to learn that it played a role in Alex Epstein’s attacks on these problems that I will describe now further.

In climate science, the leading synthesizers are the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United States Government, and other organizations like the American Meteorological Society and the National Academy of Science. The synthesis can and does go badly wrong by virtue of honest mistakes but more often as a result of biases existing within the synthesizers, which are the non-stop targets of influence groups able to gain from how the research is presented.

A good example is that if you wade through thousands of pages of recent IPCC reports, you will not find a single proven statistic of increasing weather-related deaths in recent decades. Yet, the final summary states emphatically that this is the case. The opposite is absolutely the truth based on dozens of studies. 

Once the synthesizers do their jobs, however well or poorly, the essentials of their synthesis must be disseminated. There are all kinds of disseminators, certainly alternative media today. Still, the most important ones remain the mainstream media that we all know spread misinformation daily to a public not well trained to recognize its veracity.

If one has time to read the actual reports made by the synthesizers, the absurdity of conclusions comes clear. A recent IPCC report summary popularized the term ”code red for humanity” with obvious terrifying intent. Yet the report offered more opposite data on decreasing floods and droughts etc., the disseminators grabbed code red” and ran with it.

It is difficult for any science journalist to grasp the reality of what is going on, and if they have a political bias, all is really lost.

Finally, we have the evaluators of the synthesized and disseminated information. Prominent evaluators are the editorial pages of major newspapers such as The NY Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. They are the institutions and people who help us evaluate what to do about what is disseminated and tell us what is true about the world.

One way to spot when potential bad evaluations are being made is when we are told to listen to the scientists.” This refrain is almost always used to get us to accept a given policy evaluation without critical thinking, which is what we should never do. Very quickly, one can recognize when an evaluation system is very wrong. The first is when the evaluation has an anti-human basis, and the other is when all sides of an issue, pros and cons, are not considered. If you have long followed the evaluation by nearly all radical environmental groups, and one wonders which are not, they all focus on the terrible things humans do to nature when the reality is that it is mankind that is good and nature destructive.

The moral case for eliminating fossil fuel is a profoundly anti-human argument which Alex Epstein proves brilliantly through his 420-page magnum opus. It is my intent to help you grasp the clarity of his wisdom, allowing you to be a citizen warrior on the side of humanity with your friends, neighbors, and colleagues that one day will turn the corner on the public understanding of the lies they have been exposed to.

A clear indication of the anti-human evaluation is their insistence not just on rapidly eliminating fossil fuels but on replacing them with exclusively green unreliable energy systems. The most substantial evidence by far of their plans going catastrophically wrong is that they oppose things on the basis of side effects ignoring massive benefits. The obvious ones are:

1 – Fossil fuels are a uniquely cost-effective source of energy.

2 – Cost-effective energy is essential to human flourishing. Get used to this term as it should always guide our decisions.

3 – Billions of people remain suffering and dying for lack of cost-effective energy.

It should be obvious now to most of us that the anti-fossil fuel folks are, in fact, opposed to human beings. They actually believe humans are a cancer on the Earth. Otherwise, would they desire to force mankind to use only the intermittent, uncontrollable sources of energy from the sun and the wind that currently supply only three percent of the world’s energy and even that must have fossil fuel back up to avoid crushing destruction of electric grids that become unbalanced. The obvious answer is no!

Human Flourishing is defined as an effort to achieve self-actualization and fulfillment within the context of a larger community of individuals, each with the right to pursue such efforts.

Portions of this article were excerpted from the book, Summary of Fossil Future By Alex Epstein: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas–Not Less, with permission of the author Alex Epstein and the publisher Portfolio/Penguin.

I strongly recommend this book to everyone fighting for the preservation of life in America, which has been made possible by our abundance of fossil fuels before the leftist, liberal, progressives, and communists attempted to limit humankind’s well-being.

Dr. Jay Lehr

Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Please also see articles by Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris

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10 months ago

Government science is an oxymoron.

10 months ago

This is what I always tell those that are against humanity or say we need to reduce the population.
Begin with removing yourself first.
They should show real leadership in this.

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