It’s bad enough that science has taken a back seat to politics under the Bush Administration, but even more disturbing is the way some GOP lawmakers are trying to make science out of fiction.
Senate Environmental Committee chair James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who famously described global warming as “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” turned to science fiction writer Michael Crichton for expert opinion during a set of hearings on climate change in late 2005.
Then, as the New York Times recently learned, President Bush invited Crichton to speak to a private audience at the White House last year about his techno-thriller State of Fear, in which a group of eco-terrorists undertake a phony global warming scheme to earn government grants. Someone who attended the event said President Bush and his guest “talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement.”
If that wasn’t enough to prove Crichton’s science is sketchy at best, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists saw fit to give Crichton its 2006 Journalism Award, despite the book’s appearance on the New York Times list of best fiction sellers. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration tries to muzzle real scientists, like James Hansen of NASA, who have spent their lives researching the threat of climate change and are telling us that earth is approaching a point of no return.
Politicians, however, can’t be given all of the blame. In his new book The Winds of Change, journalist and author Eugene Linden describes the media’s coverage of climate change as “timid and fitful,” focusing too much of its effort on the dissenting opinion, despite the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community.
Linden has written about global environmental issues for nearly thirty years, observing and often compensating for the complacency of mass media reporting. He described a recent segment about Crichton on ABC’s newsmagazine 20/20 in which correspondent John Stossel said, “He’s concluded [that global warming] is just another media-hyped foolish scare. And many scientists agree with him.” Yet the segment failed to note some actual news on the subject, the scientific consensus on climate change that was publised in that week’s issue of Science magazine.
That’s not to say scientists are particularly great at getting the word out in mass media. With well-founded and documented research, many scientists cultivate a naturally cautious public persona where the news media are involved.
“It’s so easy to be alarmist in this thing,” Linden pointed out, “but alarm actually understates the threat.”
Two of the greatest wake-up calls occurred less than a year apart. The tsunami in eastern Asia in December 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 exemplified the dangers posed by extreme weather. Yet it is still a common belief that climate change occurs gradually and is far off in the future.