This week an individual in one of my social networks shared with the rest of us a link to an alarming story about the state of the world’s oceans.
The link is to a website called DemocracyNow! which claims to provide its audience with “access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the U.S.corporate-sponsored media.”
Except that in this case, the self-proclaimed independent voice appears to have behaved exactly like the rest of the media – which is to say it swallowed a fishy story hook, line, and sinker.
Ocean Experts Warn of Unprecedented Mass Extinction of Marine Life blared DemocracyNow! How is that different from
- the BBC’s headline: World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline
- or the UK Telegraph‘s: World’s oceans move into ‘extinction phase’
- or CNN’s: Marine life facing mass extinction, report says?
CNN told us that the people who’d arrived at these conclusions were a “panel of experts” and “a distinguished group of marine scientists.” Lower in the story it said the panel “consisted of 27 marine experts from 18 organizations”
The Telegraph, too, described those involved as “an international panel of marine experts” before twice describing these people as scientists.
According to the BBC, the report was written by an “expert panel of scientists” including “coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists.”
All three mainstream media outlets mentioned in passing that the report was co-produced with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But none of them pointed out that this is an activist organization.
It didn’t take blogger Ben Pile long to discover that the report that had generated these headlines was actually written in three days by, in his words, “a little conference of self-selecting individuals, clearly given to a particular agenda.”
Among the 27 people the media said were scientists and marine experts is a UK Member of Parliament who has a degree in philosophy. Another is the executive director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action.
When Pile dug a little deeper, he discovered that 5 of the 27 are, in fact, employees of the IUCN. Two others work for another activist outfit, the Pew Environment Group.
Someone else is from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. Another is with the JM Kaplan Fund – a philanthropic organization that gives money to good causes.
Out of these 27 people, therefore, it appears that 14 possess no relevant scientific training whatsoever, are professional activists – or both.
Which leaves 13 others. Two of them have ties to Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund -Alex Rogers and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (about whom I’ve blogged recently).
Two more -Philip Chris Reid and Daniel Pauly – have their own WWF links. Still another has been associated with the IUCN since 2005.
At best, then, only eight of these 27 people (less than one third) even has a chance of being considered a disinterested party whose warnings we might want to pay attention to.
Surely it matters that the media was hoodwinked by a group of activists – that it failed to look critically at who wrote this report before issuing big scary headlines.
Surely we should care that people who describe themselves as “a select group of world science leaders” on oceanic matters (see page 4 of this PDF) include several individuals who aren’t even close.
When I chimed in on the social network, however, the response was disappointing. I provided a link to one of Pile’s blog posts along with the comment:
Unfortunately, the press didn’t check the facts. Many of those supposed “leading oceanic scientists” are actually green activists with no expertise in the field whatsoever.
I received this reply:
We definitely need to never, ever err on the side of caution.
Oh, brother. Perhaps the person involved was tired or rushed and I probably shouldn’t read too much into a casual comment.
But before one can err on the side of caution one surely needs accurate information. About the state of the oceans. And about whether the people who’ve written reports on that topic are credible.
It seems to me this is a small example of what has been going on for decades with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Slick press packages are issued about reports supposedly written by experts. Rather than examining matters with a careful and critical eye, the media instead provides a free PR service to activists posing as scientists.
And lots of ordinary people with busy lives have become so used to hearing environmental horror stories there’s actually no room in their brain for a different kind of narrative.
NB – The group claims 27 individuals were involved, but only 26 names appear on the participant list that begins on page 10 of their summary report.