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Media Mediocrity: Waging War Against Science

Media Mediocrity: Waging War Against Science

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Published by Fernwood Publishing
“How is it possible to have a debate about the scientific veracity of global warming when 97 percent of the very people who are behind every shred of science in climatology and global warming, the scientific researchers, agree it is anthropogenic and we are headed for catastrophe if CO2 emissions are not lowered immediately? How is it possible to live in a world so inundated with the fruits of science and yet at the same time, to have so many of the public dismiss its findings? The answer to these questions is found in one word: television.”

In Media Mediocrity, Richard Zurawski argues that the science we see on television is inaccurate and misleading, little more than spectacle and sound bites aimed at securing rather than educating its audience. As television continues to be the main source of scientific information for most North Americans, Zurawski contends that this dumbing-down of science has serious consequences. Examining issues such as global warming, tobacco consumption and intelligent design, Media Mediocrity argues that a misinformed public cannot hope to make informed decisions. We rely on experts to guide our individual and collective decision-making, but when scientific information is hijacked by vested interests and profit-making, we are denied access to those experts — and led to believe that debate is still an option. If science is our best hope for avoiding ecological catastrophe, we must put an end to this war on science and educate ourselves — before it is too late.
“How is it possible to have a debate about the scientific veracity of global warming when 97 percent of the very people who are behind every shred of science in climatology and global warming, the scientific researchers, agree it is anthropogenic and we are headed for catastrophe if CO2 emissions are not lowered immediately? How is it possible to live in a world so inundated with the fruits of science and yet at the same time, to have so many of the public dismiss its findings? The answer to these questions is found in one word: television.”

In Media Mediocrity, Richard Zurawski argues that the science we see on television is inaccurate and misleading, little more than spectacle and sound bites aimed at securing rather than educating its audience. As television continues to be the main source of scientific information for most North Americans, Zurawski contends that this dumbing-down of science has serious consequences. Examining issues such as global warming, tobacco consumption and intelligent design, Media Mediocrity argues that a misinformed public cannot hope to make informed decisions. We rely on experts to guide our individual and collective decision-making, but when scientific information is hijacked by vested interests and profit-making, we are denied access to those experts — and led to believe that debate is still an option. If science is our best hope for avoiding ecological catastrophe, we must put an end to this war on science and educate ourselves — before it is too late.

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Published by: Fernwood Publishing on Mar 08, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/27/2011

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Introduction
The War Against Science
 Wars. So many wars. Wars outside and wars inside. Cultural wars,science wars, and wars against terrorists. Wars against poverty andwars against the poor. Wars against ignorance and wars out of ignorance. My question is simple: Should we be at war, too, we, thescholars, the intellectuals? Is it really our duty to add fresh ruins toelds of ruins? Is it really the task of the humanities to add decon-struction to destructions? More iconoclasm to iconoclasm? Whathas become of critical spirit? Has it not run out of steam?
 —Bruno Latour, writer, academic
There is no doubt about it, we are in the middle of a war. The media—print,radio,
tv
and the internet—have all been waging a relentless campaignagainst science with a deluge of false facts, distorted information and editorialopinions that reaches into every household in North America. The lobbyistsfor vested business interests, right-wing fundamentalist groups, governmentagendas and the media have undermined the scientic method and replacedit with an amalgam of hyperbole, aggressive public relations and skewed logic.The anti-science media crusade has been highly effective and is reaching deeply into every facet of our society. The results are conclusive. Science andscientists are losing the war on almost every front. The percentage of thegeneral populace that understands science, that chooses to study science orthat even respects scientists and their ndings, is plummeting. Every scienceis under assault—medicine by “pseudo medicine,” biology by Christianfundamentalists, global warming climatology by deniers funded by powerful vested interests. The growing list of advocates of bad and pseudo scienceis staggering:
ufo
proponents, paranormal investigators, psychic healers,astrologists, soothsayers, conspiratorialists, creationists, touch therapy counsel-lors, self help motivators, anti Big Bang study lobbies. Everywhere we look,not only science, but those who practise science—scientists and research-ers—are being denigrated, misrepresented, portrayed as liars and accusedof being self-absorbed and out of touch with the “real world.” And wheredoes information provided by science t in? It doesn’t. Those in control of the media nerve centres—headline writers, op ed writers, newsroom editors,documentary commissioning editors, talk show hosts and broadcast execu-
 
Media Mediocrity — Waging War Against Science
2
tives—all wax rhetorical about science, but they rarely understand scienceor the science that scientists do.Think this is hyperbole and exaggeration? Not for a second! The falloutof this assault is already taking root and is striking. Fewer and fewer of ourbest and brightest see science as a career or even worth studying. Our biggestproblems, including global warming, are mired in reactionary and deliber-ate obfuscation, because of work funded by a small group of well nanced vested interests.And what replaces science? Superstition, pseudo science, opinion, en-tertainment, endless rounds of reality shows, manufactured stars looking fora moment of fame, talk shows and twenty-four-hour news shows chasing ambulances and manufacturing consent.The media screen out real science with talk about “stories” rather than“content.” Instead of reporting science, they anthropomorphize or createa spectacle of the science, looking for hooks to interest an increasingly sci-ence disenfranchised and science illiterate public. And the feedback loop hascome a full circle. Dumbed-down stories lead to dumbed-downed audiencesrequiring even more dumbed-down stories, with the science illiterate leading the science illiterate in an ever downward spiral.As the level of public science literacy falls, the ability to understandcontent diminishes. The media producers, writers and editors take thesediminished public expectations and plough them back into new, even lessscientically based articles and stories and production for public offering, eachcycle becoming less and less related to science. And as the literacy levels fall,the need for editors, producers and writers to be science literate also falls, inan ever tighter anti-science spiral of media mediocrity.How did it get to this? How is it possible for the science community tohave allowed this to happen? This war against science has succeeded becausescientists share part of the blame. Scientists have, by and large, remained silentas their public support has plummeted, their image shredded and their work and research discredited. Most scientists have opted out of the scientist-publicdiscourse about science. Most scientists have failed to understand the inu-ence of the mass media on the public and in turn how that affects science.Scientists have for too long watched from the sidelines as the rising watersof public science illiteracy have dissolved the foundations of their research,support and image. Besieged by charlatans, quacks and vested interests, the vast majority of scientists have retreated further and further into their worksand networks, away from the madding, science illiterate crowds.And for those few scientists who do get it, who do venture into the mediafrenzy to participate in furthering science understanding, the price they payis steep. The suffer denigration from the scientic community. They become“lesser scientists,” marginalized by their peers.

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