30 July 2008

Most stuff is mostly alright most places


The above header is probably not going to sell many page views. But it is newsworthy, in the sense that it would be a novel observation for a news organisation to publish. It's a species of what I recall Dr Don Stammer aptly describing in the 1980s as the most likely outcome of any problem: the "muddle through". It has been prompted by another delightful piece that the InstaProf has nudged my way by John Tierney in the New York Times' Science section on 29 July. After the deluge of disaster that the media tips on us every day, I reckon this piece should have been given lead item status by every media organisation on the planet (and now even Memeorandum's algorithm and ALDaily has picked up this piece, so it's sure resonating with someone other than me and the Prof).

The header the NY Times uses is:

"FINDINGS: 10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List"

And, along with confining it to the deep innards of the journal by placing it in the mostly unread "Science" section, the header sufficiently contextualises this item, and neutralises its potential impact on the media's credibility, by letting the reader know early that what they are about to read is some quaint, quirky, faintly amusing, life style stuff from a possibly off-beam science type, that we can all laugh at and move on from comfortably, knowing it isn't serious or real news.

But wait; is this the case? Here's what Mr. Tierney says definitively (? ) we don't have to worry about because the concerns expressed are mostly bunkum:

- saturated fat,

- CO2 emissions from car air-conditioners,

- food miles,

- carcinogens from cellphone microwaves;

- plastic bags;

- poisoning from polycarbonate water bottles;

- shark attacks;

- North Pole ice;

- dark matter; &

- worm holes.

After all the stories that both serious and the sensational media outlets have scared us with in recent times about these issues, it surely is news that, on sober reflection, perhaps the media beat ups on these issues were just plain wrong. The big question this observations begs is what else that the media has been scaring us with might also be mostly bunk? An awful lot of the items in Tierney's list seem to be a reaction to greenie alarmism. Could we be "being led a merry dance" on the bigger issues as well, by the democratic, trend picking, fashion responding imperative of the mass media's need to get high numbers of views ?

It is curious too that there is just the hint (in the UK Sunday Times) of a suggestion (hat tip to Samizdata) that the bleeding edge of hip environmentalism might just be beginning to lose its grip in the opinion making urban fashion elites.

Could it be that the zeitgeist on planet saving is just perceptively shifting somewhere on its high exposure surfaces? (as we actually live through cooling seasons, that weren't supposed to be?) Will it soon be hip to be sceptical rather than credulous again? Or will we have to wait until after Obama's ascension to power?

There do seem to be an awful lot of people who have staked their reputations and positions on this global warming malaki being credible, though. And 'twill take a while for many of them to backslide away. Sheez Australia's ABC is even spruiking its alarmist piece for next week's 4 Corners faux investigative journalism program on ... disappearing North Pole ice! I wonder if they'll tell us about polynyas (a term adopted in the 19th century by polar explorers from the Russian word for this persistent phenonema).

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