A "Sixth Mass Extinction"? Here's Why No One Trusts Science Reporting Anymore
You may have read in the media that humans are causing a sixth mass extinction on the planet.
You may also have noted that one of the sources of the claim is Paul Ehrlich -- author of the hysterically wrong The Population Bomb.
But for the most part the articles that have reported on the paper by Ehrlich and Anthony Barnosky (in Science Advances) do not mention that infamous book or Ehrlich's history of hyperbolic ecological fear mongering. Instead they simply identify Ehrlich as a Stanford University professor and president of the Center for Conservation Biology. That's misleading by omission.
Here's one news reports, for example, that merely refers to him as a professor. From the story in the Telegraph:
Scientists at Stanford University in the US claim it is the biggest loss of species since the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. "Without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event," said Professor Paul Ehrlich, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Putting it that way creates an illusion that Ehrlich would write an objective study. But Ehrlich is less a scientist than he is an ideologue who for decades has made a good living by preaching doom and gloom. His prognostications are almost always wrong.
The Telegraph's Tim Chivers penned a valuable column a few years ago outlining some of the assertions Ehrlich made in his book that turned out to be panicked rather than prophetic. From the column:
So, let's take a look at some of his predictions, made in 1968:
1) "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate," he said. He predicted four billion deaths, including 65 million Americans...
What actually happened: Since Ehrlich wrote, the population has more than doubled to seven billion -- but the amount of food per head has gone up by more than 25 per cent. Of course there are famines, but the death rate has gone down. I don't think a significant number of Americans have starved....
3) "By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people ... If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000."
What actually happened: I'm not hungry. I just ate. Are you hungry? Were you hungry in 2000, especially? Does England exist?
You can't responsibly report a doomsday story straight-faced as if Ehrlich doesn't have a history. Many people already know who Ehrlich is and many will -- rightly or wrongly -- discount the study precisely because we know that he has an ideological agenda.
And then they moan that no one trusts "the science" anymore. This is an example of why -- and why there is also so little trust remaining in the media.
Image: � �eljko Radojko / Dollar Photo Club.