Accuracy in Media

Vice reported this week that the Doomsday Clock is still stuck at 100 seconds to mankind being entirely wiped out. The problem with this is twofold. The first is that the Doomsday clock itself is simply a guess – a most unscientific guess – by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It’s unscientific because it’s not possible to do experiments here. The entire idea of science is here’s my idea, now, what experiment can I do to disprove it? If I can’t either prove or disprove it then what I’m doing is not science.

So, this is reported as science, from real scientists! Yet it’s nothing of the kind. Until we can look back and say “Oops” there’s no science here at all. It’s opinion, and that’s all it is.

This leads to the second problem here. Which is the coverage this “clock” gets from the likes of Vice. Why do they cover it in this fawning manner? Because the answers given – sorry, the unscientific opinions – as to how to avoid disaster fit in with what Vice and similar progressives already believe.

For example, one of the reasons that the clock is so close to disaster is climate change. But absolutely no one at all – not the IPCC, not COP 26, not even the most outraged climate change protester – says that climate change is an immediate problem. It’s something that might become so in a decade or three, sure. We might well need to be doing stuff real soon now to avoid it. But it’s not seconds to midnight. But there is that insistence that we must radically change society to deal with it and so that desire to create the urgency.

Of course, that radical change is that we must kill capitalism, turn socialist and all that – it’s amazing how that answer has remained unchanged for a century while the questions keep changing. But there we are.

Vice is a significant news source these days. The cable channel reaches 60 million American homes, the magazine runs to 900,000 copies. The site gains 30 million visits a month. It’s a major source of information for many.

They would all be rather better informed if a little more of that traditional journalistic skepticism were applied to stories like this. Who decided, why, that we’re on the edge of doom? And no, just because their solutions agree with your own prejudices, that’s not enough. But that is the sort of reporting we’re getting on this issue.

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