Media has role in stemming science attacks

Asia's Tech News Daily

The trashing of expertise and rise of armchair research has to stop, insists a leading scientist, who has urged journalists not to “amplify the denigrators” attacking climate change.

© Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS Scientist Dr Katherine Woodthorpe has warned the media against legitimising climate change denial.

One of Australia’s most influential figures in research and technology innovation, Dr Katherine Woodthorpe, is dismayed by the denigration of science fuelled by sceptics in the media and on social media. 

“Somewhere along the line a few people became suspicious of scientists and blamed them for all the ills of the world,” she told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

“When the internet became accessible to all, it opened a floodgate of armchair self-defined ‘researchers’ who thought that random anonymous postings on Facebook and Reddit had more credibility than a scientist with years of training and peer-reviewed research.”

Dr Woodthorpe is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and in 2017 received an Order of Australia for her service to research and technology innovation.

She appealed to journalists, telling them “don’t amplify the denigrators” attacking scientific credibility.

“Balance is not one climate denier versus one climate scientist. It’s 2000 scientists before the denier gets their chance,” she said.

“One of my most cranky moments was after being invited to participate on Q&A on the annual science edition. I was ditched at the last minute for a vociferous climate denier.”

Dr Woodthorpe said she was “delighted” to see News Corp’s about-turn on climate change even if she wasn’t sure what drove it.

“For a long time we’ve been very concerned that the major media reach of such an enormous organisation, not only in Australia but around the world, has been so anti-climate science,” she said.

She also labelled the government’s “technology not taxes” mantra on climate change action “a bit of cop out”.

“Technology is going to be incredibly important. It’s a really big part of the picture. But we can’t rely on it solely,” she said. 

“We can’t rely on carbon capture taking all the carbon we need to get out of the atmosphere because it isn’t being shown to work yet.”

Dr Woodthorpe warned against discounting people being sucked into conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines. 

“The next thing they’re in Melbourne tearing down holdings because they’re so angry about something,” she said.

“This seems to fulfil that anxiety of ‘I knew that was something I should have worried about’. And off it takes like a light to a fire.”

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