Why is society bombarded with ideological propaganda in the guise of science?

There are many reasons why we are bombarded with ideological propaganda in the guise of science, given the information age we live in, but the main ones are surely ulterior motives on the part of the perpetrators and a lack of critical thinking by many in society.  Unfortunately, the lack of critical thinking is a direct result of the poor standard of science education in most western countries and the low esteem in which science is held in many parts of modern society.  Based on mainstream media reports it appears this lack of critical thinking extends to journalists and editors.  Mark Twain’s comment “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed” still holds true. Our way of life, and our high standard of living, is heavily dependent on science and it is ironical how many purveyors of ideological propaganda spread their misinformation in the name of science.

Take, for example, the issue of seismic surveys and marine life.

The facts tell us that, despite 40 years of seismic surveys in the marine environment, using compressed air as the source, there is no reputable, published, scientific evidence of harm to cetaceans caused by noise from these surveys.  However, there have been many studies by researchers who have exposed caged marine animals (in tanks, cages, nets and even aquariums) to sounds that are totally unrepresentative of sounds they would experience during seismic surveys.  They invariably conclude that marine life “could” “may” or “potentially” be harmed by seismic surveys although no evidence of such impacts exist.  This is despite the 100% monitoring of seismic survey operations by marine mammal observers in most jurisdictions in the world.  In contrast, with a much lower level of monitoring, evidence nevertheless exists that hundreds of thousands of marine mammals perish each year from vessel strikes in the shipping industry and by-catch in the fishing industry.  Perhaps a greater level of monitoring of the shipping and fishing industries would reveal more marine mammal deaths?

When facts and science are ignored by those who shout loudest and use social media or sensation seeking mainstream media to gain the public’s attention, it is little wonder that the public is misinformed by a variety of different groups who either “cherry-pick” the science or totally distort it.

The variety of different groups that are “jumping on the (ideological) bandwagon” is growing.  It is unfortunate that the public has grown to expect misinformation from some elected representatives and many activist environmental groups (eNGOs).  However, most people in society would not expect similar misinformation from researchers or hitherto respected scientific journals.  In fact, given the constant bombardment of misinformation from this wide variety of groups, not only is society deceived into believing their point of view, many in the petroleum industry, who should know better, are also being deceived!  This is surely a case of “repeat a myth often enough and loudly enough and it will become a fact”!

The following is a series of examples demonstrating the manner in which elected representatives, eNGOs, researchers and even a prestigious scientific journal have used misinformation and hence contributed to public fear and confusion regarding seismic surveys and marine life:

1.     Elected Representatives.

Many elected representatives descend into distortion of the facts in order to promulgate their ideological agendas.  Examples of this can be seen in my critiques of the claims made by SA Senator Penny Wright and the Kangaroo Island (KI) Council concerning a proposed seismic survey over 100km to the West of KI.

2.     Environmental Groups (eNGOs).

Similarly, many eNGOs do not adhere to the facts and science when pursuing their campaign objectives.  However, in their attempt to achieve “scientific credibility” in pursuit of the donor dollar, they disguise their ideological propaganda in glossy publications that purport to provide balanced views.  There are many eNGOs that have adopted this strategy – IFAW, Oceana, WDCS and NRDC – come to mind, but the most recent publication that is a text-book case for unbalanced science is Seismic Seas by Wild Migration.  The interested reader can read my critique of Seismic Seas but, just to emphasise the point, how can Wild Migration claim “The absence of studies is mostly because industry has been reluctant to fund or facilitate the studies.” on page 16 of their document?  At worse, this demonstrates a total disregard for the facts or at best an inexcusable ignorance of the facts.

3.     Researchers.
The public expects that researchers have a genuine objective to test hypotheses in a balanced way, taking into account all known facts and applying rigorous scientific methodology. Not so!
There are many researchers who, for some reason, ignore the facts and manipulate the science, as can be seen in my critique of the following two studies.  The Aguilar de Soto et al publication attempts to promote conclusions, based on experiments in a tank, that are NOT relevant to seismic surveys conducted in the marine environment.  Furthermore, for the researchers to simply cite a media article outlining unsubstantiated claims by the fishing industry about scallop die-off but to ignore or not be aware of credible publications pertaining to the scallop die-off is inexcusable.  The Engas et al study is a classic case of researchers disregarding the facts and adopting very poor methodology to prove their original hypothesis even if it was so obviously incorrect and has been proved to be incorrect in subsequent studies.

4.     Finally, we have the scientific journals.
Surely society should be able to rely on scientific journals to provide balanced assessments of scientific publications and issues?  One would expect them to act as the referee, judge or jury?  Not so!
Not only are publications that exhibit bias and poor methodology published, despite so-called peer review (as per item 3 above), some publications appear to promote very biased and unbalanced opinions.  The following is a shocking example of unbalanced science, which was published by the Scientific American in early March 2014 entitled “Air-gun Oil Exploration Wrongs Right Whales”.  I have a number of significant concerns with the contents of David Biello’s article:

a.      Biello says “and now industry has permission to use air guns off the U.S. east coast. Which means more dead whales.” This is totally false!  As stated previously, there is no reputable, published, scientific evidence of harm to cetaceans caused by seismic survey noise in the marine environment.  To “prove” his point Biello provides a link to the 778-page tome produced by BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) consisting of the final Programmatic Environment Impact Statement (PEIS) covering proposed geological and geophysical activity on USA’s Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.  It is rather ironical that the PEIS addresses compliance with the archaic regulations and terminology of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).  The MMPA is actually a 1972 act, which was primarily aimed at regulating the hunting and killing of marine mammals.  Unfortunately, the terminology used in the Act involves the word “take” which means harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.  Although the term “harass” must surely have meant the impact on those that were not captured or killed during the hunting process (ie escape in fear), it has now been reinterpreted: “The term “ harassment” means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which— (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.” Thus, a sound heard by a marine mammal that may result in a behavioural response (ie avoidance of the vessel) becomes a “take”!  This provides the opportunity for disingenuous persons like many environmental groups (and journalists like David Biello) to claim that seismic surveys kill whales when, in fact, whales simply hear the sounds, move to a safe distance from the vessel (which can be only a few hundred metres) and are not harmed.

b.     He then goes on to say “Air guns deafen them, if not kill them outright,” which is again totally false!  Biello again links in to the 778-page tome to justify this comment.  If this is so, why is there NO reputable, published, scientific evidence of harm to cetaceans caused by seismic survey noise in the marine environment?  Also why are there numerous facts to the contrary showing that whales live in a noisy ocean where there are natural sounds such as calving/colliding icebergs and sounds from their own activities that are similar in intensity, frequency and periodicity to seismic survey sounds?

c.      His original claim (since retracted) that “Dozens of melon-headed whales washed up dead on Madagascar beaches following similar seismic air gun testing by ExxonMobil in 2008” fails to acknowledge that the expert panel report, which he actually links to, stated that “the use of seismic airguns in an offshore seismic survey several days after the whales were already in the lagoon system, which was originally speculated to have played some role but in the view of the ISRP clearly did not.”  Note the words “several days after the whales were already in the lagoon” and “clearly did not”.  How could Biello and hence Scientific American have stood by their claim that the stranding was caused by the seismic survey? Obviously they could not and it has since been retracted. However, they have replaced it with an equally inaccurate claim by stating that “The sound is 250 decibels or more, much louder than a jet engine” when seismic pulses are similar to a jet taking off.

d.     His last two paragraphs are clearly not worth commenting on given they are based on a totally misinformed assessment of the impacts of seismic surveys on marine life.

In summary, it would appear that David Biello’s article in the Scientific American is simply a repeat of the unsubstantiated claims made by many activist environmental groups.  One would have expected that the readership of the Scientific American deserve a more balanced article based on the facts and science.

In conclusion, it is little wonder that, given the constant bombardment of society with ideological propaganda in the guise of science, the public, some regulators and even some in the petroleum industry end up actually believing the misinformation put out by the groups listed above.

Why do they do it?  Because they can!  Today’s information super highway enables them to spread misinformation and falsehoods extremely quickly and there appears to be very little challenge from the petroleum industry.  This means that many false statements made by eNGOs become “facts”. For example, the claims that “seismic surveys kill whales” and “seismic pulses are 100,000 times more intense than jet engines” are TOTALLY FALSE.

Next time you read or hear such claims from any of the groups mentioned above, take the time to consider why they are making those claims and what their motives are.

This is why The Norwood Resource was formed – to “assemble and disseminate factual, scientific and verifiable information” and “actively challenge and counter misinformation” about the impacts of oil and gas exploration and production on the environment.

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  1. […] other Atlantic margins such as Brazil, Africa, Europe and Canada? NO! Furthermore, as explained in section 4a of an article written to question the ideological propaganda disguised as science by many environmental groups and the media, the […]

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