If you’ve been paying attention to the news, then you know the ocean is on the verge of collapse and the seas will destroy coastal communities. But a team of researchers has found that global warming’s impacts on the oceans have been greatly exaggerated by scientists and the media.
As it turns out, reports about things like coral reefs dying off, invasive species destroying ecosystems and species becoming endangered are mostly media hype and have little to do with actual science. It’s a form of groupthink, say researchers, that can damage scientific inquiry.
“There are a lot of conversations around meetings about the excess doom and gloom in our reporting of ocean health, but perhaps this is the first paper to bring these concerns out of the privacy of peer conversations,” Carlos Duarte, a marine biologist at the University of Western Australia, told the science journal Nature.
“This is a silent movement, as there is a lot of peer pressure against voicing those concerns openly, so my co-authors and I expect significant heat upon us to be derived from our paper,” said Duarte.
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Duarte says the media is not all to blame, as marine scientists themselves “may not have remained sufficiently sceptical” on the effects of global warming. Duarte and his colleagues reviewed news stories and scientific reports and contrasted them with the media narrative.
What Duarte and his colleagues found was that the headlines often didn’t match the underlying science. For example, CNN had a headline reading “Overfished and under-protected: Oceans on the brink of catastrophic collapse” — a headline that didn’t match the science.
“Overselling such claims is dangerous,” Duarte and his colleagues told Nature, “because the public may become inured to them and give up trying to save an ocean that it believes is already beyond redemption.”
Duarte’s study comes out as news that some coral reefs will be able to withstand bleaching, which scientists argue will become more common due to global warming. A study by Australian scientists found that parts of the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs will likely survive, at least in the short-run, bleaching events.
But even this news had a very catastrophic spin to it. For example, Phys.org ran with the headline “A grim future for coral reefs—why it matters for New Zealand.” Huffington Post decided to report that “Coral Reefs Could Soon Fall Silent As Ocean Acidification Ravages Ecosystems.”
All the while actual scientists are divided on the subject. Scientists essentially disagree over whether or not computer models predicting bleaching and assessments over weather variability.
“The signs are still there that we may see the third global-scale bleaching event in 2015,” Mark Eakin, a coral reef ecologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told ScienceMag.com.
“I just don’t think we know at this stage,” countered David Wachenfeld, director of reef recovery at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in Australia.
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