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February 21, 2006

The Chasm Between Science and Media

In my article for the March/April 2006 issue of Mother Jones Magazine, The Fate of the Ocean, I wanted to present a comprehensive view of the issues affecting our water world, since it seems to me that people hear fragments of news, but don’t understand the magnitude of the combined threats.

My own involvement in the oceans dates back 25 years, when I began making nature documentaries, many with an ocean emphasis. My friend and former partner in this endeavor, Hardy Jones, is a member of the Board of Governors of Oceana.

In particular, I wanted to take the news from science and present it to the reader. One of the more alarming trends I see in our world is the growing chasm between science and the media. As I say in the article, many scientists speak only to each other and avoid educating the press, while the media seems unwilling to report environmental news, and caters to a public generally confused by science. We need to work to change this dynamic.

Most of the research for The Fate of the Ocean was already in my database, since I’ve been working on a book about coral reefs for the past few years, and have compiled a fairly comprehensive archive.

Eventually, I arranged to go to sea with a research expedition from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute out of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and with another from the Louisiana Marine Universities Consortium out of Cocodrie, Louisiana. I chose these expeditions in part because they were run by women, and I wanted to present a picture of women working in science.

Here’s the good news. We now have the tools to understand the dynamics of our life support system on Earth. We also have the means to look backwards into the past and understand what changes might be coming our way. The challenge is to transform our understanding into action, to persuade the policy makers of the world to treat these environmental issues — the true threat to homeland security — with the urgency and intelligence they demand.