A 98-year-old US science journalist, who has finally decided to retire, says a generation of Americans are suffering from a “major disability in what they can think about and understand”.
This was one reason why so many people refused to recognise climate change was real, David Perlman told the website of the Poynter Institute, which trains the media.
For the majority of his career, he has covered scientific progress in the 20th century and beyond, writing thousands of articles about everything from the beginning of the space age to the computer age.
Perlman, a journalist at The San Francisco Chronicle, described cuts in science coverage by newspapers as “absolutely obscene”.
“Newspapers, whether online or in print, are a major factor in the ongoing education and awareness of the public, and specifically of a younger generation,” he said.
“And whether it’s online or in print, the idea of failing to cover advances in science … it creates a generation with a major disability in what they can think about and understand.”
The lack of critical thinking that dismays him was being demonstrated in the US public’s reaction to scientific evidence that the world is getting warmer because of greenhouse gas emissions, largely caused by fossil fuels.
“A perfect example of that [lack of understanding of science] is the controversy over climate change, global warming and all that that implies,” Mr Perlman said.
“The failure of people to understand that this is real science, and it’s just as scientifically valid as an issue today as is the fact that we’re going to have an eclipse of the sun on August 21. That’s not a theory — that’s going to happen.
“And the climate is going to change more, and more and more.
“The resistance to an understanding of that I can understand … which is largely generated by people whose economic interests are threatened by the fact that what’s causing the changing climate is, in fact, the increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.”
A recent poll by YouGov found 57 per cent of Americans thought that a combination of human activity and natural causes were causing global warming.
Nasa and other scientific bodies, however, say greenhouse gas emissions have caused the vast majority of recent warming with the world experiencing three successive, record-breaking hottest years. The natural El Nino weather cycle has had a relatively minor effect.
Mr Perlman said once there had been 50 to 75 pages in newspapers devoted to science across the US but now “there’s The New York Times on Tuesday” with only a few others having anything similar.
He said newspapers have abdicated their responsibility by diminishing the amount of science coverage.