Parting Shots

OK, Boomer

I can hear Greta Thunberg already, nagging us mean old people that 'science' demands we geezers downsize. Or else.

By Dave Skinner

Here and there, I run across “news” items so ridiculous, I can’t leave them alone. In the middle of March I ran across a doozy at Beltway-based The Hill’s “Changing America” website subsection. “People over 60 account for a third of greenhouse gas emissions” was the headline. Oh, my stars, right?

Before I shred this, let’s review “Publish or Perish.” Academics and scientists “keep score” by how many “peer-reviewed” articles authors get “published” in whichever “journal” covers that academic or scientific area of practice and/or theory.

Trouble is, the academic and scientific conversations contained in even the most “prestigious” journals are often, sometimes profoundly, insular, taking place on the equivalent of an uncharted desert isle. Only a select few even know these conversations are happening at all, among an even-more-select fewer, regardless of how important (or not) the conversations might eventually be in context of the larger society – those of us in the wider world who pay the research freight.

So, how to flag down a passing ship and get more bananas (cash) to continue researching in paradise? Get your “publication” further “published” in outside, general-interest media! How is that done?

1. Journal editorial staff seeking wider attention, hopefully both free and favorable, will send out a press release and/or newsletters to potential general-interest “outlets.” It’s really no different from public-relations promotional efforts. 

2. A “science reporter,” hopefully-but-rarely with a “science” degree above and beyond journalism, grabs the press release out of their spam folder. “Ah, here’s what I can write about today!”

3. The reporter pulls some quotes from the press release (word for word), scrambles and rewrites some of the explanatory body text, and maybe to juice things a little, actually calls the “contact” names and numbers helpfully provided for exclusive content. Voila, science journalism! Everyone’s happy and enlightened, right? Um, not always, and that’s where I’d like to bring in this latest “study.”

First of all, this particular “science to the masses” effort was a bust. I could only find about six “reports,” and all of the outlets could be categorized as either “climate change 24/7” or “woke,” with none being what shamefully passes for “mainstream” these days.

Next, of the six, not one provided a free link to the “study” itself. Only one provided free access, to the press release that announced the study. The release revealed that three of the “reporters” simply cribbed off the pre-quoted “quotes,” then mailed in their “work.” The others apparently called the “contacts” for “fresh” word salad.

I could have obtained a copy of the study, for $32. Or, I could subscribe for a year ($99) OR sign up for a $30 per month super subscription. I’ve done that before, only once was the result worth the coin. So, I settled for the press release – a “Eurekalert” from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science – the very same people who’ve ripped me off before.

The headline this time? “People over 60 are greenhouse gas emission bad guys” – somewhat edgier than any of the “reported” headlines. The co-authors here, from China, the U.S., and Norway, studied energy consumption data of age groups in 27 EU nations in 2005 and 2015, plus America, Japan and Australia.

Sure enough, the young in rich countries burn less carbon than elders, who in turn “are able to maintain their high consumption [after retirement] through their wealth.” Well, isn’t that what all of us aspire to in our old age?

America, of course, scored the worst, with the best scores pegged by Lithuania, Hungary, Croatia, Hungary and Estonia – you know, former Warsaw Pact or for-real former Soviet SSRs?

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised this “science” press release contained a Message to Politicians subhead declaring “it would be an advantage if more people moved to smaller homes once the kids moved out.”

Gee … after your last kid gets kicked out of the basement, don’t you deserve that epic train set or man cave, or Mom cave for that matter? I can hear Greta Thunberg already, nagging us mean old people that “science” demands we geezers downsize. Or else.