Posted by keith on December 22nd, 2009
For my Christmas present last year, I subscribed to New Scientist. It was a good present, because I like to keep up with the latest climate science and there was certainly a lot of that in 2009; most of it pretty worrying. There are also some really good articles about human psychology and more abstract ideas of existence – a few years ago I set myself the impossible task of trying to find a reasonable way of explaining the nature of the universe and whether it can indeed be infinite. Clearly I haven’t got their yet, but have been helped along the way by New Scientist.
I won’t be subscribing in 2010.
Without initially looking through the latest edition (Christmas 2009), I can confidently say that there is enough pro-corporate, anti-life rhetoric in that single issue to counterbalance everything good that the magazine does contain. Let’s take a look…
A full page advert by IG Index, promoting commodity trading (oil, gold, coffee, cocoa etc.)
P12: A piece entitled “At last, guilt-free piste bashing at a greener resort”, which actually says nothing of the sort about skiing – the software in question just uses erosion as a business risk factor.
P19: In a review of the year to come, a piece called “Electric Dream”, about electric cars or “green motoring” in which the phrase “If this is the future of green motoring, sign us up.” Yet, it is not an opinion piece, so why the hyperbole?
In the middle: An 8-page supplement sponsored by the greenwashing Carbon Trust, called “Clean Tech Pioneers”. The term “Clean Tech” has been identified by Corporate Watch as one of the classic buzz-phrases to be avoided, because it is just a way of making profit from climate change.
This edition was pretty exceptional for not containing a lot of advertising, probably because it is the more popularist Christmas edition, so the demographic is different, but go back a week and you find:
A two-page “Blueprint for environmental research” including (again) electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage, biofuels based on GMOs and geoengineering. Just because the research is happening, doesn’t make it good research.
A full page advert for Delta Airlines.
A full page promo for the next week’s “Clean Tech Pioneers” greenwashing fest.
A full page advert by Nestle, promoting a trivial Fair Trade agreement.
A full page advert by IG Index (see earlier)
A review of “Storms of my Grandchildren” by James Hansen, containing the astonishing phrase: “Extraordinarily, Hansen thinks civil resistance is now the only way forward…the third reason his book is so terrifying.”
While being a sterling campaigner on the side of good climate science vs. corporate denial, New Scientist appears to have recently got itself stuck in a bizarre, self-perpetuating loop that it doesn’t seem willing to wriggle out of: in essence, New Scientist has become a cheerleader for the corporate system. This is exemplified in the large number of full page greenwashing ads it carries, with no sense of irony, for the very corporations that fund climate denial thinktanks and astroturfs: in 2009, every issue except for the Christmas one carried as least two such adverts. Furthermore, any suggestion that technology does not hold the keys to a sustainable future is either poo-pooed — as per the Hansen review mentioned above — or simply ignored, as per the series of editions entitled, “Blueprint for a Better World” which laid out a cornucopia of techo-fixes, conventional economic and political “solutions” and all sorts of hopes for future technological research.
Alright, it’s a science magazine, what else should I expect? What I should expect is a sense of balance.
The science they republish is good science; it is balanced by its nature, and thus New Scientist really has no choice but to publish what the scientific body is saying. On the other hand, a great deal of New Scientist content is opinion-based, and thus subject to bias. If they are going to be so willing to carry the greenwashing adverts of corporations among the plethora of technological guides to the future (bearing in mind that technology, as opposed to science, is not neutral), then if NS is going to be seen as balanced, then it makes sense to also carry articles that show, not only that there are no current technological-based “solutions” that fulfil the required greenhouse gas and environmental degradation reduction criteria, but that the real solutions probably have nothing whatsoever to do with technology.
This is tragic, because when it tries, New Scientist really does manage to produce some fantastic articles. Sadly, though, because it has become so enamoured by the corporate system, what was once an excellent magazine has become something I am now ashamed to have in my house.