Is science apocalyptic?

002_ScienceApocalipticFirst published on LinkedIn, 15.06.2015

This might be a strange question, because science is rational, analytic and always objective. Isn’t it?

But if you follow the media you find articles where authors claim that scientists say the apocalypse is near if we do not act quickly.


Apocalyptic scenarios

In the 1950s it was the atomic bomb and the use of atomic energy which some scientists believed may cause the “Weltenbrand”, and in the 1970s and early 1980s a new ice age was thought to freeze the northern world (e.g. Sir Fred Hoyle, 1981 in his book “Ice: How the new ice age will come and how we can prevent it” and his solution was to warm the oceans) and it was important to act quickly. In the 1980s and 1990s the hole in the ozone layer was a nearly hysterically discussed topic. Some call this a successful story and that the hysteria helped to solve the problem by preventing CFC in modern products through international agreements on reducing the consumption of ozone-destroying chemicals. But the panic was greater than the actual effect on earth, and the hole in the ozone layer does still exists! In my opinion some questions were not answered, such as how long the hole in the ozone layer existed prior its discovery in the 1980s, and whether CFC was its only cause or if there was something else affecting it that we didn’t know. Didn’t matter, we had to act quickly. Right after the hole in the ozone layer the discussions about climate change started again, but this time in the opposite direction; not cooling, now warming. And before substantial facts were available the conclusion was already made: the warming is anthropogenic and the end of the world is close. We have to act quickly! In the 1990s and right now a pandemic virus outbreak is at our doorstep and we have to act quickly, yet again.


Always the same mechanism

There are more apocalyptic scenarios, but I think you have got my point that we had to fear a number of apocalyptic events over the last century. Nevertheless, none of this events happened yet as they were predicted. If you follow the news you will usually not get to the bottom of the real problem, the only thing you get are opinions. There is always crucial knowledge or information missing and the mechanism as how scientific research meets the public is always the same: First one scientist discovers a possible threat to the world or life on earth as we know it, then media inflates the discovery to an apocalyptic scenario and after lots of repetition we start to believe it without questioning. And we have to act quickly, of course!


Fear and hasty decisions

Beside the problem that science might lose their reputation, this “common knowledge” will lead to wrong decisions, because it is based on fear and opinions rather than facts. One example: In the 19th century people stripped down all rods from their houses because they believed that lightning rods cause thunderstorms. The result was as you might expect: Lots of houses burned down after thunderstorms! Another example: In the 1990s there was a forest dieback and a culprit was found in sulfur dioxide from fossil energy. So the industry started to produce motor fuel and energy without sulfur. The sulfur-dioxide in the air decreased afterwards as the forest dieback. Now, in the light of assumed global warming, some start to discuss to inject sulfur-dioxide into the air and ignore more serious problems to our environment.


My point is: Scientific questions should not be used for hasty decisions which may cause fatal problems to our world or life.


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