Saturday, June 03, 2006

Smog causing untold damage: ecomyth creationism

I don't have to go very far for today's example of ecomyth creationism. The London Free Press is full of foreboding that smog is causing "untold" damage and that the "proliferation" of smog days may only be revealing a "fraction of the harm dirty air inflicts on residents". The story reports on some preliminary results from a study at a local college which measured ozone levels on an hourly level rather than the standard measure which is an average of levels over a one or three hour period. Readers are enjoined to be alarmed at the fact that levels "spike" over short 10 minute periods (they recede just as quickly) but the study of 60 local residents with existing respiratory illnesses showed they "sometimes" suffered stress from these ozone spikes.

Coincidentally, the research in question had just run out of its funding.

How does this fit the profile for ecomyth creationism?

Well it deals with a "well-known" environmental health hazard (smog) that everyone knows is rising and now we have further "evidence" from vital (but no longer sponsored) research that shows residents are at "added" risk and where "the reality may be worse". So we have fear, escalation, supposition and the implied element of new science indicating catastrophe unless action is taken -- preferably against big bad SUVs and people who create smog by not cycling enough.

Signs of the ecomyth?
  • The absence of context. North American studies show smog to be in serious decline over the past 20 years. What are the longitudinal data for London?
  • The selective use of data and lack of description in the media of the study protocol. The sample of residents was only 60 and the data only showed "a slight correlation" in the preliminary analysis.
  • The jump into fear and hype mode, with concomitant vagueness around possible and dire future consequences: at least in horror movies you can hear the sinister music being played in the background.
Anyways, who needs Al Gore when you've got the London Free Press. All the ecomyths that are ready for promotion.