Sunday, March 23, 2014

NASA claims no ties to research paper

National Post: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
It was quite the story: A NASA-funded study predicted the end of the civilized world as we know it. The controversial report calculated that our global civilization is headed for annihilation. The sky may not be falling now but come back in a few decades and bring a hard hat.

The Independent: Sun., Mar. 3, 2014

The story, published by The Independent and The Guardian in Britain, was picked up by The Huffington Post and immediately went viral. The story was repeated by media outlets around the world. Even NASA entered the fray with a comment. This was not unexpected as scores of media outlets around the globe reported on the NASA-funded and oh-so-damning report.

Did the NASA statement contain any surprises? In a word, yes. For one thing, NASA called the media reports "erroneous." The soon-to-be released study "was not solicited, directed or reviewed by NASA. It is an independent study . . . ," NASA claimed.

NASA was in damage-control mode, distancing itself from the story. A Google search found a link to the scholarly paper. The authors write, "This work was partially funded through NASA/GSFC grant NNX12AD03A."

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), one of the sponsors of the paper, reports:

" [Safa] Motesharrei [one of the authors of the paper] received minor support from NASA to develop a coupled earth system model. Some of this funding was spent on the mathematical development of the HANDY model."

The paper is not only connected to NASA by some minor funding, one of the report's authors, Eugenia Kalnay, was branch head at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center prior to heading off to the University of Maryland.

The media reports may have overstated the NASA connection but the NASA press release underplays the connection the space agency has to this University of Maryland paper. The respected-research-patina conveyed by an association with NASA is certainly there. The reason for NASA's backpedaling is clear.

The study in question found that the ongoing economic stratification of society -- think of the one percenters and the rich-get-richer world endorsed by right wing capitalist Kevin O'Leary on CBC -- makes the collapse of civilization almost unavoidable. Major policy changes to reduce inequality are desperately needed, according to the authors.

I find one of the most interesting features about this story is not how far and fast it spread but the limits to growth it encountered. Even the Club of Rome might find this interesting. I could find no evidence that Sun Media, Canada's right wing newspaper chain, featured the story at all.

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