One Man's Ultimate Contribution
by L. Brent Bozell III
February 19, 1998
The conservative movement lost a crucial voice last week. He
wasn't famous. He didn't have a TV show. He spent most of his time being
studiously ignored by the media. But armed with hard scientific evidence,
Julian Simon brought an important vision of hope for the planet in the midst
of a "idealistic" environmental movement suspicious of liberty,
prosperity, dynamism, and the propagation of human life itself.
In his books full of charts and tables, most notably
"The Ultimate Resource," Dr. Simon's optimism - that the ultimate
resource is not found in the earth, but in the creative potential of the human
mind - dovetailed beautifully with the conservative idealism of Ronald Reagan.
To persuade the public, he presented pounds of evidence, often, to the dismay
of liberals, from government agencies themselves, like the United Nations Food
and Agricultural Organization.
Luckily, Dr. Simon lived to see his views, once dismissed as
crackpotty right-wing ravings, accepted by the scientific community. "My
research is the mainstream now," he told us recently. "In 1986, the
National Academy of Sciences came out with a report nearly reversing its
earlier and more alarmist conclusions. It said 'The concern about the impact
of rapid population growth on resource exhaustion has often been exaggerated.'
It found positive and negative consequences. The scientific community has made
a dramatic U-turn. But my views are not shared by the press and the community
of academics who are not specialists on population economics -- biologists,
Even as Simon's arguments gained steam, discredited radical
"experts" like Paul Ehrlich continued to shine as stars of gloomy
television news reports. Simon's greatest frustration came from the media's
promotion of experts like Ehrlich, who wildly and inaccurately predicted in
the 1960s that one-fifth of the human species would die off by 1985. Ehrlich
provided the kind of alarmist bunk promoted as real science that would land
him guest spots on Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show. Even in 1990,
Ehrlich was given half-hours of free air time to sell his noxious gospel of
doom unopposed on NBC's "Today" show.
After an NBC series in which Ehrlich declared "our
dependence on the cow is destroying the world environment" and signing
off one report from "Washington D.C., the future shoreline of Chesapeake
Bay," Simon complained: "On just about every point where his
statements can be tested against evidence, Ehrlich is wrong. Indeed, he has
been wrong across the board since the 1960s. Every one of his predictions has
been falsified. How many times does a 'prophet' have to be wrong before he
stops being a prophet?"
Year after year, conservatives have challenged the liberal
media to present an honest scientific debate, to prove that accuracy or
objectivity, and not cheap sensationalism, are their driving impulses. Still
the "mainstream" press rejected any suggestion to provide Simon with
a few seconds of rebuttal time to the likes of Ehrlich.
In 1992, CNN aired a series of frantic reports with the
man-hating title "The People Bomb." Producer Stacy Jolna personified
the media's disdain for men like Simon: "The vast, overwhelming majority
of voices in the field of population pretty much speak to the problems, and
there are very, very faint voices that think we ain't got a problem. We
clearly have a problem...That all of this will fix itself at some point in the
future is a silly way to operate." In 1994, NBC producer Tom Dawson
claimed "His views are not shared by very many, if any, serious
Even today, the Boys Who Cry Wolf, led by Vice President
Gore, marched to the Kyoto conference declaring there was no scientific debate
- the planet is going to hell - and that drastic government intervention is
the only remedy. When will the media allow an opposing viewpoint to break
through this baseless propaganda?
Simon summed up his frustration in a 1990 article in The
Public Interest, where despite his optimism, he said he was "extremely
pessimistic about the short-run likelihood that people in the West will get
the chance accurately to assess the issues discussed here, and hence avoid the
great losses of life and wealth that faulty assessments of the impact of
population growth will ensure... there will be innumerable avoidable tragedies
because the good news goes unreported. How sad that is."
In 1980, Simon tried to expose the unscientific nonsense
coming from the doom-and-gloomers. He allowed Ehrlich to name any five natural
resources that would grow scarcer (more expensive) by 1990. Simon bet that all
five would become more plentiful (cheaper) by the end of the decade. Simon won
- on all five counts. Simon's many converts owe it to him to ensure that his
optimism prevails on the very biased public-relations front as well as it has
in meeting the objective demands of science.
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