Opinion: Climate change is not real and the earth is flat?

OPINION: Graeme Watson is co-editor of OUTinPerth

Last year I dropped into the City of Perth’s Disrupted Festival of Ideas to listen to a discussion about the media, and the battle to determine fact from fiction in the internet age.

The presentation I’d picked to drop in on was terrible, a rambling and incoherent discussion forum on the challenges of separating fact from fiction online. Sitting in the auditorium I wondered if I’d have been better off walking across the Cultural Centre and looking at paintings in the Art Gallery.

I persevered, and the discussion opened up to the people in the room, who began asking questions and sharing their opinions about the current state of play in the Australian and international media.

A woman stood up and shared her concern about US President Donald Trump. She asked why there were so many negative articles about him in the media, and questioned if it was part of some coordinated plot to discredited the leader of the free world.

Surely if there was to be balance in the media, there should be an equal number of articles praising the achievements, personality and character of the US President she argued.

Other people argued that it was hard to find positive depictions of people opposed to vaccinations, while another man stood up and argued that it should be compulsory to prominently publish reports disputing man-made global warming. I sat back and wondered if someone arguing the earth was flat would appear next.

My interest in working in media and communication had grown from my first year in University. I’d gone to study psychology, but at Murdoch all students are required to do a foundation unit, a course to get you into the practices of research and university writing. Five different foundation units were available, I’d picked Age of Information.

Soon I found I was more interested in reading books by Douglas Rushkoff and Alvin Toffler and discovering how the internet could be used to provide news and build communities, than my text books about developmental psychology.

Sitting at the Disrupted Festival of Ideas I thought about how we’d skipped over the Age of Information and entered the world of disinformation. I could easily think of many topics where the power of repetition in the mainstream media  had created false narratives about the Safe Schools program, people who are transgender, young people, immigrants and asylum seekers.

I was reminded of this exchange yesterday when One Nation leader Pauline Hanson appeared on my television to outline her proposal for a new law requiring schools to engage with parents over what should be included in the curriculum.

“Parents don’t have an input on what their children are being taught.” Hanson said arguing that every parent needed the right to add their beliefs and views to the school’s curriculum.

Hanson said that some things like maths were based on fact, but when it came to learning about politics, climate change and history there was a balanced presentation to students.

“People go through our educational system, and we know its been overtaken by the left, and they’re saying look you’re going to have this view about what we’re teaching you, and you’re going to answer the questions the way we want you to answer it, or else you won’t be marked.” Hanson said.

The One Nation leader said schools needed to stop pushing that climate change was man-made, and opposing views that argue that global warming is a natural phenomenon should also be added to the curriculum.

“Why is one group of scientist views included, and the other isn’t” Hanson asked Sky News presenter Tom Connell before going on to claim that climate science data has been manipulated, and the majority of studies arguing that global warming is a result of human influence have not been peer reviewed.

Also on Hanson’s radar is teaching about being transgender, the idea that gender and sexuality are fluid, promotion of safe sex practices for people who are underage and mentions of “non-traditional” sex.

Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi has described Senator Hanson’s proposals as laughable, but also terrifying.

“Senator Hanson’s attempt to gag teachers and stuff the curriculum full of right-wing conspiracy theories would be laughable if it weren’t so terrifying.” Senator Faruqi said.

“The curriculum should be based on evidence and expertise not Pauline Hanson’s latest bigoted thought bubble.

“There is no place for this kind of censorship of teachers in our democracy and our schools.

“This bill belongs nowhere but in the bin. Hanson’s spurious claims that human-caused climate change is ‘unsubstantiated’ and schools ‘teach gender fluidity and realignment to infants’ can go with it.

“It’s vital every child learns the realities of the climate crisis, the truth of Australia’s settler-colonial past and how to have respectful relationships in the context of a comprehensive sex education.

“Teachers, working with educational experts, do a great job supporting students, often working without the resources they need. They certainly don’t need One Nation’s meddling.” the senator said.

While I was being flippant in my suggestion that soon we’d be revisiting discussions about whether the earth was round or flat, yesterday the UK’s This Morning program included an interview Mark Sargent who set out the case for a massive NASA conspiracy that faked news about the earth being round.

Maybe we’ve reversed further down this road than we realised, and soon we’ll be promoting anti-vaccination, anti-transgender, flat earth, creationist conspiracy theories as, to quote Donald Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway, “alternative facts”.

Once alternative facts are accepted, we will enter an alternative reality.

Graeme Watson is an editor at OUTinPerth. He has a background in film, television and radio, and also works in the university sector. 

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