Most people in the United States believe that our environment is getting dirtier, we are running out of natural resources, and population growth in the world is a burden and a threat. These beliefs, according to Simon, are entirely wrong. Why do the media report so much false bad news about the environment, resources, and population? And why do we believe it? Those are the questions distinguished scholar Julian L. Simon set out to answer in his book, Hoodwinking the Nation.
The opening chapter of this, the last book by Simon, discusses facts about population growth, natural resources, and the environment, and presents survey evidence of the public’s view of these topics. The discrepancy between the facts and the public beliefs sets up the puzzle that the remaining chapters attempt to explain. Simon explores how and why false bad news is produced, citing government reports as often being the barns for environmental news scares and doomsday analysis.
Simon examines the intellectual bases of concepts that lead to scares about resource depletion and population growth, and why biologists, in particular, tend to become overly alarmed about mythical environmental scares. Simon follows with an explanation of how the false bad news is disseminated. He notes that journalists know little about statistics and science and thus gather data in ways that lead to inaccurate conclusions, and politicians may misuse statistics in the service of their own policy and political goals. Simon contends that psychological and cultural mechanisms make people receptive to bad rather than good news and that most people have a too positive view of the past and a too negative view of the future.
The purpose of this book is not to preach but to examine. Most importantly, it aims to consider whether institutional structures can be changed in a way that would allow more sanctions against undesirable practices and unethical behavior. This volume will be valuable to political economists and sociologists, and the general reader concerned with environmental issues and their social impacts.