Rubbish Reporting

We’re trying to move toward a magazine format and this important piece by Things Break is a bit “bloggy”, so let me offer some introductory material.

The immediate context is some conversation on Collide-a-Scape, Keith Kloor’s blog. Keith is a me,ber of the tribe-that-is-not-a-tribe, i.e., mainstream journalismism. No that’s not a typo. “Journalism” is a behavior and sometimes a profession. “Journalismism” is a belief structure, the belief that there are two points of view in politics, that both points of view are equally irrational, and that the press’s role is to pressure the two groups to a compromise in the middle. This seems specific to the US quasi-constitutional bipartisan structure, though American media are so influential that it surely has influences elsewhere. And this specific piece is about just such a journalismist who is actually based in the UK and focuses on environmental issues.

(Those unfamiliar with Jay Rosen’s analyses of journalism are heartily encouraged to go look at it. What I call “journalismism” he calls “the view from nowhere”, and it refers to the peculiar, not-entirely-human authoritative and neutral voice that journalists strive for.)

The key issue of course is that sometimes the truth does not lie exactly centered between the extremes.

And this brings us to “hippie-bashing”, as our friend “ThingsBreak” puts it. A case where the mainstream press is forced by overwhelming evidence to admit that the truth is ever so slightly more on one side than the other, say, on climate change which is associated with the “environmentalist” side, requires them to broaden the focus, finding an equal and opposite case elsewhere where the truth is bent toward the “market libertarian” side. The trouble is that while there are, doubtless, opposite cases, finding one that is equally weighty as well as opposite in direction is actually, in the case at hand, impossible.

Of course, it is also irrelevant. One should reach conclusions about reality independent of what “side” of some social construct they are affiliated with. But this point of view is anathema to the view from nowhere.

It turns out that there is a long history of ill-informed political anti-environmentalist hackery confusing the issues about pesticides and somehow blaming Rachel Carson for every death from malaria since she wrote her groundbreaking book on it. What has this to do with climate? Well, it’s part of “environmentalism”, isn’t it, and so IPCC’s credibility rests on that all other “environmentalists”. Still, some huge enormous crimes against humanity are needed to balance the scales here, and some people have made some up. (Tim Lambert at Deltoid has been following this particular fabrication in detail for years and has just posted a simple rebuttal.)

It is in this context that we pick up Things Break’s interesting exegesis.


Not content with lying about positions scientists don’t actually holdpassing off his opinions as reporting, engaging in the kind of “he said, she said” false equivalency that has been so toxic in media coverage of climate, and just generally getting things wronghere’s Pearce perpetuating the free market/anti-regulation think tank lie about DDT bans causing millions of deaths:

When Rachel Carson’s sound case against the mass application of DDT as an agricultural pesticide morphed into blanket opposition to much smaller indoor applications to fight malaria, it arguably resulted in millions of deaths as the diseases resurged.

[Although there was a big push to do away with agricultural DDT spraying, its use to fight malaria was not banned. DDT use continued apace in some countries and declined in others for top down reasons rather than environmentalist-driven anti-science hysteria, including resistance in mosquitoes, political instability, preferences for pyrethroids (which also killed cockroaches) or netting (which didn't involve coating one's walls with a sticky unpleasant substance), and genuine-science-based health concerns of governments.]

But hey, it’s totally fine to say something that egregiously, hideously untrue as long as you mumble “arguably” into your sleeve, at least according to Pearce’s cheerleaders.

Pearce’s lie comes in the context of the latest hippie punching fad, which is to equate environmentalist fears about GMOs, nuclear power, and fracking with evolution denial, climate denialism, and other hallmarks of the anti-science right. This is approaching something of a cottage industry among people who seem to be garnering fewer eyeballs on topics like climate change than they once did.

There are three facts of relevance here, in my opinion:

  1. There are unquestionably environmentalists who have and promote fears about certain technologies that are unsupported or in contradiction to the balance of scientific evidence.
  2. This anti-science vein is in no way equivalent to, in terms of political legitimacy at the levers of governmental power, that right wing anti-science beliefs enjoy.
  3. The actual, problematic anti-science beliefs of environmentalists are often conflated with issues that have nothing to do with science in order to make the problem seem larger than it is. This is counterproductive.

I think point number 1 is hugely important. The work of Dan Kahan and others (e.g. Kahan et al., 2011) has shown pretty convincingly that egalitarian-communitarians interpret scientific evidence in a way that conforms to their preexisting worldviews just as hierarchal-individualists do. I would like to see anti-science fears about GMOs and nuclear power either marginalized or preferably reversed by effective messaging and education. I vehemently believe that GMOs and nuclear power are going to be necessary tools in dealing with our energy and agricultural needs in the future, and that climate change probably increases their importance.

Point 2 is something that I trust is not in any way controversial or requires further discussion.

For those of us who believe point 1 is a legitimate problem, point 3 effectively knee caps efforts to ameliorate it. When people conflate issues that enjoy no clear scientific consensus, such as the environmental impacts of fracking, with denial of evolution or the reality of anthropogenic climate change, they are injecting a false equivalency that muddies the waters of discourse and prevents positive movement on the issue. The same goes for conflating dislike of business practices of certain agricultural companies and economic/national security concerns over nuclear power with denial of evolution or climate change.

If Pearce or the others who have taken up this latest meme stuck to what actually was equivalent, their complaints would look a great deal less serious. So they have to over-egg the pudding. This not only gives the appearance of more substance, it also generates more acrimony and page views. Whether the latter is intentional or not, it’s certainly not productive in actually addressing the problem, which requires understanding the actual scope and potential strategies for overcoming what environmental anti-science exists. And make no mistake, there are people doing just that.

But Fred Pearce is not one of them.

UPDATE: Some folks over at Collide-a-scape are trying to pin the decline in DDT use in some countries in the 60s against malaria on a 1971 US domestic ban. Yes, something in the 60s is being attributed to something that happened in the 70s.

Setting aside the timeline idiocy, as I stated previously, actual examination of the causes of malaria resurgence simply does not bear this out. Nor does it support in any way Pearce’s ghoulish lie that environmentalists are somehow to blame for it or millions of deaths. In the course of providing others with some references, I came across some additional reasons for malarial resurgence. It turns out that weakening of programs due to financial shortfalls, premature complacency, and intentional expiration of short term programs- in addition to aforementioned factors like resistance and political instability- are responsible not just for a decline in DDT use, but a decline in malarial-eradication programs generally (Cohen et al., 2011;  Nájera et al., 2011). Both papers should be accessible without a subscription.


  • Cohen, J., D. Smith, C. Cotter, A. Ward, G. Yamey, O. Sabot, and B. Moonen (2012), Malaria resurgence: a systematic review and assessment of its causes, Malaria Journal11(1), 122, doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-122.
  • Kahan, D. M., H. Jenkins‐Smith, and D. Braman (2011), Cultural cognition of scientific consensus, Journal of Risk Research14(2), 147–174, doi:10.1080/13669877.2010.511246.
  • Nájera, J. A., M. González-Silva, and P. L. Alonso (2011), Some Lessons for the Future from the Global Malaria Eradication Programme (1955–1969),PLoS Med8(1), e1000412, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000412.

For those not up on the history of graphic storytelling, the image is of the first repeating cartoon character “the yellow kid” who appeared early in Hearst newspapers. The name “yellow journalism” to refer to tawdry sensationalism is believed to refer to this handsome young chap. ThingsBreak used an actual pile of trash to illustrate his piece but we like to keep our front page looking spiffy.

(Borehole items)


  1. I originally posted this up on Deltoid.

    I see (above) that Planet 3.0 (above) agrees with one of Pearce's arguments about GMOs and nuclear energy, namely:

    1. There are unquestionably environmentalists who have and promote fears about certain technologies that are unsupported or in contradiction to the balance of scientific evidence.

    The statement makes one claim then follows this with another that is not empirically well supported IMO. That is: "certain technologies that are unsupported or in contradiction to the balance of scientific evidence".

    What evidence is this? Studies produced by the agro-biotech/pesticide manufacturers themselves? Or from the nuclear industry? The data certainly is far from being 'all in' on both counts. In the US, regulations have been gutted and the regulatory bodies have had their teeth pulled since the 1980s and the effects on the health and safety of GMOs in the environment have therefore never been fully elucidated. Its well documented how negative results on bovine growth hormone were suppressed (see articles by Rampton and Stauber and PR Watch), how the inconvenient results of Arpad Pusztai and his lectin research were buried (along with Pusztai's scientific reputation), and how the technology has been foisted onto societies in the south with often quite devastasting social consequences.

    What about the massive social and political ramifications of GM technology that are rarely if ever addressed by the scientific community? These technologies are intellectual property, are hoarded by the corporations who invest heavily in them via R & D, and are not freely shared with the poor nations, who instead have to pay to the going rate for them (in dollars, not rupees). GM technology requires deep PR cover using the specter of global hunger. But this ignores the fact that the real root of poverty and hunger is social injustice, NOT the lack of various techno-fixes. Western foreign policy towards the third world has long been based on exploitation and plunder, as western elites covet the vast mineral and resource wealth in less developed nations. The recent capitlaist experiment known as 'neoliberalism' has only exacerbated these divisions, allowing for even more siphoning of wealth for the poor to the rich nations. Africa's share of the global ecomomy shrunk from an already tiny 4% to a miniscule 1.3% between 1983 and 2003. British historian Mark Curtis has claimed in his analyses of British foregin policy that the state of Britian as defined has exisited for a single reason only over the past 400 years: to promote the interests of British businesses and corporations abroad. This has often resulted in quite abhorrent policies that have resulted in the death of millions and the maintenance of grinding poverty. Yet somehow your opinions here appear to suggest that underlying the brazenly imperial policies of the United States and other developed nations is some benign, almost humble form of humility and the honest promotion of poverty alleviation using technologies to achive this. Writer John Pilger argues, correctly in my view, that western foreign policies are violent and ruthless but hide behind a democratic facade, requiring the public to believe a suite of messianic assumptions about our supposed adherence to myths such as the 'promotion of democracy and freedom'. The late Harold Pinter called this propaganda a "quite remarkable, even witty, act of hypnosis".

    This is also where, in my opinion, Pearce becomes derailed. He focuses his criticisms on environmental groups that have virtually no influence on public policy, whilst giving a free pass to those whose actions and influence are sending our planets life support systems to to hell in a handbasket (and who also never admit their own role in this. He also over emphasizes the role of technology is dealing with the ongoing and growing crisis, whilst ignoring the salient fact that there is little or no political will to change course because of the massive influence cast on society by big business. You similarly fall into this rather neoclassical economics pitfall of arguing in favor of various unproven technologies, many of which also are more environmentally destructive than those which they are replacing. By now it should be clear that humans are overexploiting natural systems, and that we need to redress this fact. At the same time, we also need to acknowledge the massive power structures (governments, banks, corporations) which hold public opinion in contempt and which are (1) colluding to ensure that economic divisions remain intact, allowing for resources and capital to be exproporiated from the south without impediment, and (2) are using quite sophisticated PR techniques to convince the public that the interests of the privileged few and the poor many are actually one and the same. Noam Comsky was quite correct when he said that the biggest enemy of any state, ANY state, is its own population.

  2. I have my doubts about all that about GMOs; I suspect the current approach to GMOs is poorly thought out and dangerous but I am not sure whether a blanket condemnation of the technology is warranted. But that isn't my turf and I could be wrong either way.

    On the other hand, contesting the proposition that "There are unquestionably environmentalists who have and promote fears about certain technologies that are unsupported or in contradiction to the balance of scientific evidence" is flatly ludicrous.

    You are literally suggesting this NEVER happens. Would you care to qualify that even a bit? Nothing in human nature makes environmentally concerned folk infallible. This casts the credibility of the rest of your argument in a very dim light.

  3. Michael, thanks for the reply.

    I am actually a senior scientist with 125 publications on the WoS, and as such I don't try and make flippant comments. The main point I was making is that whatever stance environmental NGOs take on technology, their influence on public policy is nil. Zilch. Zero. As I explained above, I save my wrath for those with power and privilege who do have major influence over governmental decision making processes and appear to be intent on taking our planet's ecological life-support systems over the precipice. Certainly some of the stances taken by environmentalists over the years have been bizarre, but for the most part their hearts are in the right places. I have yet to see a corporate CEO of a major polluting industry publicly denounce his companies actions, or to apologize to the victims of that companies actions. So why is it that environmentalists must apologize or search inwardly for their misgivings, while those who are promoting a clearly psychopathic political system with potentially dire consequences are forever off the hook? Let us get our priorities straight here.

    I also strongly feel that the solution to many of the world's most pressing ecological and environmental problems are tied up in political agendas. Technologies cannot replicate most critical ecosystem services, and there is nothing that pleases the business-as-usuasl brigade more than to see scientists and environmental NGOs bickering, or to see technology (adaptation) drive mitigation from the agenda. I was formerly an Associate Editor at Nature and as I said I have had quite a successful scientific career to date. But as Paul Ehrlich once said to Bjorn Lomborg, the scientific community and environmental NGOs in my view have nothing to apologize for. When I see Exxon-Mobil, Texaco-Chevron, the Koch Brothers, Shell, BP, Western Fuels, Monsanto, DuPont, Union Carbide or any other large transnational corporation give heartfelt apologies for the destruction they have wrought on communities and the environment, then I will think there is hope. But so long as government policy is beholden to banks and corporations who seem intent on promoting disaster capitalism (otherwise known as neoliberalism) , then I will remain pessimistic. In the United States, academics should in my opinion be out in force trying to recapture democracy and make institutions accountable. You have an election coming up in which you have a choice between two parties in thrall to corporations; or, as the late Gore Vidal said, one property party with two right wings. The truly undemocratic nature of our governments should be of the gravest concern to most citizens, and not whether environmental NGOs embrace GM technology or nuclear power.

    • "The main point I was making is that whatever stance environmental NGOs take on technology, their influence on public policy is nil."

      Your distaste for the system we have is clear. I personally do not share it. Your passion is clear. I personally don't think such blame is worthwhile. Whatever the flaws of the energy sector it is important to understand that we cannot support the current world population without it.

      That's all beside the point. You're not addressing the issue at hand, which is how the press deals with these matters. Does "the scientific community and environmental NGOs in my view have nothing to apologize for"? I don't think that makes any sense.

      What you are really saying is that big capital has so much to apologize for that any other errors are negligible by comparison. I don't care for your tone and I surely don't agree with the implicit carte blanche for opponents of big capital. But it all misses the point of the present article in my opinion.

      We are not discussing the ethics of capitalism here. We are discussing the conduct of public discourse. It is not hard to make a cogent claim that the problems are attributable to big capital - Chomsky does that very well. But the issue here is somewhat narrower. It is how the supposed arbiters of public discourse fall into the traps set by people promulgating deliberate distortions.

  4. Michael,

    My distaste for the 'system' as you refer to it is certainly not superficial. Its something that is based on a lot of experience. I am not entirely sure, however, what you mean by the 'system'. If you are referring to the current political system of nakedly predatory capitalism and free market absolutism, then you are correct. The system clearly is not working as currently defined. Every ecological indicator is in decline. Its as simple as that, and the 'system' is taking much of civilization towards a precipice.

    You mention the media. I am also not sure exactly in what context, as your riposte does not make that clear. How does the press deal with these matters? What matters - the science behind climate change, and other environmental threats? Very poorly, in my opinion. The media may argue that there is a problem, but they rarely address the nature of how to deal with the problem and the role played by our current political-econoic systems in exacerbating it. But of course this should be obvious why. I'll leave you to figure it out.

    Finally, I come back to the crux of Pearce's article and your response to it. As I said before, Pearce was making a mountain out of a molehill. It simply does not matter if environmental NGOs are apparently against any kind of technologies because they simply have no effect on public policy. They may influence public opinion to some extent, but as I said above to those in power public opinion for the most part is irrelevant. This explains the parlous state of our so-called democratic systems. You live is the so-called bastion of democracy which you should also realize is a farce. In terms of foreign policy, the US has a track record of undermining real democracy and nationalist movements if they conflict with the interests of US corporations. The record is an ugly one, with huge consequences for the environment and for the people living in poverty. It also puts the views of pundits like Pearce into some perspective: that it clearly does not matter what environmental NGOs think or write about the value (or lack thereof) of technology.

    And, to sum up what i said before, we need to be approaching global change scenarios in a very political way, dealing with social injustice and inequity if we going to achieve a sustainable future. Technology will play a very small role here. As economist Tom Athanasiou says we have a choice: follow a course in which everyone on the planet lives in some dignity and security or a long, slow path to catastrophe. There is no third way. And so long as the west is beholden to the current corporate mindset, then I think the prognosis is not good. The entire social, economic and political systems needs to be overhauled. I don't see it happening.

    • I think "entire social, economic and political systems" need to be significantly adjusted to the new small-world scenario, but that doesn't mean it needs to be destroyed or even blamed.

      I think it is important to understand that the problems we have are problems of success. A failure to recognize this reduces the credibility of the argument and the political viability of any solutions.

  5. Michael,

    One final point. The crux of what you say is thsi: "I would like to see anti-science fears about GMOs and nuclear power either marginalized or preferably reversed by effective messaging and education. I vehemently believe that GMOs and nuclear power are going to be necessary tools in dealing with our energy and agricultural needs in the future, and that climate change probably increases their importance".

    This is where I most strongly disagree with you, especially with respect to GMOs. Their influence on food security is likely to be marginal, at best. As I have said, we already have the tools and means to largely eliminate poverty and malnutrition, and these means do not include transgenics. They do include the embracing of political systems which aim to creat social justice and equity. Its jut that these systems are not compatible with the current profit-driven Washington Consensus capitalist model. The will is just not there. If the US and NATO, for instance, spent more money on helping people instead of killing them, then I would think that the future has a basis in optimism. But the current dominant economic model aims to keep the poor in the south 'in their place' on the basis of the expansionist/resource exploitation model that dominates western corporate capitalist ideology. The technologies you talk about are not being generated to help people but to maximize profits and shreholders returns. Therein lies the rub. I think its time that scientists got out of the labs mnore often and embraced political realities, rather than to hide in our ivory towers and embrace wishful thinking - that somehow technologies are there to help people. We've had 60 years to create a more socially just society and if anything we are going in the wrong direction. Wealth inequality is growing. Since the 2008 crash, brought about in part because of deregulation of ther banking sector and the free market frenzy that took hold under Reagan in 1980, 93% of disposable income in the US has been co-opted the the top 1%.

    As for environmentalists exaggerating problems, well as far as I see it one cannot overstate the seriousness of the current predicament. Ed Wilson recently said that whole societies should be out protesting at the combined human assault across the biosphere. We are entering a period of serious consequences. Collapsing ecosystems, fraying food webs, a mass extinction, the loss of vital ecosystem services etc. Against this canvas are governemnts that esstnailly lie to the public. In not a single presidential debate has the issue of climate change been raised. Its off the political radar. Why? Not because the public do not think it is important. It is because those with power and a vested interest in denial do not want to address it. As I said, our democracies are a farce, a facade. The public are well to the left of their governments on almost every political issue. Yet environmental issues that are the biggewst challenges facing humanity are routinely excluded from political discourse. The answer why should be obvious.

    • Since you address this to me and not TB by name, I should insist that I never said "I vehemently believe that GMOs and nuclear power are going to be necessary tools in dealing with our energy and agricultural needs in the future, and that climate change probably increases their importance”. An article is posted on this site because it is interesting, and not because I (or any editor) agree(s) with it.

      I lean pro-nuclear but am not convinced about GMOs. I think both of them raise very interesting questions about the way in which new technologies are handled.

      But I'm crucially interested in figuring out how to have the conversation we ought to be having.

  6. Michael,

    Sorry for the rants. My guess is that we probably would agree on most issues. Certainly the need to for scientists to address the anti-scientific rhetoric spewing forth from think tanks, anti-environmental groups and climate change deniers.

    Hopefully we'll up at some venue in the future and discuss these issues. Keep up the good work. I do admire your efforts and your web site.

    PS: Any idea what the post from Willard is all about?

    • Jeff Harvey,

      My point had something to do with the discussion that followed this comment by Things Break at Keith's:

      Here’s Pearce perpetuating a right wing smear against Silent Spring that has zero basis in fact:

      “When Rachel Carson’s sound case against the mass application of DDT as an agricultural pesticide morphed into blanket opposition to much smaller indoor applications to fight malaria, it arguably resulted in millions of deaths as the diseases resurged.”

      No, Pearce, it didn’t. Not arguably, not at all.

      In response, which almost had to be begged, Keith retorted:

      > What was Pearce’s “lie”? Cause I could have sworn that he used the term “arguable” in his Yale 360 piece.

      Hence the reference to an "arguably valid" ontological proof.

      Sometimes, I prefer to omit what I perceive to be needless words.

      Sorry about that.

      • Just so, and we can know that the argument will have two sides, between which the colossus of American journalism can stride with confidence.


        On the one hand Kloor seems quite unconscious of all of this, yet that can't be the case. It's cognitive dissonance required to feel good about the way he makes his living, I suppose.

        At one point in the past I made a minor but substantive point to him referencing Jay Rosen, to which the response was that Jay Rosen is a J-school colleague of his. Whatever.

      • Yeah, I got that one too. No quoting Rosen because I had lunch with him once.

        Journalism is not tribal though. Nope.

      • Steve Bloom,

        I will take exception to two of your claims:

        First, I believe that Keith's quite conscious that journalists will never forego of a good story:

        > That’s right. Journalists are always on the prowl for a good story. People who accuse us of left/right/center bias should never forget that. What we care about, above all, is the story.


        Second, good stories usually obey the Rule of Three, alluded by grypo's Goldilocks framing .

        The Doomsayer, the Impassible, and the Honest Broker.


        I believe this is better than talking about "false balance", because it usually takes more than two to tango.


        A lukewarm trick is to portray the Doomsayer and the Impassible as tribal, and sometimes a bit irrational. To that effect, Dave Roberts talked about "scolds". There's a nice story about that. I would tell it if I'd be assured not to trigger moderation with more links.

      • By "impassible", I mean impassive. I apologize for my proneness to frenchisms.


        I've been told that I have no limits for links. So here's the story:

        On that same thread at Keith's, a bit later than when MT went there, I started to present some research on the many usages of the word "skeptic".

        Andrew Adams cited an op-ed by Dave Roberts (no, not Don Roberts, a new lukewarm guru) which was related to my research:


        Have you seen this?

        In particular

        These folks accept climate change — they are of the climate “tribe” — but they spend most of their public communication efforts attempting to distinguish themselves from that tribe, casting the tribe as partisan, hysterical, and gripped by groupthink, themselves as independent, judicious, and devoted to the facts above all else.

        This is quite related to my neverending audit, and so thank Andrew for this.

        Let's look how things evolve. One commenter over there, which I used to call Groundskeeper Willie because he likes to rip off his shirt and because he does not have the honor to deserve being called by his name, raised concerned over that op-ed, in particular this:

        Hi Andrew,

        The money quote in your link is “This is a Sophie’s Choice: If we respond to the moral imperative to raise public awareness and alarm about climate, we have to be deceptive. If we are committed to truth and scientific accuracy, we have to talk in hedged, caveat-filled, probabilistic language that is utterly ineffectual in reaching and activating a tuned-out public.”

        I cannot imagine a more damaging statement. It borders on the insane, or at least something lifted from an Orwellian nightmare.

        This comment has been written October 31st, 2012 at 2:57 pm.

        Then the comment thread follow its natural course, i.e. nowhere special. I take some time to explain how the concerned commenter has commenting patterns that could "arguably" (what can I say, I like themes) seen as a Gish Galop. I also remind readers of the Rule of three. I finally remind Andrew Adams that his actual conversation with the concerned commenter has already been read twice, viz. in the last six months at Keith's with the same interlocuters.

        Then Andrew Adams thanks me:

        Thank you for the advice at #441

        I will point to this

        and wonder if anyone here would like to have a go at rationalising deceptive practices.

        The first comment at Tony's is dated October 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm, perhaps PST:

        NOBODY expects the warmist inquisition! Our two weapons are: Deception, Cunning, and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope. Wait… our THREE weapons are…

        Another Rule of three.


        It seems that our concerned commenter was very concerned about how his team was playing Sandy, even though I'm alluding to a very indefinite team. It sure looks as the concerned commenter also shares something with Team WUWT. At very least, we could say that he shares at least a link to Dave Roberts' op-ed.

        I fail to see how such disingeniousness can be justified.


        We are being played, folks.

      • Yeah, this is such a standard trick of propagandists that I am amazed to see people like David (whom I generally consider the single best writer today on sustainability topics, forcing me to aim for second place) falling into the trap.

        Instead of saying "The argument is that we should say something like this: Bla. Bla. Bla. Blablabla. Bla." leaving yourself open to this trick, it is prudent to say "The argument is that we should say something like this: Bla. And that we should say something like this: Bla. And that we should say something like this: Bla. And that we should say something like this: Blablabla. And that we should say something like this: Bla. "

        I am surprised that "Groundskeeper Willie" actually committed this offense. I have always construed him as honest but confused. One would have to be very very confused to misconstrue David in this event.

        (That Watts runs with it is discouraging but hardly surprising. The Watts crowd is no longer even a pastiche of skepticism; it is now just a grotesquery. This is good because it will cause adults to realign their allegiance. Now we just have to direct their attentions somewhere more reasonable.)

        Republicans have played this trick on Obama regularly. There is a video circulating where Obama seems to be saying he will make electricity more expensive and less reliable. It is clipped so that people believe he is expressing a goal!

        Context stripping is one of the most mendacious techniques around. But it's awfully common.

    • Yeah it's one of the seventeen unwritten articles bouncing against each other in my poor brain. Politico vs Nate Silver really was a very revealing incident.

  7. What I find most ingenuous about the debate on Kloor's site is the inability to connect foreign policy agendas of the United States and its proxies with the death of literally millions of people in the developing world. British historian Mark Curtis argues that British foreign polciies may have led to the deaths of 5-10 million people in the world since the end of WW II; given its much greater power, (using Pearce's words) it could be argued that US policies around the world have killed many tens of millions of people. Yet when one reads Pearce's article, or many of the comments on Kloor's site, these nefarious politicval agendas are nowhere on the radar screen.The underlying myth that is perpetrated by many on the site defending Pearce's quite appalling article is that of US exceptionalism: that the intentions of the US are generally benign, but that it makes mistakes in promoting a benign foreign policy. In contrast with this superficial assumption, there is a huge amount of evidence that the US is an imperium that uses economic and military forces to bear on other lands in order to expropriate the land, labor, capital and resources of those lands. This is what imperialism is all about. Its not about alleviating poverty and hunger, but about plunder, even when the costs of this on human life are profound. What I try and do is to connect the dots, and argue that US elites and transnational corporations could not give a damn about the welfare of people in Africa and other poverty hotspots: they are using deep PR cover (the specter of hunger, disease etc) as a means of selling a product. This doesn't stop with pesticides, but also includes nuclear energy and transgenics.

    Ultimately, how does one reconcile nakedly predatory imperial actions and their toll on human life with the argument that 'we' are trying to alleviate poverty and/or reduce disease-mediated deaths in Africa? Yet the debate on Kloor's site doesn't address these apparent contradictions. They are kept in separate rooms, or at least one of them (imperialism and its human toll) are not even discussed. There are plenty of sources available, from the work of economists like Samir Amin and Patrick Bond to political analysts like Michael Parenti, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (as well as countless others). What seems clear to me is that the actual truths and the consequences of these truths are so wretchedly appalling, that we do not wish to face them and prefer to remain in the dark with our well-cultiuvated myths.

    • Hmm, I guess that arguing that something is on topic is by definition not off topic.

      And I think you are doing exactly what gratifies the journalists, by associating their position of studied neutrality with the opposite pole of the spectrum.

      I was just thinking about that on the way to the screen. The American right is heavily focused on stopping subsidies to "others" but does not acknowledge the extent to which everything about their military stance (which they support) is a transfer of wealth from others to America and specifically to the rural and exurban parts of America that most heavily support these policies.

      But America is not the American right. I am not guilty by association because I live in Texas, at least not any more so than you are by living in Holland.

      And of course there is another side to the coin. America is still the only country with the gumption to actively defend modernism in the world, including the free speech which allows us the courage to criticize it.

      The hypocrisy of the left in the rest of the developed world in benefiting from American militarism while complacently criticizing it is another matter. While we are not above injustice it is far more prevalent elsewhere. For the most part it is not the Dutch who are putting their wealth and their lives on the line to defend against it, however clumsily and badly sometimes.

      Secondly, despite your tired posture, objective evidence is that the less developed world is rapidly increasing in well-being. Please, look at the numbers.

      Your one-sided arguments are just what the Kloors of the world want to see. Look, see how extreme and unreasonable this guy and that guy are. Look how reasonable I am in the middle. Look, you have just forced me into exactly the stance I was criticizing, when my whole point here was how tiresome that compulsive middle position is.

      Mostly, though, your arguments are apropos of nothing, certainly not of our concern here. Chomsky, whom you claim to idolize, has a capacity to listen to and respond to arguments. One possibility I need to consider in approving your comments is that you are a right wing troll trying to tar our efforts here with a taint of leftist extremism. I mean, one needn't believe all that stuff to construct an argument in the way you did.

      The solution is to reject packages of left wing and right wing thought, and journalistic compulsive-difference-splitting thought, to listen to evidence on individual matters, and to judge things on their merits. No argument should be a priori rejected based on whether it fits in with one's preconceptions - one must broaden what one is willing to listen to. But packages of opinions are the problem, not the solution.

  8. Here's a view from a recovering journalist:

    ...This failure is repeated across the mainstream media landscape — the product of a mindset in which climate change is simply another environmental problem, albeit a particularly complex one for which we'll eventually find a technical fix, mainly by doing more or less the same things we're doing now, only more efficiently and with better technology. It's nothing to get too excited about.

    It's certainly not anything to sacrifice your career over.

    About a year and a half ago — having left my job as the senior producer of NPR's On Point the year before — I took a deliberate leap of conscience and became a climate activist. ...

    ... I'm freed of an insidious form of self-censorship, based on a deeply misguided self-image all too common among mainstream media types, in which journalists, including "serious" opinion journalists, are supposed to remain detached and above the fray — not to say cynically aloof and perpetually bemused — in order to be taken seriously. Once you've become an advocate, once you've taken an unambiguous moral stand, so the thinking goes, your intellectual honesty is compromised.

    Well, I'm sorry, but that's just bullshit. ...

  9. Michael, I'd like to apologize for being overly critical of you some months back. It is not easy to address these questions rationally and productively, as I think you are trying to do, as few people actually are. I think I have a little better appreciation for the fact that these discussions cannot occur just within a strictly academic environment, for various reasons. So again, my apologies for over-reacting.

    On the topic at hand, I've never really understood the furor over transgenic organisms. Much of it is clearly not rational but emotional. It's one tool in the agricultural toolbox. Not likely to save the world, and not likely to destroy it either, but overall far more beneficial than detrimental.

    • Jim Bouldin, I'm afraid that you are wrong in your assumption that the furor over transgenic food organisms is emotional. There are many peer reviewed articles outlining the many many ways in which the products of rDNA technology are harmful to both the environment and, in many cases, to animal health.

      They have not helped farmers who are now having to use lots more of even more expensive and toxic herbicides and insecticides, to control weeds and resistant insects. Check out the new 2-4D (Agent orange) resistant corn which Dow is getting regulatory approval for.

      People support the use of rDNa technology in our food crops because they have been brain washed into thinking that this technology will save the world from hunger. Nothing could be further from the truth. rDNa technology has been used in the past, and will continue to be used in the future, to fatten the bottom line of the agricultural transnational companies producing them.

      There have been considerable advances in technology which will increase food production as our farmers suffer from the ill effects of global warming. Crops with increased drought resistance and rice with increased flood resistance have been produced by the use of "marker assisted selection". However, the industry shills try and claim that these advances are made with rDNA technology. They have not!

      I have a hard time trying to understand why scientists see through the lies and misinformation put out by the fossil fuel industry shills but refuse to accept the same type of misinformation put out by the GMO producing company shills. In many cases they are the same people from the same right wing think tanks.

      The evidence for the harmful effects of the use of rDNA technology in our food crops is based on hard science not on irrational emotions. The scientific evidence is out there for any one willing to take the time to look for it and study it.

      I agree 100% with the comments by Jeff Harvey and am surprised that his comments were referred to as "rants". However I shouldn't be too surprised because comments I made on a science based blog were also referred to as "shrill rants".

      I urge everyone to get up to speed on the illegal (see Prop 37 in California) and misinformation campaign orchestrated by the agricultural transnational companies and their supporters.

      • This is very much not my own turf nor that of our other editors nor that of most of the people I'm ready to vouch for. So while it is a science and sustainability issue I am not sure P3 is in a position to add much value. I would be happy if a comparable site took this on or if we could find an editor with a broad range of understanding of biochemistry and agronomy and no particular political axe to grind.

        At present I'm uncomfortable with thrashing it out here because I'm not sure how our approach adds value on such topics, given that we lack expertise on it. Perhaps an unmoderated flame war would attract traffic but it wouldn't be traffic that advanced our mission.

      • No, I'm sorry but a number of these statements are just flat wrong, and it's a diatribe. Do you expect people to take you seriously when you repeatedly call people shills for this and that and rail against big this and that? These kinds of statements are exactly why opponents of transgenic organisms don't get taken seriously--because they couch it all in this "evil big business" language.

        I'll address just one item here. You state: "They have not helped farmers who are now having to use lots more of even more expensive and toxic herbicides and insecticides, to control weeds and resistant insects."

        Really? The Bt toxin transgene in corn and cotton and soybeans has not helped farmers, who no longer have to spray (or spray as much) to control beetle and Lepidopteran insect pests? You know that this gene has been in the environment for a long time because formerly, the bacteria were sprayed directly onto the crops to achieve the same effect, right? And that field trials for transgenic, drought tolerant corn are under-way?

        There's much more I could say on this topic, because I have some background in molecular biology, but given that Michael doesn't want to get into it here, I'm going to stop there. But molecular biology has tremendous power for the good, and if you think you can just wave it off with such rants, good luck.

    • Thanks for your understanding, Jim. I was a bit taken aback. To be honest I am not sure what we did that bothered you so. Welcome back nonetheless.

      As with politics and statesmanship, trying to breathe life into a site like this involves many decisions, and you don't really want someone doing it who is afraid to make mistakes. So I'll make my share, and even be a bit stubborn on occasion. If nothing appears on this site that irritates a given reader (even myself) we are not doing our job.

      We are not trying to confirm a package of opinions. We are trying to build a community of people not just willing to collaborate in thinking about our tangle of global problems, but in fact who enjoy it as a challenge, troubling though the underlying issues are.

      To do this, we have to be intolerant of dogma, even from people who consider themselves our allies, and tolerant of good faith challenges, even from people who consider themselves our opponents.

      • I don't actually remember either Michael. Water under the bridge. Miscommunications and disagreements will sometimes arise. And I'm not looking for conformity (indeed I hate that), just rationale discourse.

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