There is much to recommend this article in the New Republic by Nate Cohn, starting with the sub-headline:
Grappling with climate change nuance in a toxic political environment
It is an ungrateful task to interrogate the complexities of climate change (which extend to the policy side of the equation) so props to Cohn for taking it on. That he does so with an even tone and lucid writing makes the piece all the more impressive.
This milieu is reliably explored by Andy Revkin at Dot Earth, which has made it an essential blog. It’s good to see more journalists drilling down into some of the thorniest climate questions of the day, but make no mistake, it’s a fraught undertaking. This is especially so for scientists, as Cohn writes in his New Republic piece: Read More
In this space, I’ve frequently shown how GMO fear mongering plays out in the media. The latest frightful example aired Monday on CNN. It was a piece about the mysterious genetically modified (GM) wheat recently found in an Oregon farm field.
First, some quick background: In the early to mid-2000s, Monsanto field tested GM wheat in 16 states. But as NPR reported, “the country’s wheat growers told the company that they did not want it.” So Monsanto never sought to commercialize the crop and stopped its field tests in 2005.
Nobody knows how this isolated strand of GM wheat suddenly reappeared. Is it sabotage, as Monsanto and others have suggested, or a case of gene flow? Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the GM wheat has not spread, there is fallout for Monsanto and repercussions for American wheat farmers.
There are two kinds of people who write about genetically modified foods: Those who believe that GMOs are bad and those who don’t. In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m in the latter group.
Unfortunately, the simplistic debate between these two camps has devolved into a Three Stooges slapfest:
More specifically, one group shrieks about “seeds of death” and Monsanto’s evil plot to sterilize humanity while the other group (the one I belong to) responds with alternating mockery and sober rebuttals. Personally, I try to avoid writing much about the deranged wing of the anti-GMO movement. It’s like taking on Lord Monckton and James Delingpole in the deranged wing of the climate skeptic sphere. What they say is so absurd that you can’t treat them seriously, so you end up lampooning them.
Unfortunately, the anti-GMO hysterics are, like the climate science is a fraud shouters, the face of their respective movements. Read More
Oh, for the days:
Remember when everyone used to be really, really worried about power lines? youtube.com/watch?feature=…
— Ketan Joshi (@ArghJoshi) June 13, 2013
Those were worried Australians in the mid-2000s, so it wasn’t all that long ago.
In the United States, people were really, really worried in the 1980s and 1990s about getting cancer from power lines, thanks in large part to a crusading journalist who had latched on to the story, which I’ve previously discussed. Naturally, there was a big cover-up, too. (More about that here.)
Today is a good time to be alive when compared to any in human history, such as 100 years ago, when the average life span in industrial countries was about 50. As one recent science article noted,
the key in driving up our collective age lies with the advent of medical technologies, improved nutrition, higher education, better housing and several other improvements to the overall standards of living.
Although our improved health and longevity are due to science, we moderns in the industrial world increasingly blame diseases (some that are wholly psychosomatic) on technologies that we owe our less-diseased, better-living lives to. What many of us are most afflicted with today are assorted fears and dreads stemming from the very advances that have made us the wealthiest, healthiest humans of all time.
Perhaps the only thing that doesn’t give us cancer is irony.
Some of us, for example, are being made sick by wind turbines. Others by overhead powerlines and WiFi signals. (Is your cell phone killing you? Are your brains being fried by electrosmog?) Many attribute all manner of diseases to genetically modified foods or to chemical compounds used in plastics and furniture. (What is your body burden? Did you know that your couch may be killing you.) The media, thanks to crusading journalists and activists and influential pundits, fan these fears. My newest all-time favorite headline is from a Reuters story that appeared earlier this year in Canada’s National Post:
Everyday life may kill us: Chemicals in household goods linked to cancer, diabetes, asthma and birth defects: UN study
One recent study has gone so far as to ask:
Are media warnings about the adverse health effects of modern life self-fulfilling?
The tragedy of all this mass hysteria is when real medical (and complex) disorders, such as autism, get woven into these emotionally-laden narratives of environmental contaminants. A double tragedy of this particular one involving autism is that it has had public health ramifications. People have come to mistakenly believe that childhood vaccines can trigger the onset of autism, when there is no legitimate evidence for this. Those who still fervently believe this have focused on one specific vaccine ingredient–a preservative called thimerosal. But as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes on its website:
in 2001 thimerosal was removed or reduced to trace amounts in all childhood vaccines except for one type of influenza vaccine, and thimerosal-free alternatives are available for influenza vaccine. Evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association between thimerosal and autism. Furthermore, a scientific review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal–containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion that there is no relationship between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism rates in children.
I mention this because I recently wrote a post that was highly critical of Robert Kennedy Jr., who does not accept this explanation by the CDC. He continues to believe that there is a connection between autism and thimerosal. He continues to believe that medical authorities are hiding the true facts, a case he attempted to make in his controversial 2005 Rolling Stone story. That piece was harshly criticized for its scare-mongering and for various inaccuracies and was eventually removed by Salon, which had co-published it.
Kennedy, however, still stands firmly behind it. And he believes he will be vindicated by a book he commissioned to examine the supposed links between thimerosal and autism. I know this because shortly after my post on Kennedy appeared, he called me to say that the CDC and I were wrong and that there was essentially a huge cover-up about the autism/vaccine connection. Read More
On the GMO front, I bring you the latest important news, articles and entertainment.
Genetically modified cotton helps farmers escape malnutrition
Since when do people eat cotton, you ask? Read More
A recent survey on conspiracy beliefs in the United States attracted a lot of media attention. The first question:
Do you believe global warming is a hoax, or not?
Do …………………………………………………………. 37%
Do not ……………………………………………………. 51%
Not sure …………………………………………………. 12%
The political breakdown, according to the poll, found that “Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at 41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax.”
In Watermelons, The Green Movement’s True Colors, British journalist/blogger James Delingpole promises to show that the man-made global warming is a fraud, one that has already cost billions of dollars and is a clear and present danger to our liberty and democratic traditions — and, ironically, to the environment itself.
He largely accomplishes this task and, for the most part, does so without sounding hysterical or radical. This alone would recommend this book to all who care about the environment, the human condition and the foundations of our way of life.
If somebody can tell me when “Dellers,” as he is fondly called by his many fans in the climate skeptic blogosphere, is not being hysterical and radical, I’m all ears. This is the guy who pens editorials titled, “Wind farm scam a huge cover-up.” That on one of his pet issues he is also guilty of the same pseudoscience and fear-mongering that he accuses others of seems to elude him, as I discussed here.
So what’s behind all this wild-eyed talk of global scams and hoaxes? Read More
I didn’t get into journalism to be a media watchdog, but it’s become one facet of my career since I started this blog in 2009. Curtis Brainard, the science editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, has taken note of my GMO-related posts and articles and written a nice appraisal. Here’s an excerpt: Read More
Today, the hostile forces arrayed against evolution, vaccines and climate science are marginalized. They are not tolerated in the least by the scientific community and their pseudoscience does not go unchallenged in the media or science blogosphere. True, these unscientific forces still have have a hold on some segments of the public, but that’s always going to be the case. After all, 28% of American voters still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and 13% of voters think that President Obama is the anti-Christ. There’s never going to be a 100% rational-minded populace. The best we can do is keep the crazy in check and not let it infect the mainstream.
Which brings me to the insanity of the GMO debate. Why is it so unhinged? There’s a convergence of forces, of which these are representative: Read More
I’ve been arguing that the worst misinformation and myths about genetically modified foods has spread from the anti-GMO fringes to the mainstream. A jaw-dropping example of this is provided by Michael Moss, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, who was recently interviewed by Marcus Mabry, a NYT colleague about the Monsanto protests that took place last weekend.
The interview lasts only a few minutes. Listen to the whole thing to fully appreciate its inanity. I’ve transcribed the exchanges that will blow your mind. Read More