Reconciling Technology with Nature

By Keith Kloor | March 18, 2011 10:32 am

I found this lament by NYT columnist Timothy Egan tough to swallow, in part because his enbrace of the “frankenfish” label demonizes the complex issue of genetically engineered salmon. Additionally, Egan makes his case by juxtaposing fraught concerns over biotechnology with Japan’s nuclear disaster, which I found problematic. Indeed, one Times reader wondered if it was silly

to try to draw an analogy between two very different technologies, nuclear power and genetic engineering?

Egan, in his column, strains to explain the connection:

The fate of wild salmon and a panic over power plants that no longer answer to human commands would not seem to be interlinked. But they are, in the belief that the parts of the world that have been fouled, or found lacking, can be engineered to our standards “” without consequence. You see this attitude in the denial caucus of Congress, perhaps now a majority of Republicans in power, who say, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that climate change is a hoax.

That last bit about the GOP position on global warming is true, but I don’t see what it has to do with Egan’s larger point about human hubris and technology. A better example would have been to invoke the belief by some that the climate, like many ecosystems, is so messed up that the only way to fix it will be through geoengineering.

One final note: The headline for Egan’s column (“Frankenfish Phobia”) is oddly discordant with his message. I wonder if an editor slapped it on there to tweak Egan, of if Egan chose it himself to acknowledge that he was making a fear-based argument. Either way, it’s a curious choice.

  • kdk33

    “That last bit about the GOP position on global warming is true”

    Remind me again what sets you apart from Romm?

  • Keith Kloor

    I’m sure he’d get a kick out of that. So tell me, what is incorrect about that statement from Egan ahout the representative Republican position on climate change today?

    You might think they’re right–that the GOP leadership is rightly dismissive of climate science and the theory of AGW, but that’s a separate matter. So the question to you is, did Egan correctly characterize this Republican position from his perspective?

  • TimG

    Calling catatrophic AGW a ‘hoax’ does not necessarily imply a rejection of science. The speaker could mean that the predictions of catastrophe are a hoax – a position that is perfectly supportable even with IPCC science.

    In short, Egan’s statement is wrong because of its generality.

  • Keith Kloor


    Paul Waldman pretty much nails the reverse trajectory and where things stand today, when he writes that

    over the last couple of years, climate change went from something Republicans acknowledged was happening and were willing to do something about, to something they acknowledged was happening but weren’t really willing to do anything about, to something that they refuse to acknowledge is happening. That has now become the orthodox Republican position.”

  • kdk33

    Most republicans rightly reject the notion that we need to do something about AGW.  Their individual reasons vary, but that’s a far cry from saying that “in the face of all evidence to the contrary, [republicans say] that climate change is a hoax”.  At least in my understanding of the english language. 

    The first half of that sentence is a standard alarmist ploy:  it implies a state of the science that isn’t.  There is much uncertainty in our current understanding of climate. 

    Hoax implies a standard alarmist strawman: that republicans believe scientists are engaged in some kind of grand conspiracy. 

    So, no Keith, Egan’s description is not acceptable.  Which I’m sure you recognized when you read “denial caucus”, which is another alarmist ploy: name calling.   

  • TimG


    Quoting someone who has an opinion on republican views is not evidence that those views exist.

    What is happening is republican rhetoric is responding to changes in political winds. This meant they expressed support when expressing support was trendy and express doubt now that the pendulum has swung the other way.

    Here is arch-sceptic Inhofe speaking on AGW:

    “See I answered all those questions in detail. The science is mixed. We all know the science is mixed. The economy is not mixed because the economics are pretty well established.”

    No denial there. Simply a rejection of the claim that opinion of the majority makes something unequivocally true.

  • Matt B

    Hello Keith,

    You quote Egan as follows:

    You see this attitude in the denial caucus of Congress, perhaps now a majority of Republicans in power, who say, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that climate change is a hoax.

    And then you say:

    That last bit about the GOP position on global warming is true

    Exactly what do you believe is true in Egan’s statement? Is it that all Denialist Republicans believe that climate science (not any particular hypothesis or established theory, but the scientific method of climate science as a whole) is a hoax? That all evidence in climate science points to climate change?  Something else? I really am curious.

    Thanks, Matt


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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