A Farewell Post

By Keith Kloor | April 15, 2015 3:48 pm

The time has come for me to say goodbye to this blog.

I started Collide-a-Scape in early 2009, when I was halfway through a year-long fellowship at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism. I knew I was about to embark on a new chapter in my professional life (from full-time magazine editor to freelance writer) and figured I’d hang my shingle on the Web.

Initially, I thought I’d focus on topical sustainability issues. Perhaps I could draw attention to the backstory of Australia’s bushfires or offer a long view of California’s climate, as I did in my 7th post, when I commented on a piece in the Los Angeles Times that framed global warming as an imminent existential threat to California. I wrote on February 5, 2009:

Nowhere in the story is drought mentioned, which I find astonishing, given that just a few days ago, a state water official said, “We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history.” As I wrote here, even that statement fails to take into account a longer climate history of the West. The mega-droughts that occurred a millinium ago make the 1930s dust bowl look like childs play.

As the LA Times reported two years ago, scientists believe that the Southwest is about to enter a new cycle of severe aridity–a state of permanent drought–that will last for decades.

So now comes along a story that suggests global warming will bring California to its knees by the end of this century. But that’s only part of the story. Climate change is a force multiplier–it will undoubtedly exacerbate matters, making the West drier and for longer periods.

The natural cycles of drought and human-induced climate change will combine to write the future of the West.

In ensuing years, when relevant new papers were published, and as drought tightened its grip on California, I periodically revisited this long view of California’s (and the the West’s) drought history. I think I may have been too far ahead of the story.

I always intended this blog to pivot off of newsy stories (the news hook!) but go beyond the headlines. By the time I started Collide-a-Scape in 2009, I had come to view ecological issues through a historical and a socio-cultural lens. In a 1990 essay, Richard White, now a historian at Stanford, discussed a shortcoming (since rectified, I think) in the then relatively new field of environmental history: “the failure to recognize the role of beliefs and value judgements.” I have long felt that much popular environmental writing suffers from a similar failure.

[The historian J. R. McNeill, in his 2003 global survey of the field, gave a concise definition of environmental history: “The history of human relations between humankind and the rest of nature.”]

The human/environment relationship fascinates me. Of specific interest: The nexus of science, politics, and culture. It’s the space I often explore in longer magazine stories. My blog has provided a vehicle for me to explore that volatile space in real time.

It’s been great to participate in environmental and science-related conversations as they play out. But it is also fraught with risk when the topics are contentious. People don’t get worked up over the return of an iconic dinosaur name or a planet the way they do over climate change, vaccines, and GMOs, which are some of  the hot-button topics I’ve explored on this blog. I suppose that’s because nobody’s worldview or values is challenged by the Brontosaurus or Pluto.

Many journalists writing about science are attracted to the “wow” aspect; I’ve been drawn to the “why”–as in why are people fighting over endangered species, the meaning of wilderness, the future of conservation, climate change, GMOs, the Anthropocene?

Another recurring theme for me:

I’m interested in popular narratives that shape public discourse. I’m specifically interested in how science and environment-related topics are covered in the media, and how this coverage tends to create dominant narratives.

Along these lines, I’ve explored the genesis and amplification of varied media narratives, from Jared Diamond’s collapse meme and Paul Brodeur’s power lines/cancer connection reportage to Vandana Shiva’s GMO/Indian farmer suicide storyline.

One interesting pattern, as these cases suggest, is that sometimes the emergence and staying power of a particular narrative owes to an influential science writer, well-placed journalist, or popular activist.

In other cases, a narrative coalesces around a stock villain, such as Monsanto as the great Satan, or a phrase like the “new normal,” a term that associates severe weather events with man-made climate change.

I like to explore how these memes originate and what sustains them.

That’s what drew me to this story when it went viral and why I felt compelled to write a corrective. I’ve also been intrigued by recent narratives connecting war or geopolitical strife to climate change.

It is a tricky thing to deconstruct these narratives at a time when people are sincerely and understandably concerned about “merchants of doubt” who willfully muddy climate science and play down the risks of climate change. There are some environmental advocates and climate communicators who have little tolerance for discussion they perceive to be “off message.” Others–such as anti-GMO activists–are also intolerant of critics. People very attached to causes, I have learned, like to make their voices heard.

Given these pressures, it is important for editors and writers to not succumb to nuisance tactics. That is easy to say in a western democratic country with a long tradition of free speech. In certain parts of the world, speaking one’s mind can can get you flogged or hacked to death, as George Packer discussed in his New Yorker piece on the recent killings of Bangladeshi bloggers. But he makes a point that applies universally:

The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception.

As for my own situation, I have decided to stop blogging because it is not conducive to the kind of reporting-driven journalism I prefer to be doing. Over the years, I have been gratified by the appreciative nods from numerous colleagues, particularly those at MIT’s journalism tracker website (now sadly defunct), where, among other things, I’ve been described as a “blogger and an iconoclastic media critic,” and a “reality-based” environmental journalist who is “thoughtful and thorough.” The folks there were very generous in the attention they paid to my blog.

I assure you that not everyone shares these kind sentiments. A famous atheist blogger once characterized something I wrote as “appallingly dumb” and dismissed me as “too stupid to argue with further.” He’s definitely not alone in thinking that.

In recent years, I’ve become uncomfortable with being thought of as a media critic. True, it’s something I’ve done more of with respect to GMOs, but I never intended it to become a beat or part of my professional identity. The same goes for analysis and commentary, which I’ve done my share of in this space, and, which again, I’m appreciative of the notice it has has received from esteemed colleagues, such as Andy Revkin at his indispensable New York Times blog, Dot Earth.

Also, there are some ideas (or at least a term–eco-modernism) that germinated at my blog which I elaborated on elsewhere at Discover and at Slate several years ago, and which seems to have now been picked up on. That’s been interesting to watch unfold.

For sure, I’m going to miss having a vehicle that has allowed me to be part of the daily conversation on important issues. I can envision contributing again to that dialogue sometime down the road. But for now I think it’s time I embark on a new chapter.

Thanks to the folks at Discover magazine for hosting my blog since 2013. Most of all, thanks to the readers of Collide-a-Scape, many of you who have engaged in the comment threads. I’ve sometimes been frustrated by the unruly nature of these online conversations, but I’ve also learned a lot from them.

Please check back in a few weeks for the address to the website where this blog will be archived.

 

 

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  • http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcollege/plantpathology/people/vincelli.htm Paul Vincelli

    Wishing you the best. I am looking forward to your future work, whatever it may be.

  • Tom

    Thanks for all the hard work and I hope you will take up blogging again some time in the future. It’s an important discussion to have even if it does get frustrating at times.

  • mem_somerville

    Alas. I can totally understand. Blogging seems a breezy idea when you first start–but it becomes a real time sink if you want to do it right, and post regularly.

    I think group blogs are the way to offload some of that. That way you still have an outlet, but it’s not only on one person to deliver the content.

    Well, it has been fun. And it’s been educational. Thanks for all the GMO fish.

  • RobertWager

    You will be missed. Enjoy whatever new challenges you are going to pursue.

  • JH

    Keith, all the best. Thank for all your hard work and your big effort to truify scientific issues.
    I can’t blame you for bailing out of the blogosphere. IMO the blogosphere is already on it’s way to the grave, as more and more people get tired of working their butts off for free only to be relentlessly abused by yahoos like me. It’s thankless and moneyless toil.
    I’ll google you now and then to see what you’re up to.
    Good luck.
    j

  • TerryMN

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts since you started the blog. Best of luck in the future!

  • http://www.vaslaw.com/ Richard Arrett

    We have had some very good discussions around your posts. I will miss your blog and look forward to bumping into you on other sites. Good luck in the future.

  • OWilson

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts, Keith.

    They certainly opened up the kind of dialogue that the country needs.

    Kudos also to Tom Yulsman, who has borne the merciless slings and arrows from our side of the debate, with patience and grace.

    And, of course to Discovery Magazine that allows all views in the best scientific tradition.

    Wilson

    • Tom Yulsman

      Mr. Wilson: I just read Keith’s swan song (he is a good friend as well as a colleague), and I happened upon your kind words here. Thank for that. Now, go over to ImaGeo and say something similar! 😉

      • JH

        Aye Tom, you know the wrap – if you’re doing something *really* important, no one will notice until you’re gone.

  • lilady R.N.

    Thanks so much for your great posts. You will be missed.

  • http://geography.exeter.ac.uk/staff/index.php?web_id=Richard_Betts Richard Betts

    Hi Keith, thanks for all the interesting posts and discussions, and indeed your support when I’ve found myself under fire…. 😉
    Cheers
    Richard

  • http://energyknot.blogspot.co.uk/ William Ashbless

    If I had a penny for every doomsday scenario written by an environmentalist modeler I’d be a … [farewell Keith – a voice of reason – sad to see you go]

  • ronaldmsonntag

    Thank you, Keith, for the obvious time and careful thought you have put into this blog. I have strongly agreed and strongly disagreed with you on a few occasions. But, never have I disagreed with you for being paltry, short-sighted, bigoted, or condescending. Your writing is of the highest caliber and I eagerly look forward to your reappearance.

  • http://cendax.wordpress.com/ Norbrook

    I’m sorry to see you go, but happy with all the thoughtful and informative posts you’ve made. Best wishes for success in whatever endeavor you’re do.

  • Conor Flynn

    Keith, your blog has been a much-needed voice of reason in a media wilderness of unreflective opinions. I dont know of anyone else working the same productive vein of science and society.

    Maybe you could maintain the blog and link to your published pieces as they come out?

    If not that, what do you suggest to readers who want to be sure to keep following your work?

    Thanks, Conor
    weltanschuuang.blogspot.com

  • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

    I’m depressed. An important weekly voice of calm reason and reflection is gone. On the other hand, all of us look forward to Keith Kloor grappling with equally challenging issues in long format analysis. Can’t wait for your first story!

  • Sienna Rosachi

    I am happy to see Keith and his blog go away. I don’t know Keith so its not that I don’t like him personally. But he gives journalism a bad name. In fact, what he does is not even journalism. One tenant of good journalism is:

    “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.” http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

    Kloor does not treat people with respect. His behavior is deplorable and unacceptable. Good bye Keith!! I hope you leaned something and come out of this a better man.

    • kkloor

      It would help me be a better man if you were more specific or at least pointed to a blog post that reflects your sweeping statement.

    • Loren Eaton

      Nothing worse than a sore winner. Keep it classy, Sienna.

      • FosterBoondoggle

        I believe this is a complaint from Carole Bartolotto. This appears to be her idea of being disrespected. Talk about a thin skin…

        “Like Kennedy, Bartolotto is a semi-regular Huffpost “contributor.” She is identified as a registered dietitian. Many of her articles for HuffPost have an anti-GMO bent. On twitter, when I said to Bartolotto that her latest piece was an example of denialism, she suggested I was not qualified to judge it, because I wasn’t a scientist or health professional.

        So I asked two scientists who receive no funding from the biotech industry and who work in the field of plant biotechnology to review her article for accuracy….”

        http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2014/08/07/vaccine-gmo-denial-treated-equally

    • OWilson

      “”One “tenant” of good journalism is””

      Obviously to learn to spell. Lol

  • John Horgan

    Keith, sad to see your blog go, glad you’re going to have more time for long-form reporting. You do the kind of tough-minded, critical science journalism that we badly need these days. Hope to see you at Stevens Institute again soon. John Horgan

  • kkloor

    Thanks, everyone, for the kind words. Means a lot.

  • OWilson

    To the Editors of Discovery:

    As more and more “evidence” of so called Global Warming is based on “consensus” predictions that are increasingly being falsified, it would serve you well to replace Keith with someone just a little skeptical of the increasingly tortuous explanations of “hiatus”, warming “hiding” under the oceans, to the point now where they are denying the satellite record as “unreliable”, because it doesn’t fit the global warming narrative.

    If, and when the sea change comes, one would hope you have kept your powder dry. Or are you just happy, like many other publications to market yourselves as a partisan advocate, truth be damned?

  • Tom C

    Keith –

    While disagreeing with you frequently, I appreciated the high-minded tone of your blog and the fair treatment you afforded everyone. You obviously put a lot of thought into each post and your perspectives were important to the debates. Best of luck in all that you do.

  • Lila Guterman, Science News

    Oh man, Keith! I will miss your blog for sure! And will look for your work wherever it ends up.

  • NeilinCascadia

    Thank you Keith. You’ve been one of my go-to sites for a couple of years now and I’ll miss your blog.

  • Michael Weiss

    Thanks for adding a reasoned voice to the discussion. I’m sorry to see the blog go, but I look forward to your future endeavors.

  • Viva La Evolucion

    I’m sorry to see you go. I have enjoyed reading your posts and discussing/commenting on GMO issues with you and your followers.

  • http://pythagoreancrank.com PythagoreanCrank

    Sorry to see you go Keith. I always found your writing well-reasoned, informative and inspirational. I wish we had more voices like that. Thanks for the many years of sharing yours.

  • wzrd1

    Sigh, just as I discover you, you’re leaving.
    Well, thankfully, there are archives to read until the itch arises and you’ll be forced to scratch it on another blog (hopefully, one where it is a group effort and hence, prevents burnout).

    But, I’ll close with a comment on a shared experience, that of “too stupid to argue with further.”
    It’s been my experience that when that is said, the one saying it has run out of arguments and refuses till to consider another viewpoint, despite being able to successfully argue their own viewpoint.
    So, whenever I see those or similar words, I consider the ones saying those words to have lost the argument.

  • jfowler

    Am sorry to see this blog go away. I’ve enjoyed your writing and articles, and have gotten in the habit of checking quite frequently. Best of luck with your future projects, I’ll be interested to see them!

  • Mike Richardson

    You and your blog will be missed, Keith. I always appreciated the even- handed, fact-based approach you took to scientific issues that often were needlessly controversial. Whether the topic was vaccination, GMO’s, global warming, or public personalities selling modern-day snake oil, this blog was always a good place to get a balanced view of the issue. With all the biased and often just poorly researched popular reporting on science issues, it’s good to have a place where the stories on these subjects get a thorough review for accuracy and accountability. You did a really good job here, and I hope Discover finds someone to continue the tradition in your absence. Best of luck in your future pursuits.

  • Stu

    Wishing you the best in whatever comes next, Keith. Thankyou for a thoughtful and interesting blog, be well!

  • Jeffn

    Best of luck, I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts and will enjoy reading in long-form.
    Cheers!

  • JH

    Well, Keith, as you move on to your next thing, I’ll leave you with this thought:

    My mother is reading in the paper today about Dr. Oz and the BS he pedals on his show, and how the real science and medical establishment is upset and wants him out. I’ve explained to her many times about Dr. Oz…er…difficult relationship with facts.

    OTOH, my mother has been taking Ca-supplements at a doctor’s behest for 25 years. Large clinical trials have failed to find any benefit from Ca-supplements. But that doesn’t stop doctors from prescribing them. Same goes for vitamin supplements.

    And of course we recently saw the fall of the dietary cholesterol boogeyman, which has been a mainstay of the medical profession for decades. How much money have doctors made proffering advice on cholesterol intake? In retrospect, we should be asking ourselves: how convincing was the evidence regarding dietary cholesterol in the first place? Have people experienced negative health consequences by avoiding dietary cholesterol?

    Science is an excellent method of investigating the world around us. But I hope as you go forward you’ll keep in mind – and perhaps even investigate – the distinction between “science” that is verified by test and experiment, and “science” that is mere opinion.

  • Kevin Folta

    Keith, your work has been a beacon, frequently the first place to learn a new take on a trending story, or a place for more detail on an area of interest. I’ve always appreciated your thoughts. Best wishes.

  • Buddy199

    Damn, I really was looking forward to a great post on Dr. Oz today. Now I have to settle for the thin gruel that I am sure to find elsewhere on this and other stories. Collide-a-Scape was always an interesting, worthwhile – and often pyrotechnic – read; and became one of my regular and favorite stops on the web. Many of us will miss it. Best of luck.

  • Joshua

    Sorry to see you close up shop, Keith. You might be thin-skinned and have an unfortunate habit resort to name-calling and fear-mongering about fear-mongering – but you’ve written some very informative articles.

    • kkloor

      Joshua,
      Several months ago, when you accused me of indulging in name-calling, I asked you to to back up the charge. The best you could do is point to one post from a year ago or so that had “loony” in the headline. I asked you repeatedly if there were other examples. You never responded.

      What I have done numerous times before that is ask you to stop mischaracterizing something I wrote in your various comments.

      I guess that makes me “thin-skinned.”

      At some point, I realized you weren’t really interested in engaging in good faith dialogue. You argued just for arguing sake. Many commenters have told you how tiresome that is.

      • Joshua

        Keith –

        As I recall, I alluded to your habit of name-calling, you asked for evidence, and i provided you the first hit from the first Google search – where you used “loony” in the headline – whereafter you made excuses and called me a troll. lol!

        From which I surmise that you’re clearly not interested in accountability or changing that aspect of your work.

        Anyway, as I said I will miss the informative work that you do – such as your writing about the history and developments of the conservation movement.

        • Joshua

          Here: 6th hit on 2nd search:

          http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/05/09/the-climate-fringe/#.VTJRAvnF8dc

          10th hit on the same search:

          http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/04/07/gmo-worry-warts-this-is-your-brain-on-ignorance-and-ideology/#.VTJRffnF8dc

          And that’s with only using “loon” as a search term.

          Look back after your own work. If you’re convinced that you don’t have a tendency towards name-calling, more power to you. IMO, you do. It doesn’t negate the quality or value of your good work, but it is what it is

          • kkloor

            Joshua,

            I’ve published 1,955 posts since January, 2009. I am absolutely certain that I am guilty of using colorful terms you don’t approve of–such as “batshit” and “whacky” on some occasions.

            What can I say? I’m not a robot.

            It appears from the majority of comments left on this post that people seem to think that on the whole, I’ve been fair-minded and moderate in the language and tone of the posts. And many of these comments are from people who have often disagreed with me.

            I’ve also been told this offline by people you respect who work in the field of science communication. And when you’ve taken your complaints of me to another blog of a social scientist you admire and respect, he disagreed with you.

            So I concluded it was just a personal issue on your part, and there’s not much I can do about that.

          • JH

            No need to apologize for expressing your views in “colorful” language. Some people can’t take it. That’s their problem.

          • Joshua

            Keith –

            You’re moving the goal posts. You started out asking for examples, I gave you one and you made excuses. You again raised the issue of examples, I gave you more, and now you’re deflecting again. If you want to call insults as “colorful language,” that’s fine, but they’re still insults. If you want to excuse your use of insults by saying that you did it in a relatively small % of your posts, that’s fine – but they’re still insults. That’s what I meant about accountability.

            IMO, insulting and name-calling (as well as facile rhetoric such as comparing the left on GMOs with the right on climate science, as if the polarization is anywhere near on the same scale), is counterproductive. When you do those things, IMO, it contributes to the problem and detracts from the good work that you do.

            it’s not a matter of “approve” or “disapprove” – I’m not in a position to approve or disapprove. It’s a matter of considering what is constructive and what is juvenile.

            You say “fair-minded and moderate” yet below our friend Buddy says he’s going to miss what is “often pyrotechnic,” and JH says it’s someone else’s problem if they think that your use of what you euphemistically call “colorful” language, but are more typically called insults, is counterproductive.

            OK. So it’s my problem if you insult people. If that works for you as a form of accountability, more power to you, and good luck in your future endeavors – which I assume will be more careful and less “colorful” and “pyrotechnial.”

          • Tom Fuller

            Joshua you’re a tool.

          • JH

            ROFL!

          • kkloor

            Joshua,
            You are nothing if not consistent, I’ll give you that.

    • Tom Fuller

      Trolling his last post. Stay classy, Joshua

  • Matt B

    Keith,

    It is sad to see you go! You have always attracted a thoughtful crowd that could discuss complex topics without degeneration into name calling (at least most of the time) or censorship. It was a good public forum and you ran it with the patience of Job given some of the braying that inevitably takes place online.

    Best of luck to you and your family!

    PS This is the first thing that came to mind when I saw this….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EikCTFv18A

  • iFred

    “Partir, cést mourir un peu”

    All the best Keith, we’ll miss your voice of reason is this much debated world.

  • willard

    Thanks for all the fish, Keith.

    See you in a few.

  • DavidAppell

    Keith, sorry to see you go, but I can understand. You obviously put a lot of research into every post, and that’s not easy to do. Good luck — I look forward to reading many more of your articles.

  • CB

    You can’t go, Keith! Who else is going to speak truth to power?

  • Tom Fuller

    I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving the blogosphere. I won’t be alone in missing you. You brought a lot to the table in discussing pertinent issues.

    As someone who has retired from blogging five times, I hold the faint hope that you may re-enter the discussion in the future. In the meantime, what’s next for you?

  • Tom Scharf

    Sorry to see you go. Enjoyed your content, and I was happy to correct it as often as I could (ha ha).

    I guess we are stuck we the intellectual capacity of Twitter as we trudge on to the new enlightenment. There is no doubt that the payback was minimal for supporting a blog such as this, but I appreciate all the effort you put in to making this an interesting discussion area.

    I wish you all the best.

  • Michael Phillips

    Keith,
    You voice will be sorely missed! You covered many important issues on this blog with great integrity, depth, and fairness. Looking forward to reading your work in other formats elsewhere.Best of luck to you in the future.
    Mike

  • Proponent

    “I can envision contributing again to that dialogue sometime down the
    road. But for now I think it’s time I embark on a new chapter.”

    The other chapters were and are still.. good reads.

    Best wishes, as you turn the page.

  • Tom Yulsman

    We started our adventures in the blogosphere more or less together, back in the CEJ newsroom — from where I am writing this comment with a fair bit of sadness. I’ll keep soldiering on, and I’ll also keep hoping that at some point you’ll come back to it. In the meantime, you will be missed!

  • Tim McGarry

    Will miss the blog very much and expect that the archives will continue as a rich reference source. Best of luck, Keith, will keep an eye out for your byline.

  • BarryWoods

    best of luck – it’s not quite the same as the ‘old days’ in blog land generally.
    have fun on twitter.

  • daniel avery

    What a loss! But good luck going forward!

  • Lisa Feldkamp

    Sorry to see you go. Look forward to seeing reporting pieces from you elsewhere.

  • Shadeburst

    Keith, you seem to have vanished entirely from the internet. I’ve been hoping your stories will pop up elsewhere but either I’m looking in the wrong places or you’re taking a sabbatical.

    Your Collide-a-Scape and Judith Curry’s Climate Etc were the only two climate blogs I followed. You believe in catastrophic warming and Dr Curry doesn’t. Between the two of you I had the landscape well-covered. And both of you are scrupulously honest. Now you’re gone and I’m feeling lost.

  • libertyfreedompatriot

    Good riddance. You’ve done a lot to muddy the waters of multiple important issues (eg, GMOs). I trust you’ll find a lucrative job as a PR hack for corporate interests, which is where your strength lies.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

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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