Mark Bittman, the popular food writer for the New York Times, has written a column that is almost beyond parody for its unintentional irony. The only way to fully appreciate his lack of self-awareness is to stop and marvel at numerous passages. Let’s start at the top:
Things are bad enough in the food world that we don’t need to resort to hyperbole to be worried or even alarmed.
This is some chutzpah. Here’s Bittman from September 15, 2012:
It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone wants to see the labeling of genetically engineered materials contained in their food products.
Almost everyone? Same column:
G.M.O.’s, to date, have neither become a panacea — far from it — nor created Frankenfoods, though by most estimates the evidence is far more damning than it is supportive.
This is completely untrue. If Bittman had wanted to be factual he would have referred NYT readers to credible sources on the state of the science on biotech crops and foods, such as here or here. Instead, he links to a website called the Organic Authority and a post that explains why
GMOs are bad for your body, bad for the community, bad for farmers and bad for the environment.
This is what is known as laundering untruths. Read More
There are a couple of ways to interpret the story about a revoked ordinance in San Francisco that, as Reuters reports,
would have been the first in the United States to require [cell phone] retailers to warn consumers about potentially dangerous radiation levels.
Before it was reversed it was known as–get ready for it–the “right to know” ordinance. Sound familiar?
Here’s some reaction from a disappointed SF resident:
“This is just a terrible blow to public health,” Ellen Marks, an advocate for the measure, said outside the [city] supervisors’ chambers. She said her husband suffers from a brain tumor on the same side of his head to which he most often held his mobile phone.
Now, we could interpret this news as a victory for Big Cell Phone, since they fought against the proposal to warn consumers about the potential lethality of cell phones. Big Cell Phone doesn’t want you to know about a virtually non-existent risk to your health. Imagine that!
But wait a minute, about midway through the Reuters story, this line appears: Read More
If your concern is climate change, and you believe that slowing or preventing it is your fundamental priority, then nuclear power should be high up on the list for energy-production.
He was responding to a reader who castigated liberals for their dogmatic stance on nuclear power, fracking and genetically modified crops.
The exchange reminded me of Chris Mooney’s recent argument that conservatives are way more hostile to science than liberals. Mooney, being the author of a book called The Republican War on Science, is not exactly an impartial observer of this debate. Nor has his argument gone unchallenged. Read More
Guest post by Ramez Naam.
Keith Kloor has graciously given me the opportunity to guest post here again. So let me cut to the chase:
I support GMOs. And we should label them. We should label them because that is the very best thing we can do for public acceptance of agricultural biotech. And we should label them because there’s absolutely nothing to hide.
Let me explain. First, so you don’t mistake me for a GMO-basher, let me introduce myself. I’m a computer scientist by training. I’m also the author of three books, all of which endorse the use of biotechnology to improve the human condition.
In the most recent of these, The Infinite Resource, I talk about the power of innovation to save the world. In between chapters on climate change and fresh water depletion, solar power and desalination, I make a forceful argument that genetically engineered crops and animals can help us grow more food, with better nutrition, and less impact on the planet.
I believe that. In the last two weeks I’ve written about the scientific consensus that GMOs are safe and the many reasons that advocates of organic food should love GMOs. And recently I went on MSNBC to make that case on national television.
In short, I believe in science, and I believe that science tells us that our currently approved GMOs are safe for humans and good for the planet, and that next generation GMOs will be even better.
So why label them?
The short answer is this: by fighting labeling, we’re feeding energy to the opponents of GMOs. We’re inducing more fear and paranoia of the technology, rather than less. We’re persuading those who might otherwise have no opinion on GMOs that there must be something to hide, otherwise, why would we fight so hard to avoid labeling? Read More
Since I’m always on the lookout for helpful advice on how to talk to my friends about GMOs, this tweet caught my eye:
— Danielle Nierenberg (@DaniNierenberg) March 7, 2013
In her bio at the Worldwatch Institute, Nierenberg is listed as “an expert on sustainable agriculture.” Indeed,
Her knowledge of global agriculture issues has been cited widely in more than 3,000 major publications including The New York Times, USA Today, the International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, BBC….
So without further ado, let’s see what knowledge on GMOs this knowledgeable expert (who recently co-founded a think tank on food issues) considers worthy of attention. She points to a “fact sheet” put out by the Small Planet Institute. It starts off:
In the 1990s, GMOs took off in the United States without public debate and today they’re in most processed foods–making Americans the world’s GMO guinea pigs. Now peer reviewed and other authoritative studies reveal…
Uh oh. I think we know where this is heading. Read More
Great title, cool cover!
In recent years, we’ve seen episodic waves of hysteria over reports of brain tumors and other cancers allegedly caused by cell phones and WiFi. If I had to trace this legacy of electromagnetic fear back in time, I would credit a 1979 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology and a series of articles in the New Yorker (under the “Annals of Radiation” subheading) by Paul Brodeur in the 1980s and early 1990s. In one piece, Brodeur reported on
a link between childhood-cancer & magnetic fields from power lines.
In another, he discussed “the epidemiological & experimental data” that linked video-display terminals to birth defects.”
Brodeur wrote two related books. The first was published in 1989 and titled, Currents of Death: Power Lines, Computer Terminals, and the Attempt to Cover up their Threat to Your Health. The next one came out several years later and was called, The Great Power line Cover-Up: How the Utilities and Government Are Trying to Hide the Cancer Hazard Posed by Electromagnetic Fields.
In his 1993 Businessweek review, John Carey wrote of The Great Power Line Cover-Up:
A little knowledge of this controversy, or even a close perusal of the book, turns up enough inconsistencies, dubious interpretations, and selective reporting to cast immense doubt on the whole argument–and to reveal Brodeur as more zealot than journalist.
A long-time writer for the New Yorker (late 1950s to mid-1990s), Brodeur is also the author of a 1978 book called, The Zapping of America: Microwaves, Their Deadly Risk, and Cover-up. What was zapping us? In an interview with People magazine at the time, Brodeur asserted:
Radars of all types, FM radio and TV transmitters, millions of CB radios and, of course, microwave ovens.
Those fears appear to have ebbed (though I still occasionally meet someone who refuses to microwave food). But the power lines are causing cancer meme has persisted, fed by periodic media reports and crusading public health professionals, such as David Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany, who links “magnetic field exposure” to brain tumors Leukemia, and neurodegenerative diseases. A 1995 PBS Frontline investigation of the issue features parents convinced that high voltage power lines had sickened their children. Brodeur and Carpenter were interviewed in the segment and each talked up the medical hazards of “magnetic fields.”
For an excellent dissection of the great power line and cell phone scare, read this New Republic piece by Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at the American National Institutes of Health. In the last three decades, over a hundred studies conducted in many countries have looked at the association between magnetic fields and cancer, and the evidence is not there, he said. “Multiple organizations, including the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, all cast doubt on the links, suggesting further research,” Emanuel wrote.
The U.S. National Academies of Science has found
no conclusive and consistent evidence shows that exposures to residential electric and magnetic fields produce cancer, adverse neurobehavioral effects, or reproductive and developmental effects.
Of course, none of this prevents a certain element of society from exploiting the issue for monetary gain. And the true believers, led by Carpenter, have just released a massively deceptive report (actually an update) that the Science-Based Medicine blog has methodically dismantled.
Oddly, science journalists appear to have shied away from probing this long-running saga. Read More
In recent years, there has been an outbreak of media stories on early childhood disease outbreaks. The press has reported a spike in cases of measles, mumps, and whooping cough in communities from Seattle to Vermont. In many of the stories, a cause-and-effect relationship to lower childhood vaccination rates has been explicit. (Some journalists, however, have been careful not to follow the herd.) An obvious culprit is the anti-vaccination movement.
But in a provocative post at his Cultural Cognition blog, Dan Kahan asks:
What is the evidence that an “anti-vaccination movement” is “causing” epidemics of childhood diseases in US?
He’s not seeing any, and wonders: Read More
As anyone who follows environmental discourse knows, sustainability is more than a popular buzzword. It’s a concept that frames all discussion on climate change, development, and ecological concerns. For example, today’s line-up of sessions at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting includes a panel called, “Getting to Global Ecological Sustainability: Climate and Small-Planet Ethics.”
But what if there is no getting to global sustainability, because it’s an impossible goal? This is an argument that is put forward compellingly by advocates of the emergent resilience paradigm. Read More
Every movement has a discourse that is shaped by people who are passionate, committed, and forceful. Some feel so certain in their rightness that they try to control the discourse and purge those deemed insufficiently true to the movement’s cause.
A political example of this would be today’s U.S. Republican Party, which, as David Frum recently observed, has become “increasingly isolated and estranged from modern America.” It is now so far-right that some leading Republicans say that even conservative icons like Ronald Reagan would have a hard time winning the GOP nomination today. After President Obama’s reelection in Novemeber, Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote:
At a time when the need to broaden the party’s appeal seemed overwhelmingly compelling, Republicans narrowed their appeal to the most ideological fragment of the conservative base.
The same hardball tactics and ideological purity tests that have made the Republican party inhospitable for moderate conservatives are on display in the burgeoning atheist movement. Read More