Spinning for Greenpeace

By Keith Kloor | June 18, 2014 12:34 am

When Greenpeace generates global headlines, it’s often for dramatic, gimmicky stunts, like scaling an oil rig or breaking into a nuclear power plant. This week, the environmental group is making news for a different kind of high stakes behavior: losing $5.1 million on a bad financial bet.

It seems that a Greenpeace employee had been dabbling in the volatile currency trade market.

Critics of Greenpeace are chortling over this. Others, such as John Vidal, the Guardian’s environmental editor, are spinning it rather oddly. He writes: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: environmentalism, Greenpeace

Agriculture isn’t Natural

By Keith Kloor | June 12, 2014 1:34 pm

In PLOS Biology, a UK geneticist offers some wise suggestions on how to move beyond the simplistic frames that dominate agriculture and the GMO discourse. She writes:

First, it is necessary to move on from the well-worn logical fallacy that anything natural is good, and anything unnatural is bad. The application of this fallacy to agriculture is an excellent illustration of why it is so flawed. Plants evolved by natural selection, driven by the survival of the fittest. As a result, naturally, they are defended to the hilt from herbivores of all kinds, including humans. We know this. No one sends their children into the woods saying “Eat anything you find. It’s all natural, so it must be good for you.

It’s hard to exaggerate just how much romanticized, outdated views of nature influence the discourse on agriculture and other sustainability issues.

A prime example is this recent post from Greenpeace Africa about “ecological farming.” Below the picture of the smiling Kenyan woman, Greenpeace explains the eco-farming she is engaged in.

A woman inspects a crop of sorghum in Kenya

This woman is part of a community-based organisation that trains farmers and promotes ecological agriculture and other development technologies among small-scale farm holders in Kenya. Ecological farming is a way of growing food that works in harmony with nature — not against it. While chemical-intensive agriculture uses artificial fertilizers and pesticides to alter the environment, ecological farming works to enrich the soil and protect crops in ways that don’t destroy the ecology of the surrounding environment.

This mushy notion of nature-friendly agriculture is widely held in green circles. Perhaps “ecological farming” is another way of saying organic is better than conventional, in which case you should read this myth-busting piece by Christie Wilcox.

In this country, we can afford to indulge our ideological predilections and yearning for a mythical agricultural idyll. But as Tina Rosenberg wrote earlier this year in the New York Times: Read More

Apocalypse Then

By Keith Kloor | June 5, 2014 8:51 am

One of the best books I’ve read in the last year is “The Bet,” by Yale historian Paul Sabin. The author penned a New York Times op-ed around the time of its publication. As Fred Pearce wrote in his New Scientist review, Saban “has produced an absorbing narrative of how two people’s ‘clashing insights’ unleashed on the world polarized views of the environmental and resource threats we face in the 21st century.”

Those two people would be the economist Julian Simon and biologist Paul Ehrlich. When you see those names paired together, their famous wager will surely be mentioned in the same breath. Saban’s book is a must-read if you want to learn how the stage was set for the acrid, polarized climate debate playing out today. This incubation is something I discuss in my recent review of the “The Bet.”

Admirers and detractors of Paul Ehrlich are aware of the enormous influence he had on the trajectory of the environmental discourse. This passage from “The Bet” speaks to the conflicted assessment of Ehrlich by his peers just as he was making his mark in the early 1970s: Read More

Opportunistic Scaremongering

By Keith Kloor | May 28, 2014 10:30 am

In 2008, the animals rights group PETA was lambasted for a new ad campaign.

Although the billboards were quickly taken down, the ridiculous article discussing the supposed link between autism and milk remains on the group’s website. Steven Novella and a columnist for the Telegraph (among others?) seem to have just discovered the article and mistaken it for a new campaign. Still, it’s worth noting one thing the Telegraph columnist said about the PETA article. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: autism, biotechnology, GMOs
MORE ABOUT: autism, biotechnology, GMOs, PETA

The Electric Car Boomlet

By Keith Kloor | May 24, 2014 8:26 am

Guest post by Jess Scanlon

As the summer driving season kicks off with Memorial Day weekend, more cars than ever will be skipping the gas station in favor of electric charging ones. These include the 88 Tesla “supercharger” stations in the United States. Tesla is the high-end option of the modest but growing electric car industry. The company produces sporty roadsters (such as the one pictured above) and high-end sedans, like its Model S (prices start at $70,000), which Consumer Reports last year rated a “nearly perfect car.”

The most recent Tesla Supercharger station, debuted in April in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, a suburb of Trenton located near exit 7A of the New Jersey Turnpike, a road many drivers will use this weekend on their way to the Jersey Shore. It is part of  Tesla’s expanding coast to coast network of free electric charging stations.


Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: transportation

The Entrenched GMO Narrative

By Keith Kloor | May 22, 2014 2:46 pm

Regular readers of Collide-a-Scape know that 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. I have the feeling that not everybody shares this interest. So when another journalist researches the archives for a story on how agricultural biotechnology became so controversial, it’s worth noting. Here’s the opening scene Brooke Borel sets for her piece recently published at Modern Farmer: Read More

No Critical Thinking Required

By Keith Kloor | May 21, 2014 2:37 pm

On Twitter, a popular health advocate makes this observation:

Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Here’s another correlation that will blow your mind.

You can check out all manner of “spurious correlations” at this site, which Knight Science Journalism blogger Paul Raeburn and others have been noting of late.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs, science, Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology, GMOs, science

Is the GMO Debate Advancing to a Higher Level?

By Keith Kloor | May 21, 2014 10:46 am

I’m just catching up with several deeply reported articles on GMOs that are worth your attention. Molly Ball, a staff writer at The Atlantic, recently published a long piece that explores the swirling politics and emotions driving the GMO labeling campaign in the United States. She concludes: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology, GMOs, science

Is Journalistic Self-Censorship a Big Problem?

By Keith Kloor | May 19, 2014 1:53 pm

The London Based SciDevNet, which is “committed to putting science at the heart of global development,” has an interesting post up today entitled, “Is science journalism ignoring censorship?”

The questions raised by the author, Nick Ishmael Perkins, are first discussed in the context of traditional censorship issues, such as when governments restrict access to information. This is fairly straightforward.

What is more vexing and hard to quantify is the problem of self-censorship, or what Perkins calls “low level censorship” that, for science journalists, is experienced at mundane or bureaucratic levels. He writes: Read More

Mike Adams, AKA the ‘Health Ranger,’ Wants Some Respect

By Keith Kloor | May 16, 2014 8:33 pm

In my previous post, I reported on legal threats recently made by Mike Adams against Forbes and one of its contributing writers, Jon Entine, who oversees the Genetic Literacy Project. Entine is hardly the first science writer/blogger to shine a spotlight on Adams, whose penchant for raw foods, alternative health treatments and various outlandish conspiracy theories enables him to straddle multiple fringe-dwelling worlds.

So before my post was published, I emailed Adams to ask if he has ever pursued legal action against any other writers who had written similarly unflattering articles about him. He never answered that specific question, but he did send a long response, which I post below in its entirety. Read More


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