It is not unusual for public figures to be unhappy with how they are portrayed in the media. Sometimes their complaints are understandable, other times not so much. What is unusual is for a public figure to take legal action against a journalist.
That’s because in the United States there is a very high bar for a defamation claim. A landmark Supreme Court decision 50 years ago ruled that a public figure cannot recover damages “unless clear and convincing evidence proves that a false and defamatory statement was published with ‘actual malice’ – that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”
But if you are someone who still wants to punish a journalist for something he or she has written, you don’t actually have to sue. You just have to rattle a few sabers and threaten legal action.
This appears to be the tactic Mike Adams is using in an attempt to intimidate Forbes and muzzle one of their contributing writers/bloggers. Much more about that in a minute. First some background: Adams is the founder and operator of an internet website called Natural News, which, according to its mission statement,
covers holistic health, nutritional therapies, consciousness and spirituality, permaculture , organics, animal rights, environmental health, food and superfoods , and performance nutrition.
The Wikipedia page on Natural News is a good place to start if you never heard of Adams and want learn what he espouses and what the science blogosphere has written about him. For example, Wikipedia notes (my links) that, “Adams is an AIDS denialist, a 9/11 Truther,” and has “endorsed conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.” Adams now objects to this characterization, yet he provides all the proof with his own writings.
At RationalWiki, you can browse from a ghoulishly absurd spectrum of conspiratorial offerings from Adams, including the one about Bill Gates and Microsoft developing weaponized influenza viruses, to achieve their “ultimate goal of wiping out a significant proportion of the human race.”
Unsurprisingly, Adams is a regular voice on the most feverish conspiracy forums.
By now, I can imagine what you are thinking. This guy is so far out there that who of sound mind–knowing all this–could possibly take him seriously?
Anyway, all the kooky things that Adams puts up on NaturalNews.com and says all over the internet are there for you to check out yourself. For some examples, just follow the links I provided above. Or you could read the recent profile of Adams by Jon Entine at his Genetic Literacy website. The piece was cross-posted at Forbes, where Entine is a contributor to their website. (He is not on the Forbes editorial masthead. Rather, Entine, a science writer, is part of a large “content” network at the website.) For his piece, Entine drew almost entirely on Adams’ own writings, the public records of his various companies, and what scientists and other science bloggers had to say about him.
Adams did not appreciate the piece, which characterized him as “anti-science” and focused on his crusade against GMOs and how that commingled with his various conspiracy theories. He immediately went after Forbes and Entine.
To see how that has played out over the last month, let’s rewind the clock to April 3, when Entine’s unflattering profile of Adams was posted on the Forbes website. That day, Adams contacted Forbes to complain about factual inaccuracies and slanderous statements in the piece. He demanded it be taken down. Forbes complied, but it also asked Adams to spell out the alleged falsehoods in an email.
The next day, Adams sent a lengthy missive, detailing all the “corrections.” The gist of them: He objected to being called “anti-science,” an AIDS denialist, a 9/11 truther, and so on. In an email addressed to the Forbes editor, he wrote: Read More
Unlike some in the science blogosphere, I haven’t found it worthwhile to write much about Mike Adams, whose conspiracy-laden screeds and paeans to raw foods and unproven alternative medicine treatments appear on a website of his called Natural News. (I have briefly discussed Adams on one previous occasion.) Here’s an apt description from David Gorski:
His website is a one-stop shop, a repository if you will, of virtually every quackery known to humankind, all slathered with a heaping, helping of unrelenting hostility to science-based medicine and science in general. True, Mike Adams is not as big as, say, Joe Mercola, whose website, as far as I can tell, appears to draw more traffic than NaturalNews.com, but what Adams lacks in fame he makes up for in sheer crazy.
That is no exaggeration. Mark Hoofnagle calls him
a deranged individual who denies HIV causes AIDS, promotes some of the most absurd quackery in the world, and also is such an all around crank you can rely on him to wax conspiratorial about almost any dramatic news story.
For example, here he is on Alex Jones’s uber-conspiracy show, talking about the “zombiefication of America.” Read More
For GMO opponents, it’s been a good news/bad news week. The good news: Vermont became the first state to mandate the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. (More about that in a minute.) The bad news: New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, a darling of the food movement, wrote a column that called on his compadres to stop obsessing about GMOs, particularly the labeling issue, which “plays on irrational fears.”
The battle over GMOs, Bittman said, was not important to the larger goal of sustainable agriculture. What’s more, “the technology [involving genetically modified foods] itself has not been found to be harmful,” he wrote, and its “underlying science could well be useful.” How do you suppose this went over in organic food co-ops across the United States, where GMOs are about as welcome as disposable plastic bags?
Bittman’s column was baffling and disconcerting to leading food warriors. I can understand why they might feel that way. For in previous columns dating back the last few years, Bittman was singing a different tune.
From a 2012 column urging that genetically modified foods be labeled:
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.
It wasn’t that long ago that global warming was mostly discussed as (and believed to be) a distant threat– the scope, timing and severity of its impacts considered uncertain. Then in recent years, as climate scientists began studying and asserting linkages between greenhouses gases and severe weather events, the discourse shifted.
We are now at the point where everything from typhoons and mountain climbing tragedies to civil wars and wildfires are seen through the prism of global warming. This is not to discount man-made climate change as a contributing factor to particular extreme weather events and related disasters; I’m just making an observation about the one dimensional lens increasingly used by many to view the world at large. By suggesting this, am I off-message, unhelpful, contrarian?
Regardless, no one can dispute the new discourse of climate change as an immediate and urgent concern. This week’s orchestrated roll-out of a new U.S. government report on climate change officially cements the “new normal,” a phrase used to characterize everything happening now in the context of climate change.
— SEJ.ORG (@sejorg) May 7, 2014
NBC had perhaps the darkest take on this new era. Read More
From The Economist’s Demography and Development blog, several months ago:
FACTS can be stubborn – and irritating. It is satisfying—perhaps even gratifying—to accept the idea that genetically modified crops are causing thousands of Indian farmers to commit suicide (as this article claims). The notion seems plausible: farmers take out higher debts on the promise that GM seeds will be a bonanza and then lose everything when the harvest fails. There is genuine distress: farmers are indeed killing themselves. Their cause has been adopted by high-profile campaigners such as Britain’s Prince Charles and India’s Vandana Shiva, who blames the spate of deaths on Monsanto, an American biotech firm.
Shiva, a prominent environmentalist, has spread this false narrative in the media for years. To understand how she’s done it, and who has enabled her, read my recent feature in Issues in Science and Technology. Read More
This is notable:
The dangers of nuclear power are real, but the accidents that have occurred, even Chernobyl, do not compare to the damage to the earth being inflicted by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, gas and oil.
That’s from an editorial in today’s New York Times, which will make for uncomfortable reading for environmental organizations still very much opposed to nuclear power. One of those is the Riverkeeper, a respected New York based group that keeps watch over the Hudson River. One of their big campaigns is to close Indian Point, a 40-year old nuclear power plant that sits on the Hudson shoreline, about 30 miles from Manhattan. Indian point supplies approximately 25 percent of the electricity used in New York City and surrounding suburbs.
Can all that juice be replaced by renewable energy and efficiency gains, as the Riverkeeper and others contend? Highly debatable, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t close Indian Point. New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo said in 2011:
There is no doubt that we need replacement power if we are to close Indian Point. There is also no doubt that we can find it.
Sure, if you throw in natural gas as part of the energy replacement equation. Ah, but that would involve fracking, which is not happening in New York anytime soon. Of course, this doesn’t mean New Yorkers can’t still benefit from cheap fracked natural gas piped in from other states.
Some media outlets have picked up on a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. (More on that coverage in a minute.) Here’s the headline from the Oregon State University press release:
Study finds only trace levels of radiation from Fukushima in albacore
The scientists seemed to make sure their results were put in proper context. From the second graph:
In fact, you would have to consume more than 700,000 pounds of the fish with the highest radioactive level – just to match the amount of radiation the average person is annually exposed to in everyday life through cosmic rays, the air, the ground, X-rays and other sources, the authors say.
If you’re a newspaper editor, how do you capture a study like this in a headline? British editors varied.
The Independent threw out typical bait:
Radioactive tuna fish from Fukushima reactor caught off American shores
The Daily Mail did the same, but more cleverly:
Oregon fisherman catch radioactive tuna contaminated by Fukushima disaster-but scientists say they’re SAFE to eat
You get it? Wink, wink. The “radioactive tuna” is still safe to eat!
Elsewhere, media headlines also varied. Some closely reflected the study’s findings:
Fukushima radiation: Minute amount found in Oregon tuna
Others, such as Reuters, seemed intent on capturing eyeballs:
Study finds Fukushima radioactivity in tuna off Oregon, Washington
Although the Reuters piece hewed closely to the perspective of the researchers–who don’t find their results worrisome–one of the authors of the study is quoted as saying: Read More
And now an influential non-profit that for years has focused on climate change is all but begging that we not close down aging nuclear reactors. What the hell is going on?
I can’t wait for James Hansen and his fellow pro-nuclear, climate-concerned greens to face off against the anti-nuclear, climate-concerned greens outside one such aging nuclear power plant that a popular Democratic governor wants to shut down. Imagine this scene: The pro-nuke climate activists chaining themselves to the fence of the nuclear plant, protesting in favor of carbon-free nuclear power.
Or imagine this: A joint statement from the Group of Ten–a loose network consisting of the biggest, most established environmental organizations–vowing to enthusiastically embrace nuclear power to help solve the climate problem. (Why a joint statement? Because no major green group is likely to go out on a limb by itself.) Perhaps the foundation for such a large-scale conversion is being established with the steady drip of individual converts.
Or maybe not, CNN suggested last year:
Are we witnessing the birth of a mutiny within the environmental movement? Will typical 21st-century environmentalists eventually embrace the power of the atom? A leading environmental group opposed to nuclear power says no.
“I don’t think it’s very significant that a few people have changed their minds about nuclear power,” said Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Well, it’s more than a few people, but I take his point.
Let’s be honest. At this stage, the green movement is somewhat like the Democratic party just before Bill Clinton became president: Stale, rudderless, and unable to offer a compelling vision for the future. (The collapse of civilization has a nice ring to it, but it’s no I have a dream.) If environmentalists had been wise, they would have spent the green-friendly Obama years reinventing their brand. (If Radio Shack can do it, anyone can.) Instead, they’ve been content to snarl at the usual enemies (say no to oil and gas! ) and coalesce around climate change as the movement’s signature issue of the day. What has that vision for the future looked like?
Look, I’m not sure if pro-nuclear greens will ever overcome the fright factor of a technology that includes the occasional Fukushima. But if eco-pessimists continue to shape the green message, painting a relentlessly grim portrait of the future, then I wouldn’t expect people to rally around that, either.
Besides, that’s the picture (over-population, global famines, ecocide, etc) that’s been painted over the past forty years. The shock value of it has worn off.
It’s time to paint a new picture.
Paul Krugman’s current New York Times column on the Nevada rancher who was a folk hero to Fox news before he revealed himself to be an ugly racist will typically please liberals and infuriate conservatives. I was nodding along in agreement with Krugman’s piece until about halfway through. That’s when I came across a sentence that gave me pause.
Here’s the set-up for Krugman’s colorful line, which I bolded:
Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.
It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.
Stop right there and think about the last time you heard the term “welfare queen.” Krugman knows well the meaning and origins of this phrase, which we have Ronald Reagan to thank for. In a 2007 column, Krugman recalled that, “Reagan repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud. He never mentioned the woman’s race, but he didn’t have to.”