The Accidental Crop Cop

By Keith Kloor | June 5, 2013 2:13 pm

I didn’t get into journalism to be a media watchdog, but it’s become one facet of my career since I started this blog in 2009. Curtis Brainard, the science editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, has taken note of my GMO-related posts and articles and written a nice appraisal. Here’s an excerpt:

At Collide-a-Scape, his blog for Discover magazine, and elsewhere, Kloor has made a beat out of policing bad journalism related to GMOs. In the last couple of months alone, he’s taken on some of the biggest names in the media for spouting nonsense about their alleged dangers despite the fact that scientific authorities from AAAS to the World Health Organization have vouched for their safety.

It’s gratifying that Curtis and other esteemed peers have periodically recognized my watchdogging. Andy Revkin at Dot Earth has been especially generous. In recent years these folks have also noted some of my climate change commentary, which has been a mainstay of this blog.

My probing, unvarnished style is not everybody’s taste and nearly everything I write on (from climate change and atheism to GMOs and environmentalism) seems to rankle a good many people. There are also many who applaud my work. The two camps meet and jostle in nearly every comment thread. I’m deeply appreciative of the attention given to this blog by regular readers and my science journalism colleagues.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: GMOs, Journalism, select
  • Robert Wilson

    And how periodically do Monsanto offer up some gratification for your work?

    Good work on the GM stuff, but pipe down on this atheism business or it will be mayhem on this board for you.

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Heh. I was thinking about the atheism too. I think I’ll just call him a shill for Big Pew and be done with that.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      But I’m a life-long atheist who just happens to believe that science and religion can co-exist.

      • obamalover20122

        I agree with you that technically science and religion can coexist as long as religious people can stay out of science’s way. Problem is this doesn’t seem to be the case a lot of the time.

        • Buddy199

          Irrational pseudo-science or politics masquerading as science are just as bad.

          • obamalover20122

            no argument there

        • kdk33

          Care to guess how much “science” was done by the religious versus the not-religious?

          No shortage of ignorance amongst the non-believers.

          • Obamalover20122

            I agree with this, but not to the same extent.

      • obamalover20122

        I am also an atheist but an opponent of New Atheism. I can’t stand the hypocrisy of the leaders of New Atheism like Sam Harris and his penchant for the paranormal and mysticism:

        http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/sam-harris-uncovered.html

        http://mondoweiss.net/2012/09/sam-harris-in-full-court-intellectual-mystic-and-supporter-of-the-iraq-war.html

  • Tom Scharf

    Well don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back, ha ha. You write good stuff, even though your happen to possibly be wrong on climate change in some areas. Keep up the good work. The well of loonies will never run dry.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      “happen to be possibly be wrong”
      Never!

  • bobito

    You have friends and enemies on both sides. That’s why I trust you, even if I don’t agree with you all the time…

  • jh

    Fine work Keith. Mostly! :)

    j

  • Andy Skuce

    You harshly criticized the recent Skeptical Science paper on Consensus for its communications strategy and for failing to recognize “The. Stumbling. Block”: “Getting past that is going to require a frank debate about future uncertainties, risks, and scenarios, and the reconciliation of competing values” you wrote.

    Yet when you write about GMO’s, you seem to make little effort to reconcile the competing values of the promoters and their opponents. You seem content to bludgeon anti-GMO types with science and talk of scientific consensus, using exactly the strategy you scold climate activists for using. I see little attempt on your part to engage anti-GMO activists by appealing to their values.

    Perhaps you can explain why you consider one strategy effective with one set of people and ineffective with another. And why you apparently blame climate activists for the polarization on climate change, but the skeptics for the impasse on accepting GMO’s.

    • jh

      Consensus has nothing to do with it, that’s why. The data tell the story.

      GMOs: There is no health threat from GMOs. The data have told that story over and over and over. Will some minor ecological or health threat eventually be discovered? Almost certainly. But if it’s not apparent at this point, it’s very likely to be minor.

      Climate: Other than a modest rise in temperature, it’s not even clear what anthropogenic climate effects are occurring now, let alone in the future. The “consensus” is one of opinion based on broad brush ideas (like, well, jeez, there’ll be more heat in the system, so something’s gotta happen!) than on any specific data. And there obviously is no data about the future.

      • Andy Skuce

        My opinion on GMOs is largely informed by what I understand the consensus is: that they are very probably safe. But I have read very little of the literature first hand and I rely on accounts by journalists, bloggers and scientists writing for the general public. Perhaps that’s lazy of me.

        Of course there are no data about the future about climate, but there’s none about the future effects of GMOs either. Both subjects involve what we know about the effects of novel anthropogenic stimuli on complex systems such as the atmosphere and oceans; or the human body and ecosystems, and extrapolating our understanding into the future. From extensive reading of the literature on climate change, I am convinced that dangerous consequences are quite possible, even likely, and that the few arguments against that widely-held view are very weak.

        With GMOs the situation, as far as I can tell, is reversed and I’m happy to go along with the consensus view that they are likely benign, without doing the in-depth reading and research for myself. No “nullius in verba” for me on GMOs; there are not enough hours in my day.

        The degree of scientific consensus may not matter in theory, but it does in practice. If the experts change their minds, I’ll likely change mine.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      This is partially a fair criticism. Let’s keep in mind a key distinction, though.

      Global warming is largely accepted by the public and considered something to be concerned about. The scientific consensus on climate science is pretty much accepted and fringe denial of it is not part of the mainstream discourse.

      So I don’t see what will be accomplished by the 3002nd article to reiterate this.

      In contrast, anti-GMO crankery is part of the mainstream discourse and journalists and influential pundits perpetuate that. The result being: we have a largely misinformed public about GMOs and biotech.

      So I think there is much room for improvement in the media on this. Of course, like the hardcore climate skeptics (those that dismiss global warming as a legitimate concern), I expect there will always be a dedicated segment of people who will never accept genetically modified foods and who will continue to believe that GMOs are causing all sorts of health and environmental problems, despite no legitimate evidence to support this view. These people cannot be reached any more than the average WUWT reader can be reached on climate change.

      Does this clarification help?

      • Andy Skuce

        Thanks.

        First, I would dispute the assertion that anti-AGW discourse is fringe crankery, when expressing it has become almost a requirement to become an elected representative of the Republican Party. There are plenty of influential pundits, also. Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and Canada’s National Post employ, interview and publish articles from many of them.

        Second, what you are saying, I think, is that your GMO articles are aimed at deepening the knowledge of your rational readers as well as that of the journalists and bloggers who write misleading and biased stories on biotech, but that you consider the fanatics unpersuadable.

        I think that’s a reasonable approach and is basically my attitude when blogging on climate change and it is why I contributed to the Cook et al Consensus paper. I didn’t believe for a minute that this work would change the minds of committed contrarians.

  • obamalover20122

    This is cute. The Daily Kos is criticizing other people for being anti-science. Still waiting for them to criticize their own community members for being anti-science conspiracy mongers.
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/06/06/1214061/-Today-in-E-W-Jackson-news

    • obamalover20122

      oops posted this on the wrong story

  • scientist

    Just discovered the blog. Keep up the good work. You have found a really important niche. Kind of a dream for a blogger, I would think.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and 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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