is for Fake
Punks Soil Science Reporting
by Kit Smith
the views expressed in the following column are those of Ms
Smith and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other
science journalist, mentioned or otherwise.
can tell you, from first-hand knowledge, there are lots
of science journalists who pursue truth and excellence in their
reporting. Three coming immediately to mind are Chris Mooney (because
he was just in Buffalo promoting his book), and Mark Schleifstein
and John McQuaid of the New Orleans’ Times Picayune (for their
prophetic-but-ignored 5-part series on what would happen if the
levees breached). There are hundreds more of whom I know. I respect
and admire these people--my colleagues--and this esteem is why
I find myself wishing Steven Milloy’s children would knife him,
and all the other journalists who behave like him, and then bonfire
every existing copy of the crap currently passing for scientific
Milloy is a lawyer, a columnist for FoxNews.com and former “adjunct
scholar” at the Cato Institute. The Cato Institute is nearly a
laugh, but really a cry. Funders of this libertarian public policy
research foundation include Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Tenneco Gas,
the American Petroleum Institute, Amoco Foundation, Eli Lilly,
Merck, and Pfizer. The fact that anybody working for this
beholden an organization got a job as a journalist says sad and
horrible things about the state of American media.
Milloy did. He has written in the past about smoking research
and global warming, and articles can currently be found on his
self-aggrandizing Web site, www.junkscience.com. How does a lawyer
gain the scientific savvy to discuss and dismiss such complex
issues? Easy. He takes money directly from the parent company
of tobacco giant Philip Morris, and from Exxon Mobil. In today’s
media climate, that’s how one becomes an expert.
it was revealed by Paul Thacker in the New Republic January 26th,
has been a contractor the whole time that he has been writing
for Fox News, and probably back into the early 1990s. Recently
he’s reinvented himself as a “political activist” (what he was
all along), and has started a small mutual fund called the Free
Enterprise Action Fund (FEAF). This fund is Milloy’s new anti-science
vehicle. He has put together a “shareholder resolution” demanding
that GE “report to shareholders on the scientific and economic
analyses relevant to GE’s climate change policy.” It also asks
GE to provide “estimates of costs and benefits to GE of its climate
greater charge is that GE’s new “green policy” (which, according
to GE’s “Ecomagination” marketing campaign, causes elephants to
dance in the jungle) will pave the road to government “interference”
by environmental regulations. “I think companies should concentrate
on making money...” Why? So they can pay you to tell lies in a
public forum? Go get fucked. And take Michael Fumento with you.
is another lawyer claiming scientific expertise. On the
surface he seems very pro-science; he’s in favor of fuel-cell
technology research and he’s a proponent of adult stem-cell research.
But much of his (painfully poor) writing is reactionary, and scrutiny
reveals him to be anti-environment, blindly in favor of genetically
modified food, and, oh yeah, paid for. Fumento took money from
Monsanto (guess that explains the blindness). He was a science
and health columnist with Scripps Howard News Service; Eamon Javers
of Business Week outed him in mid-January, and Scripps
Howard fired him, apologizing to their readers for being unaware
of his conflicting interests.
whined back in a column on Townhall.com that he was a martyr,
including the argument that he had written an anti-Monsanto piece.
“I ripped Monsanto for being ‘chicken-hearted’ and caving into
environmentalist demands.” A little unclear on the concept....
“Ripping” (is that the legal terminology?) the makers of Agent
Orange for not being callous or greedy enough doesn’t qualify
still has his job with the Hudson Institute. Another Washington
D.C. based non-profit public policy research foundation, the Hudson
Institute calls itself “non-partisan,” but as reported by Source
Watch, “gains financial support from many of the foundations and
corporations that have bankrolled the conservative movement. The
Capital Research Center, a conservative group that seeks to rank
non-profits and documents their funding, allocates Hudson as a
7 on its ideological spectrum with 8 being ‘Free Market Right’
and 1 ‘Radical Left.’”
other bad science reporting news, FICTION writer Michael Crichton
received the prestigious American Association of Petroleum Geologists
(AAPG) annual JOURNALISM award in early February. Apparently nobody
at the AAPG owns a DICTIONARY.
first blush, this might seem outrageous, or at least so ridiculous
that the late-night comedy writers fear for their jobs. However,
consider the sad state of general knowledge about petroleum geology.
Most people, for example, believe the world’s oil supply to be
concentrated in the Middle East. In fact, according to energy
statistics from the U.S. government, Russia is both the second
largest exporter and producer. The U.S. is the third largest producer
and Norway is the third largest exporter.
ignorance extends into policy issues as well: Contrary to popular
belief, OPEC does not control the oil market. OPEC responds to
lowered demand for oil by lowering production, which in turn keeps
prices stable. OPEC can influence the oil market but can by no
means control it. Likewise, OPEC is not engaged in price fixing
or price setting.
also seem to hold the misconception that petroleum is used to
generate electricity. Coal is still responsible for over
50% of electricity generation. Nuclear power is 20%. Fuel oil
is a mere 3% of this puzzle. This misunderstanding is largely
due to use of the term “energy consumption.” In politics and journalism,
this phrase includes not just electricity but your car and airplanes.
In 2004, the DOE estimated that nearly 14 million barrels of oil
a day were consumed for transportation, while only half a million
barrels is used for electricity. This makes the “energy crisis”
a little less scary, no?
average American’s understanding of the oil economy is a fiction.
Suddenly it looks not only appropriate but necessary for
the AAPG to award a novelist their little journalism prize.
many people believe what these industry shills tell them. It’s
easy to tell lies about science because most people don’t know
enough about it to discern truth from propaganda. And then, some
just prefer propaganda. Stephen Milloy still writes
no longer seem even to question the authenticity of what they
are told, unless it involves a drug addict’s memoir. America’s
scientific illiteracy leaves plenty of room for artificial spin—in
a field where what you don’t know can shorten your life and render
the planet uninhabitable.