25 thoughts on “Journalism under Attack

  1. JPE

    The first thing each side does in a war is to try to dehumanize the other side. That’s what these activists try to do. If they can make scrupulous reporters and science advocates seem to be mindless automatons and companies filled with people of all types to be monolithic looming evils, it’s much easier to get people aligned with their cause.

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  2. Robert Wager

    Thanks for telling your story of the “fun” to be had reporting the truth about GMO’s. As one scientist involved in this area I know their tactics all too well. Fortunately I see the mainstream media waking up to the fact they have been had. Now virtually every story has comments from National Academies of Science , National Health Authorities, National food safety authorities. All endorse the continued safe use of GE crops and derived foods.
    The public is also waking up to the distortions and are not happy when they find out the truth about different types of food (with different costs) . I began public outreach about GE crops about 15 years ago when there was considerable interest(as outlined in your story) It then faded until recently. Stay tuned it is going to get real interesting again.

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  3. Connor Gibson

    Thank you for the feedback about our website, PolluterWatch.

    I’ll point out why your sole example of our “fabrications” is dishonest, and note that you didn’t tell readers where we sourced our claim.

    Your quoted this from PolluterWatch.
    “Kloor has repeatedly decried public records requests, some of which include his communications with GMO interests, by organizations exposing conflicts of interest between corporations and scientists. Kloor calls the requests for financial infomation on publicly-employed scientists “an attack on science,” comparing the tactic to coal and oil industry attacks on climate scientists. More background at Corporate Crime Reporter.”

    Here’s where we got that info: You.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/02/updated-agricultural-researchers-rattled-demands-documents-group-opposed-gm-foods

    Here’s how your first three paragraphs open:
    1) “The fierce public relations war over genetically modified (GM) food has a new front. A nonprofit group opposed to GM products filed a flurry of freedom of information requests late last month with at least four U.S. universities, […]
    2) ““It seems like a fishing expedition to me,” says geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam […]
    3) “The group, U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) of Oakland, California, says it has no vendetta.” […]

    And here’s the ending, where you frame your conclusion (“vendetta”) without having to own it as your opinion, nor owning your personal stake in the issue.

    “USRTK says its requests are designed to promote transparency in a controversial research arena. But some researchers worry they will also have a chilling effect on academic freedom. “Your first inclination … is to stop talking about the subject,” Van Eenennaam says. “But that’s what they want. And I don’t want to be intimidated.” ”

    I realize this is fairly common in online advocacy publications. But you claim to be a journalist.

    Greenpeace is explicitly an advocacy group. We oppose the industry’s shaky claims that GMOs are a magical solution to hunger and climate change (which you misrepresented above – please consult Google). They are selling a product, and you appear to be helping.

    I did edit the page to take out “repeatedly,” as we only provided your one article as the source there, and some n00b typos… And for nuance’s sake, I just added some info on your dispute with Jon Entine:
    http://polluterwatch.org/keith-kloor

    Thanks, please let me know if there’s anything else.
    Connor Gibson
    Greenpeace U.S.

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    1. C. Lynch

      There are many things to be noticed, here, each of which could be explored at length, if one were so inclined:
      * the mental shortcuts involved in suspecting people’s motives are seldom fully realized by those who take them
      * institutions of all kinds can develop groupthink without even being aware of it, yet thinking of one’s self as “independent” can also bias the mind!
      * making a position parts of one’s identity hardens one’s point of view; one cannot change the position without endangering one’s sense of identity, affiliations, and relationships with others.
      * there is an activist mindset which implicitly or even explicitly looks for data that supports the cause, to a degree which goes far beyond mere confirmation bias.

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  4. Klaus Ammann

    Thanks Keith for this glimpse into fanatic thinking. Stigmatization, Tribal Solidarity, Opinion Fixing, all this and more are typical for human thinking already in early human history of primitive life. A quick reaction to fear was indeed live-saving, it was a good reason for the survival of generations. Later, in more civilized times, outbreaks in stigmatization against imaginary threat occurred again and again, “normal” people began to solidarise against imaginary ennemies and dangerous things, often combined with world conspiracy theories etc etc. I wonder, how is possible that those repetitious events with their victims have not yet been revealed and only a few are daring to talk about. i have done it and was attacked by friends and foes immediately and with such emotions which prohibit clear thinking. One of the most frequent attacks: you stigmatize GMO opponents as Nazis. This is not the case, but what I dare to say is that there is a massive amount of professional psychological and socio-economic historic data which give proof to such parallel waves. I have studied this professional literature, and also read intensively historical accounts, I will soon try to publish such insights derived from a rich literature from Rosenberg (Chief Nazi ideologist, over the new extensive edition of Mein Kampf, accounts from many other countries of this world – there are such movements, frequently called fascist (despite the differences: both the Nazis and the Fascists (as well as other movements like the Inquisition, the Anti-Hugenotte-Organizations, etc. etc. had in common some kind of common enemy. : People LOVE to have an enemy in common and feel intensive tribal solidarity. Facts are not important, they are overrun by hatred.
    About FOIA: i have nearly the whole original literature and legal texts collected: Clearly, the law as established for quite other reasons: the aim was to get more transparency in governmental activities in Washington. It is understandable to be angry about the war on facts against pseudo-facts, but this is not thinking deep enough. We must analyse the reasons behind the ranting on GMOs now lasting for 20 years and indeed showing signs of reaching the end phase. the main activists like Greenpeace and FoE are desperately looking for other fear topics. But as long as lall (also the good ones) are masively funded by the EU and the memberstates, it will be difficult: Bouillon Hardy English translation KA http://www.ask-force.org/web/NGOs/Bouillon-EU-Promotion-not-interested-in-Citizens-en-20140530.pdf

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  5. Eric Steig

    Not to detract from your interesting and important article, but one little misstatement caught my attention: “at the mercy of an increasingly unstable climate.” That’s not a statement that has much basis in reality. Climate on the Indian subcontinent is changing, for sure, but I’m aware of no evidence for “instability” there or anywhere else. This is exactly the sort of language that should not be used when talking about anthropogenic climate change.

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  6. Matt Ridley

    There’s a small irony here. I agree with everything Keith says about GMOs and vaccines and applaud his courage in standing up to the pseudoscientists. I have similar scars from the same fights, having championed GMOs in the UK since 1998 when they were even more “evil” than they are considered in the US today. (In the UK, the tide of opinion had turned.) His experiences of being attacked ad-hominem by the extreme environmentalists are very similar to mine. However, having argued for a moderate view of man-made climate change — that it is real, but is being exaggerated and real harm is being done to people and the environment as a result of this exaggeration — I have experienced even more vicious and personal attacks than in the GMO debate. I documented some of them here: http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/my-life-as-a-climate-lukewarmer/. I would argue that Keith’s “side” of this debate is infected with pseudoscience at least as much, perhaps more, as the climate-sceptic side, as any reading of the hockey-stick wars confirms. On one occasion, when I wrote an article on new evidence of lower climate sensitivity than assumed by most climate models (since confirmed in more than a dozen other peer reviewed publications) my attackers included Keith Kloor, though admittedly he did not go ad-hominem. He criticised me for (in addition to citing published papers) using as a source an amateur scientist, Nic Lewis. Nic has since published numerous peer-reviewed papers in mainstream journals (e.g. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00382-014-2342-y), some co-authored with IPCC lead scientists (e.g. http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v6/n6/full/ngeo1836.html) and is widely recognised as one of the leading experts on climate sensitivity. I regard my scoop on low sensitivity as one my best journalistic endeavours, and am proud of having stood up to the bullies.

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  7. Bloke down the pub

    Thank-you for this post, it is quite illuminating . While I’m not on the same side of the argument as you on one of these issues, I can at least see why that might be so without doubting your motives. With regard to Trump’s flowery prose (usually in 140 characters or less) I’d suggest that his claim that Obama created ISIS should be viewed more as a claim that Obama created the conditions for ISIS to grow. If he didn’t develop the GMO seed that is ISIS, he certainly watered and weeded it.

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  8. Steven Knudsen

    Pro vaccine scientists fail to do some basic, but difficult, science. The rise of autism vs. the rise of vaccines is a well established correlation. The real question is whether this correlation implies a causation. One part of this is to think of the rise of vaccines as a proxy for something else. During this period, the ingestion of vitamins (esp. folic acid) by pregnant women has also increased dramatically. This doesn’t prove anything about folic acid, but simply says that all reasonable correlated variables should be considered, in order of scientific plausibility.
    Another issue is a compassion for people who believe in the vaccine-autism link. Without alternative explanations, the issue just devolves into a shouting match, and I have never been convinced that vaccines are (completely) safe. We chose the dead polio virus for our children, and got DPT, because of the horrors of diptheria, pertussis and tetanus. But our children have a litany of allergies and sensitivities and this is similar to our friends. There is something bad going on in the environment, but we don’t know for sure what.
    This article did not convince me that the author is intellectually or morally superior to the people he criticizes, but I do feel some sympathy for the author in light of the alleged “truthiness” and post-factualism he is subjected to.

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  9. Mark B

    As usual, K. Kloor can’t imagine how people can be so irrational. But when it’s HIS ox being gored, he gives us this tater tot:
    ” Outside events (WikiLeaks disclosures, FBI announcements) had a “truthy” feel that bolstered the corrupt theme of the narrative frame.”
    Please note the rhetorical sleight of hand – he doesn’t say that the information in the Wikileaks emails were ‘truthy’ – that is, not true. No, he just implies it. The fact that the legitimacy of the emails released was never argued by the .Clinton campaign tells us all we need to know about the ‘truthiness’ of the email dump. So, to the Hillary cadres – including Kloor – it’s not the look behind the curtain we got that matters, it’s ‘the Russians’ or the FBI, or ‘truthiness’ that matters. I recommend that Kloor ask Roger Pielke Jr what he thinks about the content, rather than any imagined context of those emails. Seems like Kloor suffers from anti-vaxer disease when it’s his ideology taking a hit.

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  10. Andrew Funk

    Thanks for being committed to good journalism. I know it’s not easy pushing back against the hydra of hyperbole and misinformation, but people like me need people like you. Thanks.

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  11. john

    Enjoyed your article, but you are not alone, this new world of post-normal science is dominating the “internet world”. You can “search and replace” GMO with “climate science” and write the same article. Ask Roger Pielke Jr. or Judith Curry.

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  12. Mark Evans

    This is a very distressing article, but I am surprised only by the extent and viciousness that Kloor describes. I’m a former physicist whose “natural home” is, like Kloor, on the left. The disinformation surrounding climate science, GMOs and vaccines are indeed appalling. I might be inclined to add nuclear power to the list, although the case there strikes me as a bit muddier.

    On leaving physics and entering financial services I saw a rather similar set of events play out there, following the great recession of 2008. Like Monsanto, a number of large financial institutions became the embodiment of evil. Doubtless like Monsanto, they were neither perfect embodiments of virtue, nor the cartoonish cesspools of villainy portrayed, sadly, in most of the press. As Kloor describes Monsanto, many of those with whom I worked were notably principled and honest, some, regrettably, more focused on their own enrichment. Some of the companies made egregious errors while others fulfilled their societal role quite well in very challenging circumstances. However, the demonic narrative became rapidly entrenched, at least on the (center-) left. And, in much the same Kloor describes, journalists who sought to present the full picture could find themselves subject to campaigns of vilification. Kloor may find it interesting to swap stories with the Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin.

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  13. David Welden

    The liberal left applies the same technique to many topics where they find disagreement with their positions. The practice is rampant in science and politics. But, it exists throughout the business world, as well. They intentionally do a lot of damage to many well-intentioned professionals. And, you needn’t be a journalist to fit into their cross-hairs.

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  14. Toby Glanville

    How does a layman find the truth? Is it in the scientists at Monsanto? Or in the blogs of NGOs? Likely somewhere in the middle, I’d say. So what to do then? For me, I try to use common sense. Do I want to eat vegetables laden with glyphosate, and then find myself being 1 of the 48 MEPs with uncomfortably high levels of that stuff in my body? Definitely not. And what about our important friends the bees and the butterflies? Pretty sure they don’t like traveling through ubiquitous fields of pesticides.

    When it comes to vaccines, I’m inclined to think they do more good than bad. So then why is the rate of autism growing? Something obviously is going on. Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of all those chemicals we’re constantly exposed to on a daily basis? But then again, most of those chemicals are apparently harmless if you believe the science the manufacturers provide.

    My philosophy: err on the side of caution because none of you can be trusted. The Earth is warming, there are chemicals all over the place, global biodiversity is shrinking, and disease is managed instead of cured. Those facts comprise my reality and therefore I will act accordingly.

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  15. Lance Wallace

    Keith Kloor

    You have done well on the GMO controversy, and are paying the price. However, the same tactics Greenpeace used against you were used against a professor (Roger Pielke, Jr.) who dared to challenge the idea that hurricanes and other extreme weather were increasing. When John Podesta’s emails were hacked, Pielke discovered that no fewer than 140 blogs, letters etc. were aimed specifically at him by one climate organization, which took credit for getting him dropped by the fivethirtyeight.com blog after a single posting on that blog. Pielke, like you, took no money from fossil fuel companies. Please consider that organizations using such tactics may well be on the wrong side of science.

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  16. Tim Hammond

    Brave of you to stand up to the relentless intimidation and smearing of the various Green groups and others. But perhaps, having seen how it works, you should have another look at climate change, and see whether in fact the science is as solid as you obviously think it is.

    At the very least, perhaps you should have another look at the supposed fossil fuel disinformation campaign. You might be surprised at where those claims come from – or, having now seen how easy it is to become a shill for bad pharma, you might not.

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  17. BSatink

    I have taken neither “side” in the GMO issue, but from what I can tell, a thorough “systematic review” of all the existing science is necessary. This type of review heavily weights a better, more thorough research design in terms of resulting data and would help to reveal some of the overall results of many of the “studies” that have been performed. There are definitely good studies out there, but they are currently intermixed with less rigorous research. Something like this, if performed by neutral parties, may help both sides recognize reality; which could be somewhere in between where they both reside.

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  18. B.T. Raven

    A wonderful example of using character assassination to defend against character assassination.

    Science is nothing more than comparative observation. Turning an observation into a fact is a tricky business.

    Two inferences in the essay caught my attention:
    1. There is no evidence GMO foods are harmful, which is like saying there is no evidence the suspect is not guilty, so, he must be guilty.
    2. The inference that non GMO foods cost more, despite the use of patented gene splicing to resist herbicides and such.
    The above is just an example; I have no dog in this fight, but science journalists should think long and hard when when reporting important facts to us unwashed and ignorant souls.

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  19. Michael Tobis

    Thank you for this, Keith.

    Still, I think there’s more to it than that. The similarity in tactics between the “Climategate” episode and the Wikileaks/Trump victory is very striking. These improbable campaigns must have been plotted in advance, probably by the same people.

    It would be nice if this astonishing similarity weren’t just muttered sotto voce in the climate science community, and were picked up by some journalists with a wider audience.

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  20. c1ue

    The lesson to be learned here is that the politics and public agitation being practiced by extreme activists of all stripes is a negative activity.
    Greenpeace rears its head again as a master of such tactics.

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  21. Tom Fuller

    Hi Keith–well done. This is good.

    At some point someone with the right CV will have to create the meta construction on issues going back to BSE in the UK. You have pointed out the similarities in how narratives are created and sustained, and it should be a topic for fruitful research.

    I also have a page on Sourcewatch, due to my lukewarm views on climate change. As Dr. Tobis fails to note, it’s not those supporting climate change that are treated like pariahs and as Lord Ridley intimates, it is the activist community (in many cases the same people going after GMOs and vaccines) who are using the same tactics to call people like Freeman Dyson or Richard Lindzen industry shills bought and paid for by Exxon or whoever.

    You’ve done a lot of excellent work on these issues since 2010, to my knowledge. I await your thoughts in book form.

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