How asbestos made me a better journalist

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I was a 21-year-old journalism student spending a couple of weeks as an intern at Science Dimension, a government-funded magazine (there weren’t any private science magazines in the country). I was assigned two short features while there: one on canola bioengineering and another on Canada’s asbestos industry. Both amounted to free publicity for industries heavily supported by the Canadian taxpayer, but I think the canola story withstood professional scrutiny. The asbestos piece? Not so much.

That story continues to haunt me. The only good thing I can say about it is I learned a hard lesson about the need for skepticism, especially when tasked with interviewing scientists whose livelihoods depend on something other than following the facts wherever they might lead. I bring it up thanks to Jon Stewart’s Daily show team, who recently discovered that Quebec and Canada continue to dump the province’s asbestos onto developing nations despite the overwhelming consensus of the medical and scientific communities that it’s a powerful carcinogen.
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Star Trek lives!

One of the things that keeps me from throwing in the blogging towel in an era when climate change denial seems to be a prerequisite for membership in the party of Abraham Lincoln is the quality of the comments I get. The praise is nice, the thoughtful exploration of the ideas I introduce is better, but what I really enjoy are the snarky swipes at my character by those who can’t come up with anything more cogent to post than a dismissive reference to Star Trek. See here for a typical example,
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What to do with the climate denial zombies

My first reaction to the papier du jour among climate communications activists was “meh.” It’s not that Chris Mooney’s latest ruminations on the gap between what the public thinks about scientific issues and what scientists have to say isn’t worth reading. It’s just that we’ve been down this road so many times now, the standards of what passes for new and remarkable are getting rather high.

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Same old same old in the denialsphere

ResearchBlogging.orgMuch has been written of late about the nature of denialism. New Scientist a couple of issues back produced a special report on the subject, for example, and the New Humanist explores the idea of “unreasonable doubt.”

There’s plenty more out there. The most provocative I’ve come across (thanks to Joss Garman via DeSmog Blog’s Brendan DeMelle) is a 2009 paper in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics by Jeroen van Dongen of the Institute for History and Foundations of Science at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. His thesis is ideologically based denialism of science has a long pedigree, and he begins his paper with this quote from Albert Einstein:

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