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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Friday, March 3, 2017

Bias at The New York Times? ‘The Truth is Hard’ when reporting on bees and neonicotinoid pesticides

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The line between deliberately manipulating a story and poorly reporting the facts is perilously thin.

At Sunday’s Oscars, the United States’ ‘paper of record’ launched an advertising blitz positioning itself as the highbrow ethical responder to the spate of so-called ‘fake news.’ “The truth is hard…to find…to know,” the add, widely circulated on YouTube, proclaimed, somberly.

It’s a powerful message, one that the public and the media should reflect upon—including the leadership at the Times

itself. Whether a journalist presents a story in good faith but wrongly can be a matter of healthy debate. But increasingly, a more troubling ethical line is being crossed: some writers choose to arrange facts, or even invent them, in ways that grey out nuances to advance a storyline arrived at before independent reporting even commences.



That leaves the editor as the public’s final integrity life-line. But to fulfill their responsibility, editors need to be aware of their own biases, or they risk crossing over from being guardians of the truth to creators of biased or even fake news.

Which brings us to the New York Times’ coverage of food and farming issues, most recently its coverage of what has come to be known in recent years as “beemageddon”— concerns about the health of one of nature’s most important pollinators, the bee.

Are bees facing extinction as many environmental advocacy groups and some scientists claim; and are neonicotinoid pesticides the key reason behind their health problems, as many activists, and the Times, suggest?

Times’ Michael Pollan on presenting only one side of complex issues

Covering food and modern farming has not been the Times strong point. Journalist and foodie MIchael Pollan’s articles on the virtues of organic food and the dangers of ‘industrialized agriculture’ have been a Times’ staple since the early 2000s. In 2013, he bragged in a video interview with a fellow activist that he long has exploited the willingness of his editors to forego traditional vetting because they share his reflexive anti-industry perspective. View the video here:



[From the video]:
The media has really been on our side for the most part. I know this from writing for the New York Times…. [W]hen I wrote about food I never had to give equal time to the other side. I could say whatever I thought and offer my own conclusions. Say you should buy grass fed beef and organic is better, and these editors in New York didn’t realize there is anyone who disagrees with that point of view. So, I felt like I got a free ride for a long time.
It’s startling that a reputable journalist would boast about manipulating editors who shared a reflexively and uncritical anti-industry—and in this case, an anti-science—worldview. Pollan went on to bemoan that because of pushback from the science community, he now finds it increasingly difficult to present only his biased side of the story:
There is something called the Food Dialogues presented in various places to talk about how food is produced and greater transparency. … So, I think they have kind of spooked the newspapers into realizing they need to give equal time on this issue and it is an issue with two sides.
NY Times frames simplistic narrative on bee health controversy

Two recent Times articles on the swirling farm controversy about bee health and food—one two years ago and another last week—raise serious questions about whether the paper’s editors are still wearing ideological blinders on stories involving ‘villainous’ agri-businesses.


In 1994, the Times wrote an editorial about “The Bee Crisis,” in which it noted an alarming 50% crash in feral bees in New York state. It blamed that primarily on pesticides. The next year, the phase out began of the most common pesticides—pyrethroids and organophosphates—used to protect crops pollinated by bees. While effective, these chemicals were known to kill beneficial insects and pose serious human health hazards.

They were replaced by what then and now were considered by most entomologists to be a far safer alternative—neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides whose introduction in the mid-1990s coincided with a stabilization of the global bee population. While sometimes sprayed for particular fruit, vegetable or landscape applications, the most overwhelmingly prevalent use of neonics is as a coating for seeds, which then grow into plants that systemically fight pests.

The bee health and pesticide issue faded from the headlines until the winter of 2006-2007, when some US beekeepers began discovering that many of their bees had mysteriously abandoned their colonies. The bees left behind the queen bee, attended by too few, immature worker bees to sustain the colony, yet with ample viable brood and stored food. This was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

CCD is a periodic but still inexplicable ecological phenomenon that’s been around since at least the 1800s, predating the modern, post-World War II use of synthetic pesticides, says University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who along with agricultural department researcher Jeff Pettis coined the term a decade ago. vanEngelsdorp, now head of the Bee Informed Partnership, has told me and other reporters, repeatedly, that there have been no instances of CCD over the past five years except cases linked to the Nosema fungus.

Times’ Michael Wines misframes the ‘neonic’ crisis?

But you wouldn’t know that if you depend on the Times as your paper of record. Since 2013, Michael Wines has reported on rising concerns about ongoing bee health issues–an issue he had been highlighting in increasingly alarming opinion-filled stories. His theme, hammered home in numerous reports, such as this article in 2015, fingered one culprit above all others: pesticides, particularly neonics. In what amounts to an editorial, Wines headlined the story: “Research Suggests Pesticide Is Alluring and Harmful to Bees.” His sources beyond two highly contested studies?–unidentified “other experts,” whose views stood in contrast to industry scientists and the overwhelming majority of mainstream entomologists who see the issue as complex, with pesticides playing a real but relatively minor role in bee health issues.

Researchers from Oregon State University
testing bees last August for the effects of pesticides.
 via NYTimes
Wines was back at it again later in 2015 after a temporary increase in over summer honey bee deaths. In this story, he incorrectly wrote that they were an extension of the long-since passed CCD phenomenon. He compounded this misreporting by playing up what has become known as the beepocalypse myth thesis, writing in Wines-like fashion that “some experts have focused on neonicotinoids” as the driving culprit.

So, who were these mysterious “experts” who appear like clockwork in his pieces that Wines claimed pointed to neonics as the Darth Vader of the bee world? Wines again never tells us.

That’s particularly odd, because he appears not to have consulted the primary source for the rest of his story, Dennis vanEngelsdorp.

If he had, he would have found that the University of Maryland entomologist doesn’t believe neonics are driving current bee health problems. They are way down the list of likely causes, he’s said, with number one being the Varroa mites that feed on the bodily fluids of

 bees. Varroa mites first surfaced as a problem in the US in the 1980s and began infesting beehives in California in 1993
. That crisis stabilized after the introduction of neonics later in the 1990s, then spiked with CCD, with sporadic problems since.
On average, about 10 to 15 percent of honey bees die each winter. In recent years, that percentage jumped to as high as 35 percent before dropping down to levels in the low 20s. There was a more recent rise in bee deaths during the summer, normally a period of hive replenishment, that has everyone spooked. Highly charged words like “beepocalypse” or “beemageddon” are now everywhere on the Internet. But what was causing the die-offs?

Like the fictional parents in the edgy comedy show South Park who blame Canada for all their woes, activists often coalesce around an issue and then come up with a simple and usually simplistic narrative to frame it. Strident opponents of modern agricultural technology initially blamed GMOs for bee deaths, and some still make that claim, although there is zero evidence to back it up. When that meme didn’t get traction, their campaign focus switched to neonics.

But mainstream entomologists never saw it that way. Noting the complexity of the emerging controversy, the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have taken a cautious, science-based approach, producing a broad-based assessment of the evidence. The independent researchers concluded that bees are facing unique stressors but neonics, and pesticides in general, were unlikely to be the major drivers of bee deaths.

Along with Varroa, the blue ribbon panel pointed to Nosema, a common parasite that invades their intestinal tracts and the use and perhaps misuse of miticides to control them; climate change; lack of genetic diversity in the bee population; loss of habitat; and an often-unmentioned factor that many entomologists believe may be the key factor—the stress put on bees by large commercial beekeepers, particularly to service the agri-business demand for bees needed for the California almond crop in late winter before bees normally repopulate.

Times’ Stephanie Strom: Bee health perpetrator profiled as victim?

While Wines never named the “some experts” who support the claim that neonics are at the center of the bee health issue, fellow Times reporter Stephanie Strom found two with that view. Her front business page story, “A Bee Mogul Confronts the Crisis in His Field,” on February 19, sympathetically profiled two of the country’s largest industrial bee moguls, Bret and Kelvin Adee.

Like the Wines’ story, Strom’s article shows no signs of conscious bias. I’ve long been a fan of both of their journalism, and I know Strom, who I’ve talked to on multiple occasions, is dedicated to reporting on complex issues fairly. But she botched this story. Most notably, the piece is infused with the popular activist-driven belief, rejected as simplistic by top entomologists, that neonics is the common thread linking the 2006-2007 CCD crisis to current bee health issues.

Strom cites the European Commission’s 2013 decision to ban neonics, and tees up Bret Adee to defend it:

“The more you study it, the more obvious it becomes: the relationship between the pesticides that have been sprayed everywhere over the last 10 years and what’s happening to bees,” she quotes Adee as saying.

Strom doesn’t mention that the ban was passed over the objections of many scientists. It’s led to new costs and pest pressures; a sharp increase in the use of the dangerous chemicals, pyrethroids and organophosphates, phased out years ago, and lower farm yields. She neglects to mention that European courts have issued rulings challenging the science behind the ban, and moves are underway to overturn it. 

Here is the Orwellian twist: Large-scale beekeepers like the Adees who see their pollinator hordes as traveling livestock, and are widely viewed by entomologists as a key driver of bee health problems, are now profiled by the New York Times as a credible source for diagnosing bee health—and as victims?

Strom sees no irony in this. And she apparently does not know enough about how pesticides are used to pick up on the fact that Adee’s comments undermine the contention that spraying neonics is at the root of bee health problems.

The vast majority of neonics, by volume, are applied as seed treatments—not sprayed—and can only come into contact with bees through dust drift (an initially unanticipated complication now being increasingly effectively controlled) and residues in plant nectar and pollen, which have been consistently shown (and recently confirmed by EPA) to be well below thresholds that could harm bees all of the large-scale grain crops.

Strom and the Times also never mention that her “crisis in the California fields” thesis has reversed itself, at least for this winter. The Adees are having a pretty good year—bee deaths are down dramatically from the winter before, they told her. That inconvenient fact is all but missing from the story, and is not reflected in the ‘crisis’ headline. More than likely, Strom and the Times had formulated their narrative—bees and beekeepers in California almond fields are in crisis—and then did not adjust when the facts on the ground contradicted it.

Are bees facing a neonic-caused global health crisis?

There are other strange turns in the Strom account, most notably her central thesis that bees and beekeepers are in the midst of an escalating catastrophic crisis, with neonics at its center. Bee health is a serious issue. Everyone is perplexed about a mysterious jump in summer bee deaths. Wild bees are also being monitored, but there is no way to monitor their overall health and there are no clear signs of a crisis.

Moreover, neonics and pesticides in general rank near the bottom of the list as potential challenges facing bees, according to vanEngelsdorp, Pettis, University of Illinois entomologist Mae Berenbaum and other top scientists. In one of many such surveys, the USDA-funded New York Bee Wellness non-profit polled its members last fall as to what they saw as causing bee health problems. Varroa mite was the major culprit, with 42.6%. That was followed by small hive beetles (26.8%); queen failure (24.9%); wax moth (19.2%); and deformed wing virus (6.9%). Pesticides? Less than 1% (0.6% to be exact).

“If we took pesticides out of the equation tomorrow, I think there’s no doubt we would have reduced colony losses,” vanEngelsdorp told me. “But even without pesticides, we’d still be seeing significant losses—losses that are unsustainable.”
Their conclusions are underscored by more than 20 field analyses and studies of neonic usage, recently posted on the Genetic Literacy Project, which as a whole find no evidence that neonics are a major bee health concern.

Taking the big picture view, North American, European and global bee hive numbers have risen steadily since the introduction of neonics, to record levels. Outside of a few states in the United States (most notably California) and sections of some countries in Europe, there is no crisis. And in places where neonic usage is highest—western Canada and Australia—bee health has never been better. Here are the number of bee colonies in key regions since the introduction of neonics in 1995:


What will The Times do?

When it comes to corralling support, activist environmentalists often focus on simple villains and frame issues in catastrophic terms. From Greenpeace’s campaign to force Shell to deep six the Brent Spar North Sea oil platform in the 1990s to the efforts by the Natural Resources Defense Council to replace harmless BPA in plastics with substitutes that are demonstrably harmful (BPS) to the ongoing but misplaced hysteria against DDT that the World Health Organization has said may have cost a billion lives, the ‘simple’ enemy-of-the-people target is sometimes benign, and its banning or removal often leads to far worse consequences.

The world’s top scientists cringe at the hyperbolic framing of environmental issues. When it comes to bees, National Medal of Science and Goldman Environmental Prize-winning bee expert Mae Berenbaum has called such scare claims unhelpful. “The rhetoric has gotten ridiculous. It is hyperbolic to talk about the apocalypse,” she said.

Faced with a slew of missteps in its coverage of the “beeapocalypse”, the Times might be well served to reflect on its neonics and bee crisis narrative. Next up for its editors: reporter Danny Hakim, who has faced sharp criticism from independent scientists for his reporting on the GMO debate, is taking on the bees and pesticides. The Times was unresponsive when scientists and science journalists challenged his prior reporting as biased (and in some cases factually inaccurate).

Is the Times willing to devote the time and resources to report on nuanced stories outside of its traditional fields of expertise? That would require a level of oversight at the vetting stage and after an article is written but before publication—which now appears to be lacking, at least on the issue of pollinators and pesticides.

Bees shouldn’t become the next ‘fake news’ victim.

Jon Entine, executive director of the independent foundation funded 501c3 Science Literacy Project (Genetic Literacy Project and Epigenetics Literacy Project), has been writing on biotechnology, chemicals, food and farming for more than 15 years, and recently hosted a Reddit Science discussion on bees and pesticides.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Green Notes



Featured White Paper
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My Commentaries
  1. Observations From the Back Row: Projection From the Left
  2. Observations From the Back Row: NATO and Tomorrow Land
  3. Observations From the Back Row: Framing the Issue
  4. Observations From the Back Row: Media Outrage and Hypocrisy
Agriculture
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Beemageddon
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EPA
Global Warming, Scientific Integrity, Junk Science and the "Glassy Eyed Cult"
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Yellow fever kills 600 monkeys in Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest

Reuters

An outbreak of yellow fever has claimed the lives of more than 600 monkeys in Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest region, threatening the survival of rare South American primates, a zoologist said.  The monkeys, mostly brown howlers and masked titis, are falling out of trees and dying on the ground in the forests of Espirito Santo state in Brazil’s southeast.  “The number of dead monkeys increases every day,” said the zoologist, Sergio Lucena. “We now know that the rare buffy-headed marmoset is also threatened by the yellow fever virus and dying.”......To Read More.....

My TakeExtinction happens when a species becomes biologically incompetent.  Extinction has occured to over 95% of all the species that's ever lived.  Extinction is the rule - not the exception.

Being anti-energy is being anti-humanity

The IPCC wants the world to stop using coal, oil and natural gas -- and a dramatically lower world population

by , 15 Comments 

Editor's Note:  Alan Caruba was one of the first writers to allow me to publish his work, and was a constant encouragment for me to do what I'm doing now.  My friend Alan Caruba passed away in June of 2015.  I miss his insights.  Alan's work was timeless, and  this appeared on Jon Ray's site, Greenie Watch.
 
Everything you need to know about how perverse and dangerous the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is, is summed up in its latest report. Released on November 2, it issued the same tired, old and untrue claims of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

The IPCC wants the world to stop using coal, oil and natural gas, saying that they must be “phased out almost entirely” by the end of the century. The report reeks of their contempt for humanity.
Losing electricity, no matter where you live, is losing every technology that enhances and preserves your life. You lose the ability to cool or warm your home, apartment, or workplace. You lose the ability to keep food safe in your refrigerator and freezer. You most certainly lose the lighting. You lose the ability to turn on your computer or television. Indeed, to use everything you take for granted.
Since the discovery and generation of energy with coal, oil, and natural gas, generations have lived lives not only different from all who preceded them, but better in so many ways, not the least of which is extended life expectancy. Nations with energy are places where people live longer, healthier lives. They are also wealthier nations where the energy translates into industry, jobs, transportation, and all the other attributes of modern life.

Although we usually don’t associate energy with morality, Alex Epstein has. His book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels ($27.95, Portfolio, an imprint of the Penguin Group), is the finest case for the role coal, oil and natural gas has played in our lives and the positive, emancipating impact they have had on humanity. Everyone should read it.

“I hold human life as the standard of value,” says Epstein. “I think that our fossil fuel use so far has been a moral choice because it has enabled billions of people to live longer and more fulfilling lives, and I think the cuts proposed by the environmentalists in the 1970s were wrong because of all the death and suffering they would have inflicted on human beings.”

Cover - Moral Case for Fossil Fuels“Eighty-seven percent of the energy mankind uses every second comes from burning one of the fossil fuels: coal, oil or natural gas.” That has not stopped environmentalists from denouncing coal and oil as “dirty” or because their use generates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. What they never tell you is how small those emissions are and that they play an infinitesimal role to influence the Earth’s weather or climate. They never tell you that the Earth has centuries more of untapped reserves. The modern world could not exist without them.
“In the last 80 years, as CO2 emissions have most rapidly escalated, the annual rate of climate-related deaths worldwide fell by an incredible rate of 98%. That means the incidence of death from climate is 50 times lower than it was 80 years ago.” 
 
Epstein points to “the power of fossil-fueled machines to build a durable civilization that is highly resilient to extreme heat, extreme cold, floods, storms, and so on” to demonstrate the foolishness of those who oppose their use. Primary among them is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As part of its 40th session, in early November the IPCC adopted the final “synthesis” report of its Fifth Assessment Report.  This full-scale update calls for the reduction of energy worldwide. They base this on the claim that “human influence on the climate system is clear.”

 

CFACT NY air banner no global warming 17 years yIt is not clear. Despite the CO2 emissions, the Earth has been in a cooling cycle for the last 19 years, during the same time the IPCC’s “climate experts” and others were telling us the Earth was going to become dangerously warm.
Epstein reminds us that, “In 1972, the international think tank, the Club of Rome, released a multimillion-copy-selling book, The Limits of Growth, which declared that its state of the art computer models had demonstrated that we would run out of oil by 1992 and natural gas by 1993 (and, for good measure, gold, mercury, silver, tin, zinc, and lead by 1993 at the latest.)
It is essential to understand that every one of the “global warming” predictions made in the 1980s and the decades since then has been WRONG. Every one of the computer models on which those predictions were based was WRONG.
A younger generation graduating from high school this year has never spent a day when the overall temperature of the Earth was warming. The Earth’s natural cooling cycle is based on a natural low cycle of solar radiation. The Sun is generating less heat. Indeed, the Earth is nearing the end of the Holocene cycle, one of warmth for the past ten thousand or more years that has given rise to human civilization.
EhrlichEpstein’s book is more than just philosophical opinion. It is based on documented facts regarding fossil fuel use. At one point he quotes Paul Ehrlich who, in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, declared that “the battle to feed humanity is over.”  Epstein notes that in 1968 the world’s population was 3.6 billion people. “Since then it has doubled, yet the average person is better fed than he was in 1968. This seeming miracle was due to a combination of the fossil fuel industry and genetic science…” Farming today is mechanized and that requires fuel!
The claims that Epstein debunks are accompanied by the fundamental truths about fossil fuel use and science. His book, comprehensible to anyone whether they have any knowledge of science or not, should be on everyone’s reading list.
At the heart of environmentalism and its “save the Earth” agenda is the reduction, if not the elimination, of humans from planet Earth.

 

Fake News: Global Warming Edition

Brian C. Joondeph

Fake news has become part of the daily lexicon due to efforts of once respected news outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN to destroy the candidacy and now the presidency of Donald Trump.  Fake news is produced with the singular goal of advancing a political agenda – the agenda of the left. Fake news has also permeated another cause near and dear to the left: climate change, formerly known as global warming

The Daily Mail reported on a high-level whistleblower at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealing fake news from the government agency. Specifically, NOAA "[r]ushed to publish a landmark paper that exaggerated global warming and was timed to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change."......More

How to Spot a Fake Science News Story

By Alex Berezow — January 31, 2017 @ The American Council on Science and Health

After more than six years in science journalism, I have reached two very disturbing conclusions about the craft.

First, too many science journalists don't actually possess a well-rounded knowledge of science. In many cases, regular reporters are asked to cover complex science and health stories. What we end up with is entirely predictable: Articles that are nothing more than rehashed press releases, topped with click-bait headlines based on exaggerations and misunderstandings of the original research. That's how a nonsensical story like Nutella causing cancer goes viral.

Second, science journalists are every bit as biased as their more traditional counterparts, perhaps even more so. They routinely hold double standards in regard to analyzing science policies. They conflate scientific evidence with science policy, immediately labeling anyone "anti-science" if he or she disagrees with their cultural beliefs. Worse, science journalists feel no inhibition whatsoever to cheerlead openly for their favorite politicians and to heap scorn upon those they dislike. Just read Twitter.

Both cultural bias and thoughtless reportage severely erode the integrity of science journalism. While the former is bad enough, the latter is particularly troubling because it also undermines public health.

How to Detect a Fake Science News Story

Often, I have been asked, "How can you tell if a science story isn't legitimate?" Here are some red flags:
  • 1) The article is very similar to the press release on which it was based. This indicates whether the article is science journalism or just public relations.
  • 2) The article makes no attempt to explain methodology or avoids using any technical terminology. (This indicates the author may be incapable of understanding the original paper.)
  • 3) The article does not indicate any limitations on the conclusions of the research. (For example, a study conducted entirely in mice cannot be used to draw firm conclusions about humans.)
  • 4) The article treats established scientific facts and fringe ideas on equal terms.
  • 5) The article is sensationalized; i.e., it draws huge, sweeping conclusions from a single study. (This is particularly common in stories on scary chemicals and miracle vegetables.)
  • 6) The article fails to separate scientific evidence from science policy. Reasonable people should be able to agree on the former while debating the latter. (This arises from the fact that people ascribe to different values and priorities.)
  • 7) The article ties the research to something only tangentially related. (For example, stories on infectious disease often try to highlight the application to bioterrorism.)
  • 8) The article is based on research from a journal that nobody has heard of.
  • 9) The article is about.
  • 10) The article is from the Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Natural News, or any number of environmentalist, health activist, or food fad websites.
Separating real news from fake news is one of the bigger challenges facing our society in 2017. A recent poll reveals that 84% of Americans think fake news may be hurting the country. We must figure out a solution before it gets any worse.

Environment & Climate News

House Acts to Rein in Regulatory Agencies

The March issue of Environment & Climate News reports on passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017, known as the REINS Act. It's time Congress reasserts its constitutional authority to legislate, said sponsor Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), rather than letting unelected bureaucrats institute rules that impact the economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Also in this issue:
  • Michigan enacted a law prohibiting local governments from banning, regulating, or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags.

The full text of the issue is available online in Adobe Acrobat's PDF format: March 2017 Environment & Climate News.

All issues of Environment & Climate News are archived here: Environment & Climate News Issue Archive.

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