How They Lie, Part 1
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HOW THEY LIE, PART 1
For the past 25 years, bad news has been reported again and again
by the scientific community worldwide. Ozone depletion.
Global warming. Certain cancers increasing. Dioxin and
PCBs from industrial sources now found everywhere, including
remote Pacific islands. Tuberculosis and other diseases
re-emerging. Birth defects rising. Loss of species
accelerating. Youthful suicides increasing. Common
pesticides now thought to interfere with our sex hormones. A
large number of countries growing poorer instead of richer.
And on and on. You know the litany. It's depressing.
Now however, as you might expect from the most creative economy
the world has ever known, a new industry has emerged to turn a
profit from all this bad news. You could call it the Good News
industry. Young writers are pumping out magazine articles and
fat books claiming that these problems have all been dreamed up
by hungry environmentalists who can't see beyond their next
direct-mail funding appeal.
Indeed, the main message of the Good News industry is that none
of these problems are very serious, if they exist at all.
According to this industry's pundits, all these problems have
been exaggerated, or even manufactured out of whole cloth, by
out-of-work environmentalists desperate for a handout. The
Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Hudson
Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise
Institute, the Reason Foundation, The American Freedom Coalition,
and the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (among
others) now have scholar-in-residence programs staffed mainly by
former government officials. These former bureaucrats spend
their days arguing that all is well with the world and that
things could get even better --indeed, a shining path of infinite
progress would unfold before our very eyes --if we would only
come to our senses and get government off the backs of
The unspoken belief that all government is harmful and that
corporations are a boundless good --a kind of corporate
libertarianism --is the thread that weaves all these groups and
writers together. Naturally, this Good News industry is
generously supported by donations from the likes of DuPont,
Chevron, Mobil, Monsanto, the Chemical Manufacturers Association,
General Electric, General Dynamics, Philip Morris, Chemical Bank,
Texaco, Westinghouse, the Western Coal Council, and the Reverend
Sun Myung Moon, among many others, because it serves their
interests perfectly, creating just enough doubt to deflect
discussion of the need for real reforms.
The Good News industry wasn't created by the NEW YORK TIMES. The
TIMES merely made it respectable and lent it a certain cachet.
The industry (at least its current surge) has its roots in the
books of Dixie Lee Ray, former head of the Atomic Energy
Commission, who wrote TRASHING THE PLANET in 1990 and
ENVIRONMENTAL OVERKILL in 1993, the same year Elizabeth Whelan
published TOXIC TERROR: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE CANCER SCARE and
Michael Fumento published SCIENCE UNDER SIEGE. In those early
days the industry had a definite crackpot tinge to it. The dust
jackets of Dixie Lee Ray's books carried glowing endorsements
from Rush Limbaugh, Edward Teller (inventor of the hoaxey "star
wars" missile defense system), and Margaret Maxey, who seems to
have coined the phrase, "environmental terrorism."
Parts of the industry have been unable to shake their crackpot
roots entirely. Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute in 1995
published SAVING THE PLANET WITH PESTICIDES AND PLASTIC. Despite
such lapses, the Good News industry has matured considerably in
recent years, chiefly because a stable of writers at the TIMES
(and more recently the WASHINGTON POST and NEWSWEEK) have worked
hard to legitimize it and gave it a tony air. So far as we can
tell, at the TIMES the intellectual roots of the Good News
industry go no deeper than Keith Schneider's 1991 attempt to
rehabilitate dioxin. At that time, dioxin was known to be one of
the 2 or 3 most toxic chemicals ever discovered, but Schneider
wrote in 1991 that "some experts" (unnamed) "now consider
exposure to dioxin no more dangerous than spending a week in the
sun." This declaration made Schneider famous within the
environmental community, but, more importantly, within the
anti-environmental community as well. In 1993, in the TIMES'S
news columns, Schneider boldly attacked many of the nation's
environmental programs as an unnecessary and shameful waste.
Shortly after that, Schneider began appearing as a speaker at
industry-organized panels and symposia around the country,
lecturing on the need for journalists to give credence to
arguments that a damaged ozone layer and global warming weren't
real problems. Suddenly it was apparent that Good News
anti-environment writing was a rewarding business. Now that
Schneider has retired to a more honest, earthy life in Michigan,
TIMES writers Jane Brody, Gina Kolata and John Tierney are
working overtime to fill his tiny shoes.
In 1995, NEWSWEEK writer Gregg Easterbrook published A MOMENT ON
THE EARTH, a 900 page book that contains nearly as many factual
and conceptual errors as it has pages, but which appears
convincing to naive readers because it is jammed with statistics.
Easterbrook's star has now fully risen in the firmament of the
petrochemical and nuclear industries, which quote him regularly.
The grandfather of the modern Good News industry is economist
Julian Simon. Simon is best known for his creative arguments
showing that material resources such as copper and oil are
infinite, and that running out of them is nothing to worry about.
In his 1981 book, THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE, Simon wrote, "The
length of a one-inch line is finite in the sense that it is
bounded at both ends. But the line within the endpoints contains
an infinite number of points; these points cannot be counted
because they have no defined size. Therefore, the number of
points in that one-inch segment is not finite. Similarly, the
quantity of copper that will ever be available to us is not
finite, because there is no method (even in principle) of making
an appropriate count of it." (pg. 47) In an interview with
William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1982 Simon said, "You see, in the end
copper and oil come out of our minds. That's really where they
are," he said. In 1995, Simon expanded his vision to include
all of the world's problems, which he declared essentially solved
when he edited the encylopedic STATE OF HUMANITY.
By now, a pattern has become apparent in the work of the Good
News industry. Consistent themes and techniques have emerged.
Simon's STATE OF HUMANITY demonstrates them all.
** Technique 1. Argue in great detail about three or four points
where data and reasoning allow you to make a good case, meanwhile
don't mention the really big point that undermines your entire
Example: In Simon's STATE OF HUMANITY (pgs. 576-587), Bernard
Cohen argues that nuclear power is an ideal way to generate
electricity. He insists that routine radiation releases are
nothing to worry about, nuclear power plant accidents are a
trivial concern, and radioactive waste is a non-problem. Even if
one conceded all these points, Cohen's argument for nuclear power
would still not be persuasive because he fails to discuss the
Achilles heel of nuclear technology: weapons proliferation.
Spreading nuclear power plants around the globe puts nuclear
weaponry within reach of countries and groups (and, conceivably,
even individuals) who will certainly be tempted to use it for
nefarious purposes. Terrorism is with us. Nuclear terrorism
cannot be too far over the horizon if we continue to spread
civilian nuclear technology across the planet. Therefore,
nuclear power is inherently dangerous and anti-social because it
creates a whole new class of problems beyond anyone's control.
Given that corporations are working aggressively, and
successfully, to weaken both national governments AND
international controls (NAFTA and GATT are good examples), it is
impossible to even CONCEIVE of a global social system that could
control the problem of weapons proliferation from nuclear power
plants. The only solution is prevention: stop making nuclear
power plants. But Bernard Cohen (and Julian Simon) ignore the
proliferation problem entirely because it is fatal to their
** Technique 2. If the truth is inconvenient, make up new facts
to support your argument. In Simon's 1995 tome (pgs. 595-596),
Elizabeth Whelan retells the story of Alar, simply re-writing
history and making up details to suit her purposes. Alar was a
chemical sprayed on apples starting in 1968 to make them stay on
the tree longer and ripen, rather than fall off. In use, Alar
breaks down to a byproduct called UDMH. The first study showing
that UDMH can cause cancer was published in 1973. Further
studies published in 1977, 1978, and 1984 confirmed that Alar or
UDMH caused tumors in laboratory animals. EPA opened an
investigation of Alar's hazards in 1980, but shelved the
investigation after a closed meeting with Alar's manufacturer,
Uniroyal. In 1984, EPA re-opened its investigation of Alar. In
1985, EPA concluded that both Alar and UDMH were "probable human
carcinogens." However, buckling to pressure from Uniroyal, EPA
allowed Alar to stay on the market. In 1989, Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC) conducted a media campaign against Alar.
As a result, apple growers voluntarily stopped using Alar and
have continued to grow apples profitably without Alar ever since.
Some apple growers lost considerable sums in 1989 because many
people stopped buying apples. Failure to consult with growers
before launching the media campaign represented a major political
blunder by NRDC, but the science behind their campaign was sound.
Whelan: "The EPA's [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's]
experts did not think Alar posed a threat to human health."
Actual fact: Not only did EPA's Carcinogen Assessment Group
label Alar a "probable human carcinogen" but the U.S. National
Toxicology Program (NTP), representing 10 federal agencies, and
the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concurred
in EPA's judgment. Several weeks before NRDC began its media
campaign, EPA sent a letter to Alar-using apple growers, saying,
"risk estimates based on the best available information at this
time raise serious concern about the safety of continued,
long-term exposure." EPA's letter estimated that 50 out of every
million adults exposed to Alar long-term would get cancer from
it, and that the danger to children was even greater. Whelan (and
Simon) simply ignore all these facts.
[To be continued.]
(National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 See REHW #258.
 See REHW #467.
 See REHW #462.
 Les Line, "Old Nemesis, DDT, Reaches Remote Midway
Albatrosses," NEW YORK TIMES March 12, 1996, pgs. C1, C8.
 See REHW #402.
 See REHW #410, #411.
 See REHW #441.
 Jean-Claude Chesnais, "Worldwide Historical Trends in Murder
and Suicide," in Julian Simon THE STATE OF HUMANITY (Oxford,
England: Blackwell, 1995), pgs. 91-97.
 For example, see REHW #490.
 Barbara Crosette, "U.N. Survey Finds World Rich-Poor Gap
Widening," NEW YORK TIMES July 15, 1996, reports that in 89
countries, per-capita incomes in 1995 were lower than they had
been a decade or more ago, citing THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT
1996, Oxford University Press.
 Quoted in Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, FOR THE COMMON
GOOD. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), pg. 190, citing POPULATION
AND DEVELOPMENT REVIEW (March, 1982), pgs. 205-218.
 See REHW #473.
 See Janet S. Hathaway, "Alar: The EPA's Mismanagement of an
Agricultural Chemical," in David Pimentel and Hugh Lehman,
editors, THE PESTICIDE QUESTION; ENVIRONMENT, ECONOMICS, AND
ETHICS (New York: Chapman & Hall, 1993), pgs. 337-343. In 1993,
Hathaway was with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in
Descriptor terms: libertarianism; corporations; new york times;
julian simon; elizabeth whelan; bernard cohen; keith schneider;
jane brody; john tierney; gina kolata; nrdc; alar; uniroyal; epa;
nuclear power; nuclear weapons; nuclear proliferation; terrorism;
udmh; carcinogens; pesticides; growth regulators; apples;
journalism; inequality; good news industry; dixie lee ray;
michael fumento; rush limbaugh; edward teller; margaret maxey;
dennis avery; dioxin; gregg easterbrook;
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