CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Media Trackers writer ignorant of academia and climate issues, hypocritical regarding ethics

MT-FL_imgOn January 16, Alyssa Carducci published a story at Media Trackers-Florida in which she claimed that Michael Mann charges “$10,000 plus expenses for speaking fees.” Carducci went on to imply that greed was Mann’s reason for performing climate research and for speaking publicly about the reality of industrial climate disruption. However, Carducci’s reporting demonstrated that she lacks understanding of how much speaking engagements cost, how research grants actually operate, and of Steve Milloy’s well-documented history of being a “science denier for hire.” In addition, Carducci obtained her information by misrepresenting her affiliation when she contacted Mann’s agent to ask about Mann’s speaking fee, something that raises a number of questions about both Carducci and both Media Trackers – Florida and The Heartland Institute, where Carducci is an author for Environment & Climate News.

Scientists who are experts in their field often get paid for speaking to the public, whether that’s businesses or universities or general audiences. The more famous the scientist is, the more he or she gets paid. According to an article from 1996 in The Scientist, a “typical” speaking fee was about $2,000, although that varied widely from industry to industry and audience to audience. The same article reported that clinical researchers presenting to pharmaceutical companies could command between $5,000 and $15,000. And “famous authorities on science and medicine” could demand fees of $25,000 per lecture.

That was in 1996. If we adjust those values for inflation, that range changes to a typical fee of $3,000 to a maximum fee for “famous authorities” of about $37,000 per lecture.

According to this article in Outside Magazine online from 2007, MIT scientist and National Academy of Sciences member Richard Lindzen (who is also someone who denies that human industry is predominantly responsible for climate disruption) asks between $1,000 and $2,000 from non-corporate groups and between $5,000 and $10,000 from corporate groups. Presumably this is because corporate groups have deeper pockets than universities or community groups.

Mann is a famous scientist and a public figure. His name is arguably better known to the general public than Lindzen’s is, and as such he can command high speaking fees. And not incidentally, Carducci was claiming to be a representative of an industry group, not a university or community group. So the $10,000 she was quoted by Mann’s agent is not unreasonable given Mann’s fame and the expected audience.

Carducci also implied that Mann’s research grants were making him rich, writing that he brought about $7 million between 2006 and 2010 into Penn State’s research coffers. The problem is that no research grant, however large, makes scientists rich. There are rules in place at universities and imposed by the federal government (usually the National Science Foundation) that are designed specifically to prevent scientists from becoming rich with grant money (aka defrauding the grantor). Physical science professor Scott Mandia wrote two posts at his blog describing exactly how this works. Essentially, principal investigators have their salary reduced by some amount to account for the additional income from research grants.

Furthermore, as two S&R investigations found, Mann’s contributions to the overall Penn State research budget was essentially negligible and that scientists who were primarily motivated by greed would fare better working for fossil fuel-related industries.

Carducci also refers to science denier Steve Milloy as a “scientist” and implicitly rejects Mann’s claim that Milloy has been paid to manufacture doubt about the dangers of pesticides, second-hand smoke, etc. According to Sourcewatch, Milloy has a Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences and Master of Health Sciences in Biostatistics from from Johns Hopkins University. However, simply having a general science degree does not confer upon anyone the “scientist” moniker – only working scientists or one-time working scientists get to make that claim. A search of Google Scholar turned up no peer-reviewed papers written by Steven J. Milloy, and there is no evidence that Milloy has ever worked as a scientist.

There is a great deal of evidence that Milloy has been paid by the tobacco industry specifically to deny the dangers of second-hand smoke. According to Philip Morris documents stored by the Tobacco Legacy Project, Milloy’s group The Association for Sound Science Coalation (TASSC) was paid $480,000 in 1994 through Philip Morris PR company APCO International. TASSC was founded by Milloy in 1993 at the behest of APCO and Philip Morris. Before Milloy disbanded it, TASSC had a long history of denying the dangers of second-hand smoke.

And Milloy continues being paid to cast doubt upon scientific studies that identify risky products, most recently by pesticide maker Syngenta. In this case, the Center for Media and Democracy obtained court documents that showed Milloy had been paid $25,000 by Syngenta in 2008 to deny the risks of atrazine and that he’d asked for $15,000 in 2004. And one email clearly shows Milloy asking for Syngenta talking points that he can repeat in his weekly column.

After Mann posted his Facebook responses to her article, Carducci wrote that Mann was connected to Climategate along with several statements that implied he was guilty of misconduct. While everything she wrote was fastidiously factual, Carducci failed to mention that Mann was exonerated by two different Pennsylvania State University investigations and a subsequent National Science Foundation (NSF) investigation. So far as S&R was able to tell, Carducci has never before written about the details of Climategate or Michael Mann’s multiple exonerations, so it’s entirely possible that she is simply ignorant of the facts. However, writing about topics on which you know little is generally considered unwise in journalism.

As serious as her factual errors are, Carducci’s breach of journalistic ethics was much more serious. In order to obtain the $10,000 figure she quoted in her Media Trackers – Florida article, Carducci misrepresented her affiliation to Mann’s agent, Jodi Solomon of Jodi Solomon Speakers. According to Mann’s account of what happened on his Facebook page, Jodi Solomon Speakers logs every call and email they receive and “there is no record that Media Trackers was ever in touch with us. If they claim otherwise, they did so by misrepresenting themselves to us.” An update by Mann reported that Jodi Solomon had found Carducci’s phone call and that Carducci had “said she was from the Association of Air Conditioning Distributors in the state of Florida and she was helping to plan their upcoming event for 300-500 people (emphasis added).”

S&R contacted Jodi Solomon in order to confirm that what Mann wrote on his Facebook page was correct. Solomon confirmed that Mann’s quotes were accurate of statements she had made with regard to Carducci and Media Trackers.

S&R also tried to ask Media Trackers-Florida for comment via their website, but there is no list of who is associated with the organization and no contact information. S&R asked for comment via the Media Trackers – Florida Facebook page but had received no response by publication time. However, given the behavior of the original Media Trackers organization as documented by PR Watch and Sourcewatch, it is not likely that S&R’s request for comment will be answered.

Image (1) heartland-tweaked-300x173.jpg for post 41844Carducci’s unethical misrepresentation of her affiliation with Media Trackers – Florida raises a number of other questions given that she is also associated with The Heartland Institute. While Carducci has been writing for Media Trackers – Florida since October, 2012, she’s been writing for Heartland’s Environment & Climate News (E&CN) periodical and the Heartlander zine since at least March 2009. Furthermore, she works with James M. Taylor, editor of E&CN, who has been with Heartland since 2002 and who has been one of Media Trackers – Florida’s most prolific posters since they started up in March 2012. In fact, since June 2012 there have essentially been only three authors responsible for all of Media Trackers – Florida’s content, and two of them are also associated with The Heartland Institute.

Heartland faced a similar situation last year when Peter Gleick misrepresented himself as a board member to gain access to confidential documents and then revealed that information. Carducci certainly knew about “Fakegate,” yet she still chose to misrepresent herself to Solomon and to publish what she acquired through unethical means. This indicates that Carducci represents another example of hypocrisy at The Heartland Institute, an organization that makes a habit of being hypocritical about a great many things. Just on the issue of misrepresenting one’s associations, someone from Heartland called Greenpeace activist Cindy Baxter during the 2007 Bali climate conference, and three days later Heartland later press release that contained the recorded audio of the phone call.

S&R contacted The Heartland Institute for comment but they had not responded by publication time.

While Carducci’s behavior is an example of The Heartland Institute’s habit of hypocrisy, misrepresenting herself is unethical regardless of her affiliations. But nearly as bad as her breach of ethics was the fact that she reported on topics that she clearly knew little or nothing about, such as speaking fees, research grants, and Climategate. Carducci would do well to apply the journalism adage “write what you know” to her own reporting.

CATEGORY: LeisureTravel2

Uganda Journal: heading home

EquatorStanding on the Equator, I’m as centered as I’ve felt during my entire journey. A few feet to my left, in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a sign that says “Did you know?” with a shallow bowl that drains into a bucket. In the Southern Hemisphere: same thing. Did you know, in the north, water drains into the bucket by spinning clockwise; in the south, it drains by spinning counterclockwise. Me—I’m just spinning.

After nearly two weeks in Uganda, we’re taking our leave. On our way back north to Kampala, we make the obligatory tourist stop at the Equator and its string of shops. On the west side of the road, they’re more refined, more spacious, more expensive; on the east side of the road, the shops look poorer and maybe, to the uninitiated, a little sketchy, but the prices are better. Knowing how to speak Luganda helps improve bargaining power, but since I know only oli otya—which means “hello”—I need Herman to help me strike deals.

For the first time, we’re not the only mazungko around. This is, after all, a tourist spot, and several outfitters have stopped with tour groups ranging in size from one Australian to a dozen Southern Baptists. I assume nothing about their journeys or itineraries, but I hope they get to see as much of daily Uganda as I’ve been able to.

Traffic“I know this is just everyday life to you,” I’d said to Herman yesterday morning as we walked through town, “but it’s so different from my own experience of everyday life.” I had just marveled at a street-cleaning crew shoveling rubbish from the gutters alongside road. They scooped the garbage into a cart pulled by a tractor that looked like an early-30s Dust Bowl refugee. The antiquated technology, the type of manual labor, the sheer amount of rubbish was all SO far removed from anything I see at home–and that was just the latest in a cavalcade of impressions that had jumped out at me since arrival.

“It’s good to see something different,” Herman replied. “Adventure broadens the mind. Expands it.”

Challenges it, too. Coming here with an open mind and healthy sense of wonder has opened some great internal horizons for me–and yet it’s also helped me feel more grounded than I’ve felt in a long while. More centered. I wouldn’t say that I’ve found everyday life here profound, but I do recognize that it has impacted me profoundly, in ways I’m only beginning to intuit.

That night, the students at the Bethlehem School saw us off with a party similar to the opening celebration they threw in our honor: songs, traditional dance, drums. This party had a lot more crying, though. At first, I thought it was stage crying, but the tears flowed freely.

KanzuAs part of the ceremony, the kids presented each of us with gifts. The ladies got baskets and I received a kanzu, a traditional formal ware for Ugandan men. It looks like a cream-colored dress with a stitching of maroon down the breastbone; with the charcoal sports coat that comes with it, the outfit looks sharp. I also get a hat, too small, made of bark cloth, which comes from the bark of a kind of fig tree.

“That’s the first time in the history of the program that they’ve ever given a man in the group a kanzu,” Deb tells me. “You must’ve been a really big hit this week!” Hit or not, I feel deeply honored and am visibly delighted. I wear the outfit out to dinner, and people light up when they see me. “You look smart!” they say, over and over.

The drive from Kyotera to Kampala—with our stop at the Equator—takes us into mid-afternoon. We do a little sight-seeing in the capital, then we meet some friends for a farewell. In the courtyard of the hotel where we meet, a wedding reception is underway. Guests have seated themselves beneath a big tent, kids are getting designs painted on their faces, and music swells from a pair of oversized speakers. From the paving-stone driveway next to the courtyard, I can see out across the manmade lake I admired on my first morning here. Mengo Hill, with the king’s palace atop, rises on the lake’s far side. To my right and a little behind me, the setting sun casts soft light against the peaks of the tall cumulus clouds that hover over the palace and hill.

I’ve spent the past few months thrashing about in the dark, it seems, but suddenly, here, at this moment, I realize that I’m standing in the light of a soft-orange sky. I’m finally standing in the light.

Without even realizing it ahead of time, this is what I had come to Uganda to find.

In the background, Celine Dion sings something about love coming to those who believe it: “And that’s the way it is.” The song fades. The sun dips away. The moment ends. I can leave my ghosts behind me.

Soon, it’s off to the airport in Entebbe. We leave early because of the notoriously bad congestion and the single snarl-prone road. Better to sit at the airport for hours and wait for the plane than to miss it because we cut the drive too close and then got fouled by traffic.

I leave Uganda, then, as when I arrived: a land cast in darkness, peopled with shadows. With hardly any streetlights or exterior lighting on the storefronts, the gloaming feels thick. “Dark Continent” is not a metaphor.

Yet Africa can mean many things to many people, and its “Dark Continent” reputation is very much a part of that in the same way that, say, Abraham Lincoln represents different things to different people. We myth-make all the time, for all sorts of reasons—and when it comes to Africa, that mythmaking has been going on for centuries. “Africa the place,” says author Andrew Rice, “is forever obscured by the shadow of Africa the notion.”

But of course, “Africa” and “Uganda” are not synonymous any more than what I’ve seen of everyday life might stand in as typical of every Ugandan’s everyday life. I’ve been privileged to have been given a sliver of a glimpse, and for now, that’s perfectly enough.

It will take some time for me to unpack what “Africa the place” means to me now that I’ve been here, just as it will take time for me to reconsider what “Africa the notion” now means. I’m glad I was smart enough to come here without letting the later affect my experience of the former.

And I can’t wait to come back.

LastLight

CATEGORY: Journalism

Bad journalism: it isn’t just a Manti Te’o thing. Remember Columbine?

Manti Te'o blarneyAs we try to unravel the whole Manti Te’o/”Lennay Kekua” mystery – is she dead? Is she alive? Does she exist? Was Te’o in on it or is he the biggest rube in America? – “sports journalists” (one of my favorite oxymorons, btw) are taking a right kicking, and deservedly so. Everybody out there who reported on the heartbreaking dead girlfriend story is now having to account for the willingness to push the narrative even once troubling discrepancies began to arise. Things like there was no death certificate. And Stanford never heard of her. And the police had no accident records. And shouldn’t there be hospital records? And wait – you’ve never met her? And so on.

I’m damned if I can figure out what actually happened with Te’o and “Kekua,” but there’s little question that an industry full of sports reporters got punk’d, and it happened because they simply failed to be, you know, reporters. The worst part is that this isn’t just a sports problem. The US is beset on all sides by journalistic malfeasance (witness the rise of the “post-truth” era in political coverage we saw last year) and we’ve built up a certain unhealthy tolerance to it.

I feel like I’ve seen this dynamic before. The specifics of the Te’o debacle – media organizations enthusiastically running with a story as full of holes as the Notre Dame D line in the BCS Championship game – reminds me of another instance of reporting malpractice a few years back.

You probably remember Columbine. I know I do. The tragic school shootings, which happened less than 15 miles from where I now sit, left a permanent scar on my community, and I think many of us who aren’t even Colorado natives took it personally, as if our own children had been targeted. In times of distress, we naturally rely on the institutions upon which our society rests: family, government, the press, and for a huge majority here, the church. Unfortunately, our institutions let us down. The police response at the scene was worse than useless. The official investigation was a travesty. And while the local Christianity industry did yeoman’s work colonizing the city’s grief for its own purposes (one local minster, the Rev. Don Marxhausen, went so far as to say he felt like he’d been “hit over the head with Jesus”), the local press committed the ultimate journalistic sin: it lied intentionally.

I wrote about this back in 2009, as we observed the 10th anniversary of the shootings. As I said at the time, “the mainstream press values the narrative above the facts.”

They were goths! It was the Trenchcoat Mafia! They were targeting jocks, blacks and Christians! Cassie Bernall said yes!

Lie. Lie. Lie, lie, lie. And damnable, intentional lie. Local and national “reporters” could have been outperformed by monkeys with Ouija boards.

Not that the run-of-the-mill press bumbling came as any real surprise – journalistic malpractice is well-known in Colorado. But ineptitude is one thing. Outright, overt, premeditated lies are quite another, and that’s exactly what both of Denver’s mainstream papers – the Denver Post and the recently-defunct Rocky Mountain News - did when they ran the “Cassie Bernall said yes” story as fact. They knew, by their own admission, that it was false, so why did they lie? Well, the lie seemed to be providing comfort to a grieving city.

Take that as the foundational operating principle for a free press and see where it leads…

Thanks to reporting of Westword and Dave Cullen, then doing Pulitzer-worthy work for Salon, we now know the truth about a great many things, including the “She Said Yes” myth of Cassie Bernall. As the story linked above explains, the papers continued to report the Christian martyrdom story as fact for days after they learned it to be false. The famous exchange between Bernall and Eric Harris never happened, but the myth made for better copy, so they went with it.

I’ve never been willing to believe a word the Post prints without independent corroboration since.

Where does it end? One of our largest “news” outlets (guess which one?) went to court and argued that it’s okay for them to lie. And they won.

Fox argued from the first, and failed on three separate occasions, in front of three different judges, to have the case tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written rule against deliberate distortion of the news.

The attorneys for Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

While FOX is the most egregious offender, they’re hardly alone in conducting “journalism” that plays fast and loose with the facts. And there’s no reason to expect that things will improve anytime soon. The problem is that our media is now driven by powerful economic incentives that render truth more or less irrelevant.

In a riotously deregulated world of 24/7 “information,” newspapers, broadcasters and online media wage open war for share. Cash is the ends. At best, truth is a means. There is no meaningful sense of public interest anymore, not since Reagan’s FCC infamously declared back in 1982 that “the public interest is what they public is interested in.” So you emphasize facts and truth if, and only if, they make business sense. If the bottom line is better served by not looking too closely into the details of a good story, by embellishing for effect, or simply making shit up, then that’s what you do.

In other words, it doesn’t end. Not until our patience wears out and we begin insisting that reporters actually do some heavy lifting, that they ask the really hard questions. If our nation’s press is out of practice, we can even do this in baby steps. Start by asking the obvious questions. If you report that someone is dead, make sure they’re actually dead. For that matter, make sure they exist. If the evidence is sketchy, keep digging.

Also, what if we cared more about real dead girls than fake ones? Especially when they’re dead as a result of being intimidated (and sexually assaulted) by the football team.

Not only do we need to vent our frustration on the half-assed media organizations that are lying to us (by not watching, by boycotting their sponsors, etc.), we might also ask our lawmakers and regulators to reconsider the political decisions, bought and paid for by wealthy media interests, that enabled this mess in the first place. Let’s revisit the Public Interest Standard. The Fairness Doctrine. Tax structures that force family newspapers to sell to corporations when the scion dies. Broadcast ownership rules, including things like cross-media ownership and the old radio duopoly rules.

I’m not saying we have to turn the clock back to 1979, but a more productive future might begin with at least a thoughtful look at how things worked in the years before we lost our way and began auctioning off our collective soul to the most outrageous and irresponsible bidders.

WordsDay: a couple of recommendations

CATEGORY: WordsDayFirst, I hope you checked out today’s outstanding S&R LitJournal offering from Changming Yuan. If not, you really oughta.

Second, in addition to being a talented writer, Changming also edits Poetry Pacific in Vancouver. Give it a look. In particular, I really liked the set from Laurence Overmire – very vivid and immediate, I thought.

Finally, a literary journal that published some of my work last year is back with their latest issue. The Winter 2013 iteration of Amethyst Arsenic features no fewer than 18 poets, and by all means give a read to “The Sound of Oxygen” by Lizi Gilad. Congrats to publisher Samantha Milowsky and her staff on another great effort.

Happy WordsDay.

CATEGORY: SRLitJournal

S&R Poetry: “Directory of Destinies: A Parallel Poem” by Changming Yuan

- Believe it or not, the ancient Chinese 5-Agent Principle accounts for us all.

1/ Water (born in a year ending in 2 or 3)
-helps wood but hinders fire; helped by metal but hindered by earth
with her transparent tenderness
coded with colorless violence
she is always ready to support
or sink the powerful boat
	sailing south

2/ Wood (born in a year ending 4 or 5)
-helps fire but hinders earth; helped by water but hindered by metal
rings in rings have been opened or broken
like echoes that roll from home to home
each containing fragments of green
trying to tell their tales
	from the forest’s depths

3/ Fire (born in a year ending 6 or 7)
-helps earth but hinders metal; helped by wood but hindered by water
your soft power bursting from your ribcage
as enthusiastic as a phoenix is supposed to be
when you fly your lipless kisses
you reach out your hearts
	until they are all broken

4/ Earth (born in a year ending in 8 or 9)
-helps metal but hinders water; helped by fire but hindered by wood
i think not; therefore, I am not
what I am, but I have a color
the skin my heart wears inside out
tattooed intricately
	with footprints of history

5/ Metal (born in a year ending in 0 or 1)
-helps water but hinders wood; helped by earth but hindered by fire
he used to be totally dull-colored
because he came from the earth’s inside
now he has become a super-conductor
for cold words, hot pictures and light itself
	all being transmitted through his throat

____

Changming Yuan, four-time Pushcart nominee and author of Allen Qing Yuan, holds a PhD in English, teaches independently and edits Poetry Pacific in Vancouver Yuan’s poetry appears in 629 literary publications across 24 countries, including Asia Literary Review, Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, LiNQ, London Magazine, Poetry Kanto, Paris/Atlantic, Poetry Salzburg, SAND and Taj Mahal Reivew. Poetry submissions are welcome at yuans@shaw.ca.