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#503 - How They Lie, Part 1, 17-Jul-1996

For the past 25 years, bad news has been reported again and again by
the scientific community worldwide. Ozone depletion.[1] Global warming.
[2] Certain cancers increasing.[3] Dioxin and PCBs from industrial
sources now found everywhere, including remote Pacific islands.[4]
Tuberculosis and other diseases re-emerging.[5] Birth defects rising.
[6] Loss of species accelerating.[7] Youthful suicides increasing.[8]
Common pesticides now thought to interfere with our sex hormones.[9] A
large number of countries growing poorer instead of richer.[10] 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 corporations.

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.[11] In 1995, Simon
expanded his vision to include all of the world's problems, which he
declared essentially solved when he edited the encyclopedic 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 thesis.

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.[12] 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 thesis.

** 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.[13] 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.]

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

=====

[1] See REHW #258.

[2] See REHW #467.

[3] See REHW #462.

[4] Les Line, "Old Nemesis, DDT, Reaches Remote Midway Albatrosses,"
NEW YORK TIMES March 12, 1996, pgs. C1, C8.

[5] See REHW #402.

[6] See REHW #410, #411.

[7] See REHW #441.

[8] Jean-Claude Chesnais, "Worldwide Historical Trends in Murder and
Suicide," in Julian Simon THE STATE OF HUMANITY (Oxford, England:
Blackwell, 1995), pgs. 91-97.

[9] For example, see REHW #490.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] See REHW #473.

[13] 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 Washington, D.C.

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;