Monday, August 18, 2014

How TV News "Balance" Slants Towards Cranks, Against Science

Why do TV news stories about anti-science cranks tend to slant towards the cranks and against science? It's mostly because of the same wrong idea about balance that skews climate change stories - but it's also a little bit of laziness.

Here's an example of a crank profile from New England Cable News, which devoted an entire segment to a Cambridge, MA resident who doesn't like new street lights. But "I don't like to look at them" is no more of a winning argument against street lights that are saving taxpayers $500,000 a year than it is against wind turbines, so the guy is also claiming they're making him sick:
Abrams also says he doesn’t like the shadows the new lights cast either. "There's hundreds of shadows on the sidewalk, these lamps cast, it kind of makes me dizzy," he said.
So, crank with an agenda says one thing, who should we put him up against? If you've followed how the media covers climate change, you know anti-science cranks must be juxtaposed with objective science:
The U.S. Department of Energy online says it remains unproven that typical exposures to outdoor lighting have negative health impacts, but also say it cannot be ruled out without more data.
That's where the skewed idea of "balance" pushes the story towards the crank. The opposite of a crank isn't a scientist - it's a progressive:

But in the constraints of one eight-hour night shift, finding that progressive to defend science can be hard. Gotta just make the Cambridge city worker the "other side" and call the story done.

Another problem with crank stories is that often the reporter must hold back key facts to prevent the reporter from looking stupid for doing a crank story in the first place. Check out the very last line of this story:
The city also points to some light shields they can install to block the light from going in peoples windows. The city says before the most recent yellow lights, the city had bright white lights. They believe it's just a matter of people getting used to them. Other cities such as Boston have converted the bulk of their lights over to LED, and cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have done so as well.
Cities with a total population of 5.1 million people have installed these lights with no evidence of problems, but the reporter has to put that at the end, because otherwise the story would be over.

One final thing the reporter never talks about: How scientists long ago cracked the mystery of how to keep out unwanted light ...

"How I hate venetian blinds"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A New Surprise Benefit of Cutting Lead Pollution

Contains LeadStudies have shown a strong connection between the phase-out of lead in gasoline starting in the mid-1970s and a plunge in violent crime in the following decades. As Kevin Drum reports at Mother Jones, a new study is connecting lower levels of childhood lead exposure to a later drop in the teen pregnancy rate:
For years conservatives bemoaned the problem of risky and violent behavior among children and teens of the post-60s era, mostly blaming it on the breakdown of the family and a general decline in discipline. Liberals tended to take this less seriously, and in any case mostly blamed it on societal problems. In the end, though, it turned out that conservatives were right. It wasn't just a bunch of oldsters complaining about the kids these days. Crime was up, drug use was up, and teen pregnancy was up. It was a genuine phenomenon and a genuine problem.

But liberals were right that it wasn't related to the disintegration of the family or lower rates of churchgoing or any of that. After all, families didn't suddenly start getting back together in the 90s and churchgoing didn't suddenly rise. But teenage crime, drug use, and pregnancy rates all went down. And down. And down.

Most likely, there was a real problem, but it was a problem no one had a clue about. We were poisoning our children with a well-known neurotoxin, and this toxin lowered their IQs, made them into fidgety kids, wrecked their educations, and then turned them into juvenile delinquents, teen mothers, and violent criminals. When we got rid of the toxin, all of these problems magically started to decline.
Today, we're debating whether to cut the toxic heavy metal and carbon pollution from coal by shutting down the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants. But the benefits aren't hidden - we know coal kills thousands of people every year and causes thousands more asthma attacks in children.

Electricity rates and jobs are obviously important, but why do reporters talk almost exclusively about those, and hardly at all about these very real impacts on our lives? When did human health become a sidebar story?

Friday, August 1, 2014

MA's Secret Plan to Make Regional Bus Commuting More Awesome

Given the "Plus" AND +, how do you say this
out loud? Bus Plus Plus?
I say "secret" because it seems like it's gotten virtually no news coverage - it's been ignored by the statewide standard-bearer Boston Globe and my local New Bedford Standard Times.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is making it much more fun, productive and comfy to ride longer-distance regional commuter buses with a program called BusPlus+:
The initial BusPlus+ regional bus purchase will provide thirty one of the new buses to carriers that currently or previously operated an IBCAP regional bus, including Peter Pan Bus Lines, Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Company, DATTCO, The Coach Company, Bloom Bus Lines, and Yankee Line. In addition, MassDOT is proud to welcome Greyhound as its newest private sector partner.

Customers will experience a more comfortable and convenient service, with new buses that include the latest advances in safety and equipped with fully outfitted restrooms, increased leg room, new comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, and 110V power outlets at every seat.

Through the BusPlus+ program, MassDOT will also work toward the goal of providing a universal smart phone ticketing application to all riders.
I'd noticed the Dattco buses between New Bedford and Boston were newer, roomy enough to fully open my laptop, and with much more reliable WiFi, but had no idea why until I noticed the BusPlus+ sticker on the side of the bus as I was boarding the other day.

At first I wondered about giving taxpayer-purchased buses to private companies. But then again, no one expects public transit to turn a profit, so this may actually be the more fiscally conservative move - instead of taxpayers having to fund a whole new route, they get the benefit of increased service for a relatively small one-time cost.

In the long term, SouthCoast Rail is still the best solution, but until then, small steps to promote bus service make sense.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ignoring Climate Change Enters 26th Year of Failing to Stop Climate Change

Since climate scientist Michael Mann warned Congress of the emerging climate crisis in 1988, Congress has wholeheartedly embraced the strategy of ignoring climate change in hopes it goes away.

As Eric Holthaus reports at Slate today, ignoring climate change just had its strongest quarter ever of failing to stop climate change, with April to June 2014 going into the books as Earth's warmest three months on record.

But switching to solar and wind power might cost you an extra dollar a month on your electricity bill. Best to stick to ignorance! /hits self in head with hammer

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Striped Bass Shift Linked to Climate Change? Don't Ask Virginian-Pilot

Albert Spells measures a striped bass; this one is longer than 28 inches and too big to keep. ©Janet Krenn/VASGWhen reporters ignore climate change in their stories, they end up sounding like they're blaming the supernatural for events easily connected to climate change. Take this Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot story on a sharp decline in catch of striped bass:
They say there are a handful of elements that have lowered the ocean take the past two years.

Weather has been the biggest reason. Warmer starts to the past two winters have caused many rockfish to stay in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, or up the coast around upper Maryland and New Jersey. [...]

"It's been the strangest year," said Rob O'Reilly, chief of fisheries management for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. "The weather has been so screwy that some fish haven't moved south like they usually do, and the ones that have positioned themselves offshore."
Reporters are often reluctant to connect the dots to climate change because they're not climate science experts and they're worried that doing so will draw the ire of anti-science Tea Party activists.

But when reporters ignore reality, they leave their audience in the dark. Strange! Screwy! Don't ask me for answers, you're on your own!

And then newspapers wonder why half of their audience has stopped paying $15 a month for a subscription. If you have to go find the truth yourself anyway, might as well do it for free on the internet.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Massachusetts Scores Big on Best Complete Streets Policies

Day 178It seems like common sense: Make policies to help people get around, not just to help vehicles get around. Massachusetts does a better job of getting it right than many places, with Littleton and MassDOT earning recognition from Smart Growth America.

Then again, even here, many communities still have a long way to go. Why is it so hard?

Almost all of the key decision makers drive everywhere. At the top, governors and state agency heads are often chauffeured in SUVs and only wait for public transit in photo ops. And studies show politicians at all levels are most responsive to the concerns of wealthy constituents, who are much less likely to have to wait for a bus or bike to work or school than low-income families.

Monday, July 7, 2014

But Hurricanes Wouldn't Dare Hit Our Nuclear Plants, Because MURRICA

Japanese nuclear power plants the path of Super Typhoon Neoguri: Two

Nuclear power plants on America's hurricane-vulnerable East and Gulf Coasts: Thirteen

Ohio's Pro-Fracking Governor Ignores Fracking Earthquakes

A State of EmergencyOhio is being hit by earthquakes in areas where gas fracking operations are underway, but Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) is best buddies with big polluters, so you end up with stories like this:
State regulators ordered a gas drilling company to halt operations in an area of northeastern Ohio after three minor earthquakes were felt in the area. No property damage had been reported from the earthquakes that happened Monday morning just west of Youngstown. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says there's nothing indicating that the earthquakes are connected to any injection wells.
Who'd be so crazy as to say Ohio's brand-new earthquake zone is connected to fracking? Oh yeah - the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said that two years ago. Multiple studies have also linked Oklahoma's outbreak of more than 2,500 small quakes to fracking.

But Kasich has state employees spending taxpayer dollars on doing public relations for gas fracking, so state regulators have to do the bizarre dance of shutting down fracking wells while not saying the wells are causing the earthquakes. Then why shut them down at all?

Learn more about the risks to land and drinking water at the Ohio Environmental Council.