5 Ways the NYT Science Columnist Distorts the Facts

what me worry photo

Victor Koen in New York Times
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We have heard of climate deniers and chemical industry defenders, but now John Tierney of The New York Times joins the ranks of the Everything Deniers. In his recent piece entitled "10 things to scratch from your worry list", Tierney tries to debunk some current issues that have consumers concerned. While his piece may have been written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, it is already making the rounds of the web with introductions like "The New York Times give you the lowdown on ten things that you shouldn't bother worrying about on your vacation."

Well be worried, very worried. This may all be a joke to Tierney, but the truth is some of these issues are areas of real concern and because of this piece, his misinformation will be quoted back to us in comments every time we write about any of these subjects for the next two years, as the word from The authoritative New York Times. To help push back against some of his inaccurate comments, we tackle a few:

air conditioning vs open windows graph photo

more information on this graph at our previous post here

What is worse: Driving with Windows Down and A/C Off or Windows Up with A/C On?

Tierney writes: "No matter how guilty you feel about your carbon footprint, you don't have to swelter on the highway to the beach. After doing tests at 65 miles per hour, the mileage experts at edmunds.com report that the aerodynamic drag from opening the windows cancels out any fuel savings from turning off the air-conditioner."

The small percentage between windows down or AC on is minuscule compared to the fact that you are in a car driving to the beach; if you feel guilty about your carbon footprint take the bus, this is a triviality. But if you want to consider this issue, it depends on your speed- at low speeds there is less aerodynamic drag. If you are in the usual stop-and-go traffic with everyone else going to the beach, then you use less fuel sweltering with the windows open. See our previous coverage on whether car windows up and AC on versus windows down is more efficient.

carbon footprint food label photo

Should You Care About Food Miles?

Tierney says no. He writes:
Forbidden fruits from afarDo you dare to eat a kiwi? Sure, because more "food miles" do not equal more greenhouse emissions. Food from other countries is often produced and shipped much more efficiently than domestic food, particularly if the local producers are hauling their wares around in small trucks. One study showed that apples shipped from New Zealand to Britain had a smaller carbon footprint than apples grown and sold in Britain.

He gives no link to the one study he mentions, which happens to have been produced in New Zealand and paid for by the industry, and is really comparing UK apples that are kept in refrigerated storage to be eaten out of season, compared to New Zealand apples flown during the same season.

The Telegraph writes: "British apples are better for the environment during autumn and winter, but in spring and summer it is "greener" to import them."

Anyone who is into low carbon food knows that the key is to eat seasonal food as well as local. Food miles are important, but so is seasonality.

TreeHugger on Local Food:
Pablo Looks at Carbon Footprint of Local Food
Freakonomists on the Merits of Local Food : TreeHugger
10 Reasons to Eat Local Food

cell phone radiation penetration photo

Are Cellphones Carcinogenic?

Tierney writes: "Some prominent brain surgeons made news on Larry King's show this year with their fears of cellphones, thereby establishing once and for all that epidemiology is not brain surgery — it's more complicated.

As my colleague Tara Parker-Pope has noted, there is no known biological mechanism for the phones' non-ionizing radiation to cause cancer, and epidemiological studies have failed to find consistent links between cancer and cellphones."

Let's take a look at some news from the past week:

  • "The director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, on Thursday issued an advisory urging his faculty and staff to limit their use of mobile phones because of a possible cancer risk. The advisory, by Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, suggested that users of cell phones take measures to limit exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by the phones. In particular, he urged children to limit their use of cell phones."
  • The Israeli Ministry of Health calls "for limiting children's use of cell phones, avoidance of cellular communication in enclosed places such as elevators and trains, and use of wired, not wireless, earpieces."
  • The City of Toronto Health Department recommended this week that "children, especially pre-adolescent children, use land lines whenever possible, keeping the use of cellphones for essential purposes only, limiting the length of cellphone calls and using headsets or hands-free options, whenever possible."

    "While scientists were pretty dismissive of any risk years ago, with the accumulation of studies, it appears people who have been using their phones for a long period of time are at greater risk of certain kinds of brain tumours. There is a pattern emerging," said Loren Vanderlinden, a Toronto Public Health supervisor and the report's author.

One would think that the New York Times would report on the latest news, all of which is negative, instead of filtering out the last month.

TreeHugger on Cellphone Radiation:
Listening to Cellphone Warnings
Mobile Phones 'More Dangerous than Smoking'
Electrical Smog: More on "Frequency Pollution"

paper bags or plastic bags

Which is better: Paper Bags or Plastic Bags?

Tierney writes:"Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags. If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy — and greenhouse emissions — to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills."

Puleeeze. Pick a two year old report from a regional EPA office to make a specious argument about paper or plastic when the real answer is neither, they both suck. Enough with the tautological questions, just read Collin's Paper Bags or Plastic Bags? Everything You Need to Know.

polycarbonate bottles with BPA photo

What About Toxic Chemicals in Plastic Water Bottles?

Tierney says this is okay too. He writes: Toxic plastic bottles.For years panels of experts repeatedly approved the use of bisphenol-a, or BPA, which is used in polycarbonate bottles and many other plastic products. Yes, it could be harmful if given in huge doses to rodents, but so can the natural chemicals in countless foods we eat every day. Dose makes the poison....Even though there was zero evidence of harm to humans, Wal-Mart pulled BPA-containing products from its shelves, and politicians began talking about BPA bans. Some experts fear product recalls that could make this the most expensive health scare in history.

First of all, does he really think the fact that panels of experts have approved these chemicals for years means they are safe? Is he really unaware that science can progress and our understanding of what is or isn't dangerous can change? There are some great retro ads of doctors touting the benefits of cigarettes I can show him if his memory is lacking.

Secondly, but more importantly, that hyperlink goes to one report, by the American Council on Science and Health, which has taken "a generally apologetic stance regarding virtually every health and environmental hazard produced by modern industry." Its president, Elizabeth Whelan, has been called the "junk food queen" for her defense of companies who make products with low nutritional value. It is funded by Mobil, Monsanto, Shell Oil, Union Carbide, Dow and many other similar corporations, as well as right-wing think tanks such the Sarah Scaife Foundation, Inc. and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation.

One report from a highly-questionable source, and Tierney says it is proof ofzero evidence of harm to humans. Wow.

TreeHugger on Bisphenol A:
Bisphenol A Is In Your Tomato Sauce
It's Official: Canada Declares Bisphenol A Toxic
BPA Danger may be greater from Tin Cans than Water Bottles
Don't Buy A Nalgene Water Bottle Until You Read This
Bisphenol A: How Wal-Mart Became the New FDA

That is enough; I won't waste my time on Arctic ice, sharks or wormholes. The New York Times masthead is "All the News that's Fit to Print."

This isn't.

The New York Times: 10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List

5 Ways the NYT Science Columnist Distorts the Facts
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