A group called US Right To Know is embracing the rich history of the anti-science movement; a history filled with lots of revenue for smear campaigns against scientists, companies in the science business, and more overtly, political allies opposed to the same science they are.
What science do they accept? Only the doomsday narratives, so they embrace climate science but then weirdly deny all of the research that shows how we are keeping people healthy and alive. Vaccines and medicine, food, energy, they hate all of that. For science historians, it is no secret that the environmental movement was built on the shattered remains of eugenics beliefs, obviously Hitler made that unpopular. The modern flavor is much the same. If it will keep minorities or poor people alive, or allow them to be born, they want that science to be labeled under "needs more study" indefinitely, or outright banned.
You might think mentioning Hitler as a comparison is a bit much, Godwin's Law and all that. Well, I agree. To his credit, at least Hitler shot Hitler, so he probably doesn't deserve to be lumped in with USRTK.
Just over two weeks ago, a few people at New York University jumped in to help US Right To Know, but claimed it was about something else. At RealClearScience and at the American Council on Science and Health (which I run) , a panel of science curating experts created a science credibility chart. Some overtly political science media sites got poor marks because they were overtly political (and one blogging site, Scienceblogs, was included, which should not have been at all) and that created a reaction from, unsurprisingly, people who write for those science media corporations but want to feel like their beliefs are evidence-based by association.
The reaction got strange. A scholar at Harvard, Naomi Oreskes, told Nature magazine they should not publish the chart because I am an "industry front group." This may seem strange to you. It was certainly strange to me. But then the thread started to get interesting. Oreskes is, of course, famous in climate change circles. What is less well known is that she denies most other science and she follows around progressive billionaire Tom Steyer like an obsequious puppy. If only there was someone in science media who looked into "conflicts of interest" that would have been noticed sooner.
Suddenly Dan Fagin of New York University (Pultizer Prize winner!!) jumped into the fray. First, he claimed the panel had no credibility. When it was noted that he had no published degree yet somehow was a professor in journalism he claimed the methodology was unpublished. When the methodology of the Pulitzer committee was noted, and that he benefited from experts using their expertise in that case, he changed to "confict of interest."
There's that term again. Conflict of interest. While the panel had recused themselves from considering sites they have published bylines on or any relationship that might seem too "close" (USA Today, Science 2.0, obviously ACSH and RealClearScience) it turns out that American Council on Science and Health each had one article republished on LiveScience. One. Republished.
Professor Fagin declared that the whole chart was invalid and conspiratorially asked what other conflicts of interest we were "hiding." When it was pointed out that he had far more conflicts of interest - he was defending the groups that publish him and his political anti-science screeds, and getting paid thousands of dollars - another journalism professor, who claims to be an expert on ferreting out "conflicts of interest", jumped in.
Professor Charles Seife declared that we were an "industry front group."
Again with that same term. It's almost like there is a secret email ring with anti-science activists at the center. Well, there are actually lots of them. These corporate front groups are everywhere. US Right To Know is just one. A few weeks ago I noted efforts to try and get our scientists and doctors banned from writing in USA Today.
It had dozens of co-signers. Let's think about our side. On the pro-science team, I couldn't even get dozens of co-signers to declare themselves in favor of ending cancer, half wouldn't bother to return emails and a whole bunch more would say they are uncomfortable taking a stand outside their specialization. Heck, we don't even have dozens of pro-science groups. On the anti- side, Organic Consumers Association alone props up over 300 "grass roots" organizations, US Right To Know is just their militant arm.
Then we have Seife, who has a cozy relationship with USRTK insider Paul Thacker - they even wrote a hit piece on Professor Kevin Folta, who is reviled by USRTK because he is pro-GMO, that was retracted by PLoS after it was shown to be a poorly researched conspiracy diatribe.
What does Seife refuse to reveal? His sources of income. At the American Council on Science and Health, for example, my income is public. The average salary for a male NYU professor is $270,000 so I posted a picture showing that if the three professors at NYU even have average incomes, the combined total is 50 percent more than the entire staff at our office in this picture.
Credit: Hank Campbell
How can he infer that anyone is an "industry front group" when the pay is so terrible? He can't, he is in the bag for anti-science groups, as he has repeatedly shown. And he has repeatedly refused to disclose his income sources.
He also refused my challenge to come to our office - NYU is a short subway ride from us - and tell ACSH scientists and doctors they are frauds. Or identify which ones his research has shown to be such. And he ran from my offer of a bet to get him to show his evidence; a tax-deductible donation to us if he's wrong.
Charles Seife thinks you are a fraud with conflicts of interest. Unless you are his friend and actually paid by an organic industry trade group. As long as the group is scaring people about science.
Nothing. Because he is only a journalist in the academic sense. In the real world, he would be fired from a media company for being untrustworthy, just like his friend Mike Balter.
And that may be fine with NYU. I wrote to Dr. Perri Klass, herself an MD (pediatrician) and journalist, assuming she therefore might have a sensitivity to another MD (pediatrician) and journalist, Dr. Jamie Wells, being libeled by her employees.
No, she was dismissive and even further claimed that NYU has no social media policy or rules for conduct. So she researches her statements as poorly as her department does.
As I noted on ACSH, for being a $72,000 a year university, their journalism department is rather low quality. With 28 full-time faculty only 5 have any advanced degrees: a JD, an MD and three PhDs. University of Missouri's School of Journalism, on the other hand, has 21 faculty with PhDs and their tuition is a very reasonable $11,000. So, parents, if you want your child to learn from people who are not activists on ideological benders, Mizzou is the way to go.