Re: Stossel program faces generic engineering threat

Date: Sun Jul 01 2001 - 19:19:45 MDT

I saw the Stossel program Friday night. I always enjoy seeing the
conventional wisdom challenged, and Stossel was blazing away at most of
the environmental sacred cows. Sometimes they have released transcripts
of Stossel's programs in the past, but this time all I could find was
a summary web page,

As I have commented before, it's not clear to me that confrontational
tactics are that effective on these issues. I can't help feeling that
Stossel will simply not be believed. Even when he had scientists on
the show to back him up, viewers may assume that those experts are being
paid to take their positions. He relied quite a bit on the former head
of Greenpeace, who now seems to have switched his views 180 degrees and
who was described as now being paid by timber companies. This doesn't
make him look like an environmentalist who has seen the light, rather
he comes off as someone who completely lacks integrity and will say
whatever is most profitable for him at the moment.

One area I thought worked well was when school kids all vehemently
insisted that air pollution was getting worse, and then Stossel showed
charts that showed major pollutants getting better. However some of
his other charts did not work so well.

In discussing global warming, he showed a chart with temperature increasing
over the past 100 years. But then he pulled back to show it over a larger
span of several hundred years, and present temperatures were no longer
highest, things had been much higher a few hundred years ago.

I don't think this is correct. The chart's temperature axis read -32,
-34, -36 degrees down the vertical axis. What was this a chart of?
I got the impression this was some polar region. I think if you look at
worldwide average temperatures then the recent temperatures are unusually
high even over the past 1000 years. This chart was up so briefly that
probably most viewers were unaware of the oddity.

In another example, an activist complained about the use of recombinant
bovine growth hormone (RBGH). She said that the U.S. was the only
industrialized country to allow its use. Later she simplified that to say
that the U.S. was the only country which allowed it. Stossel challenged
her and put up a quickly-scrolling list of other countries that allowed
the use of RGBH. There were 20 or more and it made her look bad.

But if you looked closely at the list, all were Third World countries.
Venezuela, Mexico, etc., all poor nations. The United States was the only
First World country that I saw. So in fact the activist was basically
correct in her initial statement, although the streamlined version of
the message was not right. But I felt that Stossel was trying to snow
the viewers by putting up the list so fast that most people couldn't read
it carefully. (I Tivo'd the show so was able to view it at my leisure.)

I had a lot of other complaints too, as when Stossel would subtly
switch the question being discussed, starting from the question of
whether global warming is occuring and whether man is causing it, and
then saying no, many scientists don't agree that global warming will
be harmful. Both statements are true: there is a consensus that warming
is occuring and that it is very likely due in part to human activities;
and there is much less consensus about the net effects of the warming,
because some will be good and some will be bad. Stossel emphasized the
second point and let it be assumed that the disagreement covered the
other issue as well.

All in all I don't know how well Stossel has helped his cause with the
show. One interesting point is that probably a lot more people watched
it due to all the publicity gained by pulling the interviews with school
children at the last minute (interviews with other kids were substituted).


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