Looking Back and Thinking Ahead

In 2014, as in years past, I used this space to offer observations on a wide range of stories and subjects. I critiqued faux journalism that went viral, called attention to the creepy antics of an alternative health advocate, discussed the Science Guy’s blind spot on GMOs, revisited a few touchy archaeological issues, and discovered perhaps the most insufferable egomaniac on Twitter.

I continued to track the winding Anthropocene narrative and kept current with familiar and tenuous climate change storylines. I also marveled at the durable popularity of an influential environmental speaker.

There was much more, including this Q & A and this discussion on GMOs and false balance.

Sometimes a post rattles around in my head for days or weeks before hatching; other times, seized by a news event, a recent conference I attended or story I read, I’ll push out a post that moment in time. However and whenever it happens, this blog remains a labor of love. I do it in my spare time, when I’m not teaching, when I’m taking a break from reporting and writing stories that appear elsewhere, and usually after my two kids are in bed.

Every year, I also think about doing things differently. Should I cast a wider net, covering more subjects, or narrow my focus? Should I critique less and report more?  What do you think? I’m toying with some ideas for 2015, but I’d welcome hearing your thoughts. What would you like to see covered in this space?

Lastly, thank you very much for being a reader. And if you occasionally take the time to comment, thanks for livening up the place. Best wishes to all for 2015.

20 Responses to “Looking Back and Thinking Ahead”

  1. Uncle Al says:

    The 21st century is obscene. Social intent denies its consequences. More than a $(USD)trillion/year in military adventurism obtains nothing. National and international finance is untouchable fiction. The velocity of money is staunched at every level – tax and redistribute (less postage and handling). Fossil fuel production skyrockets a depleted resource as Ponzi finance schemes. Global virulent Luddite criminality is shutting down Western civilization: Somebody else in the tenebrous future deserves the boons of productivity – and not them, either. Cap and trade Kilmate Kaos (and whisper “Carbon Credit arbitrage” by its keepers).

    Our very firstist priority must be to feed the Third World into 15 billion humans while ending paternalistic White Protestant European-descended despots oppressing Peoples of Colour and Sexual Preference. Science is a streetwalker desperately showing a little thigh with promises of so much more in trade for grant funding.

    There ought to be pony in there somewhere.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK60d_glVxs

    No problem, your choice, no pressure.

  2. Tom Scharf says:

    Food science is definitely a target rich environment if you want to highlight where mob rule and group think have sometimes taken over certain sectors of science. Landmark studies have started to overturn certain dogmas in food science and it is interesting to see how some have been reluctant to embrace these long term studies. Low fat diets. Long term effects of being overweight (not obese). Butter and saturated fat. Meat. Sugar.

    It has gotten to the point that any time I read the phrase “linked to” related to food science, I stop reading. If any area is more guilty of the correlation is causation fallacy, it is food science.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. JonFrum says:

    ‘False balance’ = shut down discussion. If not the last refuge of scoundrels, it’s certainly on the list. No need to allow them to be heard, we already know what we think.

  4. JonFrum says:

    I assume you’re referring to The Big Fat Surprise among others.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Big-Fat-Surprise-Healthy/dp/1451624425

  5. JonFrum says:

    Ponies for everyone – no ponies, no peace!

  6. Shane Taylor says:

    Keith, I think you have the right balance of critiquing and reporting. I rely on your blog, in part, to stay informed about dubious but fashionable ideas. Your work is useful, not just in challenging bad ideas, but in making sense of what activists (food, health, environmental, etc.) are actually claiming. There is often some kind of logic to crazy-sounding claims. The premises may be false and the reasoning may be fallacious, but there is often a line of argument to be traced.

    I am not denying the importance of various cognitive biases, and I am not saying a person’s stated reasons for a belief are what actually persuaded them in the first place. However, I do think it is important for those of us concerned with science literacy to know what we’re arguing against. Although the odds of changing Vandana Shiva’s mind is probably quite low, this work is important in reaching the broader audience she is trying to persuade.

  7. kkloor says:

    Shane, thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated.

  8. Uncle Al says:

    You’ve done it! The 2015 WBM POTUS meme:

    PEACE THROUGH PONIES

  9. Viva La Evolucion says:

    Billy Nye isn’t the only one with a blind spot regarding GMO issue….Keith Kloor 🙂 I would love it if Keith’s new year resolution was to be more critical of legitimate problems with GMOs, as that will ultimately help the pro-gmo movement and promote creation of new improved GMO products for the future. There are 3 main issues I believe Keith need to work on.

    1. Acknowledge and discuss the fact that herbicide tolerant GMO crops, such as Roundup Ready Corn/Soy, use more herbicide than their non-GMO counterparts.

    2. Acknowledge and discuss the legitimate problems of having human health and environmental safety studies being conducted on products by companies which stand to benefit from their approval.

    3. Acknowledge and discuss the observed increase in amount of Roundup/Glyphosate residue on GMO Corn/Soy for human consumption.

    Another thing you may want to focus on next year is our current use of GMO corn and soy in inefficient energy and food production methods, such as biofuel and animal feed, and your vision for more efficient uses of GMOs in the future.

  10. Viva La Evolucion says:

    I totally agree that many in food science issues are guilty of the correlation is causation fallacy. I am curious your thoughts on the observed increase in herbicide reside on GMO soy/corn products, as well as increase herbicide usage in GMO soy/corn vs non-gmo counterparts.

  11. JH says:

    It’s a great blog Keith. Never a dull moment.

    You’ve examined how people’s biases affect the way the perceive issues that are, from the scientific standpoint, more or less solved. (or in the case of climate partly solved). IMO it would be interesting to plunge deeper along the continuum into less clear cut issues and examine how biases might play out in these issues. If we have strong biases influencing the way people think and create policy on clear-cut issues like GMO, what are the implications for less clear cut issues – issues where we’re creating policy all the time but for which the science, while it may be agreed upon for the moment, is anything but stout.

    Many of these issues are bouncing around in the blogosphere already. I’m mostly thinking in the environmental theme – biodiversity perhaps – but education is an interesting and very important issue where biases are very strong and the data isn’t.

    Of course I love to see Ehrlich bite it, so I think it would be interesting to examine what he’s up to and how his biases have evolved in the face of his repeatedly failing theory. And that brings us to a favorite trope of the environmental industry – population. What’s the science on population growth? How is it represented and misrepresented to drive belief?

    From the climate standpoint it might be interesting to move on from CO2 since that issue has long been solved and focus in on economic modeling and how and if it’s useful. Or not. Or do some digging into the supposed effects of climate change and see where people stand on that.

    cheers, thanks, happy new year, j

  12. mem_somerville says:

    I’m with Shane Taylor, I think the balance is good. But of course, it’s your blog, you can try anything you want. And that’s also a feature of not being tied to one type of post–if something developed that’s wider than you’ve done before, there’s no barrier to covering it if you want to go that way.

    One thing I like to see blogs have is an occasional open thread. That way the community that reads that blog can bring stuff they find interesting, that I might not have come across in the regular social circles I’m in. But that can also be a swamp, so I can understand why people don’t do it. It can work well in the right community, though.

    Seems to me this coming year will be interesting for science and policy, with the shift in Congress. I’d like to see some of that covered–that’s not done everywhere. Speaking of–there’s an effort to push a Science Debate for the next presidential election: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-chapman/the-most-important-debate_b_6401318.html [This is the kind of thing I’d put in an open thread if I had access to one.]

    But in general I’d say that science/policy interface isn’t well covered out there and I could use pointers to more of it. The stuff you did about RFK Jr using his influence to get the attention of the powerful on vaccines was a good example of stuff we don’t usually hear much about.

  13. kkloor says:

    I have pondered the value of an open thread for years. Let me give that some more thought. You make a good case for it. Thanks for the suggestions and thanks especially for all your engagement in the comment threads. I’ve learned a lot from you over the years.

  14. kkloor says:

    Thanks!

  15. kkloor says:

    Same to you, and thanks for the suggestions.

  16. Matt B says:

    I think you are on your best when you cover your specific area of expertise: journalism, in particular science journalism. You know for a fact that:

    A. Not every scientist adheres to the scientific method

    B. Not every journalist strives for truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability
    Science journalism is particularly prone to bad results since so few journalists are trained well enough (or are confident enough) to judge the scientific merit of opposing views. Add to that the common societal bias towards seeing all scientists as egoless truth seekers, plus a dash of the journalist’s confirmation bias at times. You have done well to explore complex issues in anthropology, climate and food science; I am sure 2015 will bring plenty more opportunities to point out that the world is more complicated than how it is commonly portrayed. You have few cohorts in this regard so keep up the good work!

  17. Buddy199 says:

    As you have done with GMO’s, do a bullshit power wash on the

  18. JH says:

    right on. thanks for writing.

  19. JH says:

    ???? 🙂

  20. Paul Shipley says:

    Keith you do a great job and I enjoy your commentary. All I can say is I look forward to more of the same for 2015. Keep up the good work.

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