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Lights, Camera, Retraction

The journal that gave in to climate deniers

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In February 2013, the journal Frontiers in Psychology published a peer-reviewed paper which found that people who reject climate science are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Predictably enough, those people didn’t like it.

The paper, which I helped to peer-review, is called “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation.” In it, cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues survey and analyze the outcry generated on climate skeptic blogs to their earlier work on climate denial.

The earlier study had also linked climate denial with conspiracist thinking. And so by reacting with yet more conspiracy theorizing, the bloggers rather proved the researchers' point.

Yet soon after Recursive Fury was published, threats of litigation* started to roll in, and the journal took the paper down (it survives on the website of the University of Western Australia, where Lewandowsky carried out the study).

A lengthy investigation ensued, which eventually found the paper to be scientifically and ethically sound. Yet on March 21 this year, Frontiers retracted the paper because of the legal threats.

The episode offers some of the clearest evidence yet that threats of libel lawsuits have a chilling effect on scientific research.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Meat of the Matter

Eating road kill: Yuck or yum?

roadkillrabbit
Ian Cummings

Ian Cummings was cycling just outside Cambridge, England, when he noticed the freshly hit rabbit on the side of the road. “I sort of looked at it and looked at it, and then cycled on,” he says. But then, Cummings had a change of heart. He turned his bike around, brought the dead animal home, and cooked it into jugged hare — a traditional British recipe. “And it all kind of started from there.”

Since that first day when Cummings, a travel photographer based in the village of Wilbraham, wound up with a Goodyear-tenderized hare on his plate, he has gone on to become somewhat of a road-kill aficionado. From venison with cranberries and chestnuts to pappardelle con lepre, over the years his town’s roads have served him up some pretty delectable fares. But Cummings isn’t the only one out foraging the highways. There are plenty of road-kill enthusiasts on this side of the pond, too -- enough of them that there has been a trend toward states legalizing the practice, like when Montana made headlines by doing so last year. And now, a push to make road kill easier to take home is on the docket in Michigan.

Read more: Food, Living

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Blades of gory: Teaching kids to slice and dice

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Play out this scenario in your head: A writer publishes a cookbook for children, and as part of the book promotion, pens an op-ed in which she advocates handing your kid a gleaming chef’s knife so they can begin working on their high-speed lopping skills.

As you might expect, when this actually happened, a lot of people got worked up. For a moment there, Sarah Elton, the writer in question, was trending on Twitter in Toronto, where her op-ed ran.

But here’s what’s surprising about the whole episode: Rather than condemning Elton as a bad mother, practically everyone agreed with her.

Read more: Food, Living

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Fahrenheit 451 and rising

Climate change: The hottest thing in science fiction

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The world as we knew it is gone.

Even if nobody is talking explicitly about it, it’s clear that something terrible has happened and in its wake, humanity must once again reset its priorities. Can we, in this resource-scarce new world, fashion some kind of idyllic agrarian commune with shared goods, serene faces, and hemp robes? Or are we doomed to be selfish hoarders, creating even greater scarcity which we can then leverage for our own benefit? Also, is that … is that some kind of genetically modified man-wolfephant?

Post-apocalyptic science fiction isn’t new. But you may have noticed an uptick in books set in the wake of some kind of major climate disaster. Some call it “cli-fi” -- sci-fi infused with the increasingly frightening impacts of climate change. The trope has deep roots, says science fiction scholar Istvan Csicery-Ronay, and plenty of room to grow.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Not so fast

States try to block cities’ transit plans

bus rapid transit sketch
Will Tennessee's Republican-controlled state legislature kill this proposed bus rapid transit line in Nashville?

As more cities come to terms with Americans’ shifting desires to get out of cars and onto mass transit, we are beginning to see bus and rail projects in some unexpected places. Mass transit isn’t just for your Europhile socialist coastal enclaves anymore. Cities in the Midwest and the Sun Belt are trying to develop well-planned transit systems such as light rail and bus rapid transit.

But there is a hitch: States tend to control both how transportation funds are raised and how they are spent. Even federal transportation dollars are mostly disbursed to states rather than localities. Many states, even liberal California and transit-rich New York, prohibit cities from levying most kinds of taxes without state permission, making it hard for metropolitan areas to raise funds for their own projects.

And, you’ll be shocked to discover, Republican state legislatures aren’t so keen on mass transit. In Indiana, for example, the counties in the Indianapolis region need state approval just to hold a referendum on whether to fund mass transit projects. And the state legislature would not give them that permission unless they dropped a light rail system from the proposal, and also dropped a corporate tax to pay for it.

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How to catch a coal ash spill? Send lawyers, boats, and airplanes

Waterkeeper Alliance Coal Ash Dumping
Waterkeeper Alliance

Peter Harrison has an enviable life: He spends a lot of time in a boat, exploring the waterways of North Carolina. Peter Harrison also has an interesting life: Other boats sometimes follow his, with huge cameras pointed in his direction, shutters clicking away.

"It's just intimidation," Harrison says. The people with cameras tend to be security guards for Duke Energy, the state's largest electricity provider, and a company that Harrison spends a lot of time investigating.

Over the past few years, environmental groups like the one that Harrison works for, Waterkeeper Alliance, began to notice that every time they have tried to sue Duke over coal ash dumps that are spilling arsenic and mercury into North Carolina's drinking water, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would find a way to block or delay the lawsuit.

It also did not escape their notice that the state's governor, Pat McCrory, had worked at Duke for 28 years before running for political office. Or that the secretary of DENR was a McCrory appointee who described his approach to running the agency as being “a partner” to those it regulates.

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Citi takes energy efficiency all the way to the bank

citibank
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Disclosure: I used to crawl under trailers in poor parts of Western Colorado in a suit made from air-mail envelope material. I wasn’t being a weirdo, at least not intentionally. I had a job as a “weatherization technician,” making these homes more energy efficient, working for the government’s catastrophically acronymed LIHEAP program (for Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program, but still, guys, come on). It was hard work. We had little funding. And the program is now defunct. And yet, that very work is exactly what we ought to be undertaking at huge scale to help solve climate change.

Well, 20 years after I worked those trenches, I have some good news to deliver. Quietly, in the recesses of the financial machine, we've begun to do just that. Few know about it. But you should.

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Can You “Reduce Methane Emissions” with an “All of the Above” Strategy?

The short answer: no. On March 28th the White House released a 15-page document entitled, “Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.” Here’s the first paragraph: “Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change [true]; and putting methane to use can support local economies with a source of clean energy [false; it’s not clean] that generates revenue, spurs investment, improves safety and leads to cleaner air [“cleaner” but not “clean”]. President Obama directed the Administration to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to cut methane emissions.” It’s a good thing that there is some …

Read more: Uncategorized

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Animal House

The untold story of deforestation: Slothageddon

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Brian Gratwicke

When a stretch of forest in Suriname was slatted to be cleared in October 2012, Monique Pool, a known sloth caretaker, was asked if she could take in the 14 displaced sloths. Of course she said yes (or she would have faced the wrath of a jealous internet). A machine operator slowly pushed over trees as Pool and a team of volunteers rushed about picking up the sloths that fell out of the canopy. As 14 quickly turned to 200, the sloth lover’s dream come true became the ultimate nightmare: slothageddon (Pool’s word, not mine). From BBC News: Sloths were hanging everywhere -- from the trees in her …

Read more: Living

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These little hacks make cities more sustainable and fun

Sometimes all it takes is imagination, some stealth, and a little elbow grease to turn the mundane into something playful. Rotten Apple, an anonymous art project based in New York City, turns ordinary and forgotten city objects into usable, sustainable mini-hacks. Here's how they describe where they land:

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Rotten Apple

So, how does that look on the ground? They added a seat on a hinge to a bicycle rack for a pop-down chair:

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Rotten Apple

They turned a forgotten newspaper kiosk into a cold weather clothing bank:

Read more: Cities, Living