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Scott Rosenberg's Posts


Mill for the Grist: Fresh, whole-brain news

Photo by Jason Barnette.

Today we pull the curtains back on the latest new feature here at Grist. The paint's still drying. The work isn't finished. But we're ready to invite you in.

Welcome to the new Gristmill -- the spot at Grist to tune in to the latest in the realms of climate and energy, sustainable food, cities, and all the other Grist-y stuff we cover. What just happened? What are people saying about it? What does it mean, and how does it all connect?

As always at Grist, we will hail people and efforts to improve our world -- and make ridiculous faces at people and efforts that deserve to be mocked. And as always, we'll keep using all the internet-y tools at our disposal to get you to join in.

Tending the mill -- by himself for the moment, with reinforcements on the way -- is our latest addition to the Grist team, Philip Bump. Philip has worked in the trenches of political campaigns, software development, green activism, and web journalism. And he's still standing upright! He brings all those experiences to bear in his writing with a sharp eye and a light touch, and we're thrilled to have him join us here.

Some FAQs for you:

Read more: Inside Grist


Facebook will sell me to you, and you to me

Photo by Doran.

First Google turned links into money. Now Facebook is turning likes into money.

To flesh that out: A decade ago, Google found a way to profit from the preferences each of us expressed as we coded links on every home page and blog post we published. Today, Facebook is aiming to profit from the preferences each of us express as we click "like" buttons and peruse the activity streams that Facebook assembles from that activity.

Last week, a front-page New York Times story sounded an alarm about a phenomenon Facebook veterans have known for some time: Facebook now transmutes personal messages into advertisements, and lets companies and individuals pay to highlight their posts on personal pages. Procter & Gamble can pay to tell us about its toothpaste; you and I can tell each other about our lives and loves. And each message has a price tag.

Read more: Media


Free bird is the word! Appeal gets absurd

When we do these semiannual fundraising appeals here at Grist we sometimes look over at our peers in public broadcasting with envy.

When they don't meet their goals, they extend their deadlines. They just keep going. They're machines! We'll just keep torturing you, they say, until you give.

We're nicer than that. We've never extended our deadline. We live by the deadline here. But we don't want to die by it.

So the deadline for this appeal is fast approaching. And, to be honest, the involuntary poetry slam that Grist has become over the last 10 days? It's just exhausting. But you can do something about it! Give now, and put an end to our misery.

Here's what I mean:

My first week at Grist a few months ago, this gull decided to make a home on my windowsill for the better part of a day.

It stared at me. I stared at it. It made noises at me. I tried not to make noises back.

I thought of that bird when I watched our first appeal video -- the one with the Muppet-style raven harassing Grist's founder while mouthing droll Poe parodies.

And then it hit me -- the curse!

If I post here tomorrow
Things just couldn't be the same
'Cause Grist's so plagued with this nonsense
And this verse you cannot change!

Yes, it has come to this: Our lyrical disease has reached an advanced stage, and Lynyrd Skynyrd has infected my brainstem.

In the next stage, I fear, it's gonna be "Surfin' Bird," and we just don't want to go there.

So take pity on us wretches. Give to Grist now -- and it'll all be over soon.

Read more: Inside Grist


Out, damned curse!

Grist hath $25,000 on the line.
Help us reach our goal in time!

To give, or not to give, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler for the earth to suffer
The slings and arrows of oil and gas fortune
Or to take arms against a sea that's rising,
And by donating stem it: to spill, to leak
No more. And by a gift, to say you care
how Grist ties climate news to daily life,
-- that we report with wit, not with despair.

To read, perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that stream of words, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this toxic roil,
Must give us hope. Let me bare my bodkin:
Pray, if we hath lit a flame 'neath thy butt,
Help Grist now with all the farthings thou canst!
Thus conscience does make donors of us all.
'Tis a contribution devoutly to be wished.

Parting is such sweet sorrow,

Scott Rosenberg
Executive Editor

In a previous life, I earned my keep
Reviewing plays. Long and rich were the hours
I spent list'ning to or writing about
The works of Shakespeare. I wasn't that keen
To parody him in doggerel verse,
At first. But this curse is a cruel mistress.
Also, Grist must pay its bills. So why fret?
We'll stop this once you fill our purse. Not yet!

P.P.S. Giving online make you a wreck? You're also welcome to send a check: Grist, 710 Second Avenue, Suite 860, Seattle, WA 98104.

P.P.P.S. If we reach our goal by May 15, Grist will receive $25,000 from a generous donor.

Why all the iambic pentameter?
Grist is working under a strange parameter.

Read more: Inside Grist


High-fructose corn syrup and autism: The paper’s authors respond

Editor's note: In the wake of our original report on a paper exploring a possible link between high-fructose corn syrup and autism and the followup critique we posted by science writer Emily Willingham, the authors of the paper asked for a chance to respond. Below you'll find, first, the response by Renee Dufault and David Wallinga, M.D., and then a reply from Willingham.

From Renee Dufault and David Wallinga:

Since our scientific paper “A macroepigenetic approach to identify factors responsible for the autism epidemic in the United States” was published a few weeks ago in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Epigenetics, it has attracted a lot of discussion. We generally welcome that, especially when the discussion includes us, but much of it hasn’t. So, we’re eager to lay out for the public what our study does and doesn’t say.

Contrary to what’s been implied, our current paper does not allege consumption of HFCS causes autism. Rather, our model shows the science of how it may be one important risk factor of many that contributes to a cumulative or “total load” of risks. When we say “total load” we are referring to the accumulation of several risk factors, including nutrition, exposures to toxic chemicals, physical and emotional stressors, and more.

Read more: Food


Autism and high-fructose corn syrup: A deeper look

Photo by Bryan Gosline.

Grist's post last week about a paper that aimed to draw a connection between autism and high fructose corn syrup raised an almost immediate furor.

Some furors are healthy. As an editor I'm always happy when work that I publish gets people to consider new ideas and information that challenges their assumptions.

But some furors are more like, "Guys, you messed up." I'm afraid that from where I sit this was one of the latter kind.

Read more: Inside Grist


Haiku update: Reprieve for a boiling frog

Photo by Olivier Ffrench.

First off, thanks to all of you who emailed, tweeted, commented, or otherwise submitted your Earth Day haiku to us.

Now, to our dilemma: As we announced a little while ago, we'd hoped to pick a successor to our venerable "frog in boiling water" Official Grist Haiku -- the one that concludes, "Dude, we are that frog" -- in time for Earth Day.

We asked for your submissions. We picked some of the best, and we also seeded the entries with some of our own that we kicked around here.

We figured we'd hold a vote, see what the popular will told us, and then present a "people's choice" and an editorial selection -- or, ideally, they'd be the same.

But the vote, as of Earth Day, turned out to be a tie. And the more we sat with this set of nominees, we realized that, much as we enjoyed them, we didn't feel that any was truly suited to knock our frog off its perch.

So we're sticking with him for a little while longer. Meanwhile, we'll go back to the drawing board and see what else we can do to build irresistible momentum in the (intensely competitive) "humorous green haiku" market.

Or, to summarize:

Grist Haiku contest
ends in dead heat. We're stymied.
Frog, live on! (For now.)

Read more: Inside Grist


‘Verification in reverse’: A chat with Jay Rosen

Friday I chatted with NYU professor, blogger, and media critic Jay Rosen as I began thinking about The Huffington Post's story about the letter from NASA retirees criticizing the agency's climate research. This transcript is meant to accompany my post on that topic.

SR: Did you follow this story at all as it happened?

Jay: yes, someone pinged me about the original
then I read Dave's
that's all I really know
just posted on Twitter about it

SR: OK, good. Did you see the editor's note they posted?

Jay: yes

SR: OK. So here's what I'm thinking:
Dave was sort of gentlemanly about it and said, "let's move on"
But I looked at that editor's note and thought, wait a minute

Jay: right

SR: They're now saying, "we agree with the agencies and experts who are concerned about the role of carbon dioxide"
Which is pretty much the same as saying, "We disagree with these NASA retirees"
yet the story played it totally straight, and still does, only now, instead of a lame "What do you think?" it ends with "here's what we think"

Read more: Media


How Huffington Post aided a demolition job on climate science

Photo by Jonathan Hynkle.

Today the Huffington Post won a Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations, Huffington Post! Now you're in the club. I'm sure the execs at The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal who failed to take home any wins this year are teeth-gnashingly jealous.

But that's not what this post is about. What it takes to win Pulitzers, most of the time, is big budgets, smart reporters, and weighty topics of national import. But most of the stories that shape our national debates, and thereby our future, are nothing like this sort of award bait. Most of those stories are more like "NASA Global Warming Stance Blasted By 49 Astronauts, Scientists Who Once Worked At Agency," a short piece in The Huffington Post last week.

This article recycled a press release announcing that a bunch of former NASA employees, including some astronauts and scientists but no climate experts, had taken issue with the agency over its work on global warming. Findings that "man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated," the retirees charged. The article -- written not by one of HuffPo's famously uncompensated bloggers, but by its science editor, David Freeman -- didn't offer a single fact in rebuttal of the letter. But at the end, it asked: "What do you think? Is NASA pushing 'unsettled science' on global warming?"

It was a ludicrous postscript, one that abdicated the very purpose of science coverage. Journalists who specialize in science are our proxies to help us figure out what's trustworthy in realms where we lack detailed expertise ourselves and don't have time to acquire it. Asking for opinions online can be entertaining -- but the climate debate isn't the same thing as, say, weighing in on whether The Hunger Games movie did justice to the book.

Read more: Media


For Earth Day, let’s get haiku together

(Photo by Chris Coomber.)

It's been way too long
since Grist's last haiku contest.
We're here to fix that.

Last time, we emerged
with Grist's official haiku.
Here it is for you:

A frog in water
doesn’t feel it boil in time.
Dude, we are that frog.

A fine haiku! Sure,
some may impugn its science.
We love its koan-

like flash of insight.
It served us well for years. But
its work here is done.

This Earth Day, Grist plans
To christen a new poem.
Will you help us out?

The earth's future could
hang on the syllables of
your five-seven-five.

Send us your haiku!
Email them to us right here.
Or just tweet them out.

(The hashtag "#gristku"
Will insure that we see them.)
Here's inspiration

in a video
from haiku master Dylan
Tweney. Now go write!

Who knows? Your words, too,
might end up immortalized
On a Grist T-shirt.

Read more: Inside Grist