QotD

Nov. 16th, 2012 08:17 pm
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But it won't fail, and Republicans know this. They know that once the law is fully implemented, people will love its provisions ensuring nearly complete health care coverage, covering those who now seek free care (which costs the rest of us) at emergency rooms, blocking insurance companies from kicking people off their plans just when they need them most, and covering people even with preexisting conditions. It will prove popular, and the Republicans who said it would bankrupt the nation and create armies of freeloaders will be revealed as liars and frauds. They desperately want to block Obamacare because Americans will turn to Democrats in gratitude, much as they did when Medicare saved the elderly from poor health and early death and social security gave them a chance to live out their years with some measure of dignity.

-- Thomas O'Donnell

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I'm going to be interviewed about Denying Science and related subjects at about 8:00pm ET this coming Thursday evening (the 11th; "about" because they tell me they usually run a little late) by Chuck Gregory and Mike Palacek on their weekly The New American Dream Radio Show.

This can be listened to online here (click Listen Live once you get to the page) and thereafter will be available as a downloadable podcast here
-- the perfect cheapo Xmas present?



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Courtesy of the Bridge Project, here's a transcript of some remarks made by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives -- I repeat,
of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives -- a few days ago:

God's word is true. I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I've found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That's what the Bible says.

And what I've come to learn is that it's the manufacturer's handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that's the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I'll continue to do that.

The Bridge Project page has further details plus, for the strong of stomach, a video.



change.org

Mar. 28th, 2012 08:57 pm
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Today I've been unsubscribing from some of the services of change.org, an otherwise useful organization that has recently been campaigning very vociferously on an anti-GMO theme. Here is the email I sent them to explain why I was unsubscribing:

Sorry, I agree that Monsanto are bastards, but -- as writer of a book on science denialism -- I'm unconvinced that GM crops are necessarily bad. I'm very sympathetic to the notion that these crops should be subject to proper scientific investigation -- as some but far too few have been -- but I think the blanket OMMIGOD WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE FROM THESE FRANKENSTEIN FOODS campaign is idiotic.

In the developing countries, they piss on the self-indulgent US because (among many other reasons) we protest in uneducated fashion about GM crops. There, they think any risks might be worth taking because the alternative is starving to death.


Personally I think all of us should be focusing on the consequences of using idiot GM pesticides like Monsanto's Roundup, about whose deleterious effects there has been copious published research, rather than on the average bag of GM edamame, which is almost certainly less harmful to you than that mercury-packed can of tuna you just ate.

I expect to hear nothing back, and certainly no positive response, from change.org. That's a tragedy, too.


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There's an article with this title by Emily at The Biology Files that's essential reading. It begins:

Can I just say "thank you" to the GOP for reminding me in the last few weeks how very, very little some men think of women? I'd gotten pretty comfortable there, walking here and there with my ovaries and uterus, brazenly exposing my ankles and even sometimes my knees to the light, boldly driving around alone, my head uncovered and my torso uncorseted. Thinking, like a fool, that I am, here in 2012, a fully 100% citizen and human being in this great nation of ours, someone on par with people who have penises and testes, perhaps some hair on their chests. You know, someone whose full control over her body and her mind is never in question, whose choices about when to have sex and with whom are her own, whose choices about when to bear children and when not to are her own, whose right to have a violation of her body considered a criminal offense is a right retained.

It is shameful that, in the 21st century, such articles should be necessary in any country, far less one that proudly attaches the term "developed" to its self-description.


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On Sunday January 29 (i.e., this coming Sunday) at 9am CT -- or 10am ET -- I'm being interviewed for an hour on AM950, "The Progressive Voice of Minnesota", on the show Atheists Talk about the subject of my recentish book Denying Science.

Should anyone wish to listen to this epic, it'll be streamed live online at http://www.am950radio.com/listen-live/; you have to plug in a Minnesota zipcode -- 55437, for example -- before the site will let you listen.

For some reason I myself couldn't get that to work when doing a dry run -- perhaps the site isn't Firefox-friendly, who knows? -- but a workaround seems to be to download this link (http://www.am950radio.com/stream.m3u) and open it in your standard media player.

An alternative is to wait 24 hours or so and download a podcast version (which has the advantage of having had the ads stripped out). The podcast will be available from http://www.am950radio.com/am950-podcasts/ and http://mnatheists.org/news-and-media/podcast.

Right, now to go practice my jokes in front of the mirror.

Oh, wait a moment. This is radio, and I'll be doing it down the phone line.

Well, I'll practice them in front of the mirror but turn the lights out . . .


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Over on the Culture of Science blog, the estimable Sheril Kirshenbaum tells a tale that's both very funny and frighteningly illustrative of why the public knowledge of science is so poor.

A TV crew arrived to interview her about something in her specialist area of science, because it related to a topical news story. She expected -- perhaps naively -- that what they wanted of her was an explanation of the science.

No way. The director already had his own -- barmy -- pet theory for what was going on, and wanted her to explain that.

Her tale ends thus:

Reporter: ‘Stop, let’s reshoot. We need you to say something about the sun being a factor. And let’s get you wading into the water. Pretend you’re catching something.‘

Me: ‘Uh, the sun didn’t cause the bloom . . . and you do realize I’m wearing a dress, right?‘

Reporter: ‘You can say your reason too, but name the sun as another ‘theory’. And just look science-y.'


Unfortunately, she doesn't name names; it would be a public service if she did. Even so, go read the whole piece, share it and, the next time someone assures you that some piece of pseudoscientific garbage must be true because they heard it on the evening news, share Kirshenbaum's story with them.



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Professor David Archer and the University of Chicago, in whose Department of the Physical Sciences he teaches, have made available for free online a series of 24 lectures (well, 23 plus an introductory bittock) explaining the science of climate change in-depth but for nonscientists.

The lectures are, alternatively, downloadable from here.

It's interesting to speculate how many "climate skeptics" will take this freely available course. My guess is, of course, a cynical one -- they'd rather watch a Christopher Monckton pander to their ignorance -- but, hey, I could be wrong.


h/t Open Culture
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Back in November, Brad Johnson did an interesting piece, based on a Think Progress item (that unfortunately he seems not to have linked to) and figures supplied by the American Farm Bureau Federation, demonstrating how, largely because of global warming, the cost of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner had risen by about 13% between 2010 and 2011.

How so? Well, the price of turkey had increased by about 23% because the torrid summer had made it difficult for turkeys to gain weight, while also killing a lot of birds. The price of pecans has been shooting up in recent years -- about 22% between 2010 and 2011 -- because droughts in the southeast have been killing the crops: production was down about 50% between 2010 and 2011 in Texas and Louisiana. Those same droughts had been responsible for a doubling in hay prices, a cost reflected in greatly increased prices of dairy products like butter, cream and milk -- all likely (especially the cream!) to play a part in the Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkins had increased in price about 13% over the previous year because of flooding in the northeast, which rotted a lot of pumpkins where they grew while also encouraging the spread of fungal diseases and the like.

As for the price of the coffee diners were likely to drink after the meal? As we all know, coffee growers are facing increased infestation by pests whose habitats are migrating as well as, in an increasing number of instances, the dismal fact that coffee will no longer grow well in places where it has for generations, meaning the grower must either sell up (difficult, in the circumstances) and move to a higher latitude or stay put and switch to a different crop. Either way, the price of coffee goes up.

What we need to bear in mind is that all of these price increases, while they may sting us a little, are avoidable for us; we can take radical steps like, y'know, eating less turkey. The options for the luckless farmers are more limited. In simplest terms, the price increases represent increased hardship for the producers.

Now, the source of these various figures is, as noted, the American Farm Bureau Federation ("Classic Thanksgiving Dinner Costing More in 2011", November 10 2011), so you'd imagine the AFBF would be, on behalf of the farmers it claims to represent, campaigning vigorously for action on climate change -- the promotion of greater fuel efficiency, greener energy, and so on.

Unfortunately, no.

The AFBF is run by climate-change deniers. The extreme weather events that are driving a lot of its members to the wall are, you see, just a lot of unlucky coincidences about which nothing can be done -- or maybe, who knows, they're The Lord's Will?


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Governor Steve Beshear (D, shamefully) of Kentucky has just released his new budget.

You'll recall that Kentucky is already attracting worldwide ridicule for giving a hefty tax break to the Creationist organization Answers in Genesis to build their Ark Encounter Theme Park in the state, complete with lifesize Noah's Ark and, deo volente, real dinosaurs.

But guess how Governor Beshear is hoping to pay for this.

Why, by cutting the education budget, of course! I suppose the rationale is that, if you want people to stomach having a Creationist theme park in their midst, you need to make sure they're as stupid as possible.

According to the report in Think Progress, AiG is getting a tax break of $43 million; a further $11 million is to be spent modifying the roads near the park to cope with the anticipated extra traffic. Meanwhile, an effective $50 million is being cut from the funding of K-12 schools.

That still leaves a $4 million gap, of course, but I'm sure Governor Beshear can find a few orphanages or hospitals to close.

Incidentally, the justification for the mighty tax break is the increased tourism and jobs this absurdity is expected to bring to the state. And the figures upon which these predictions have been based? You guessed it. They've been supplied by those helpful folk at Answers in Genesis.


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A story that was briefly big in the rightish media last August was the NASA study which said that aliens, seeing our burgeoning greenhouse gases, might recognize us as a technological threat and mount a pre-emptive attack. Outfits like FOX News and Forbes leapt in with both feet, fulminating along the lines of "those wacky scientists" and "why are our taxpayer dollars being spent on garbage like this?"

Had they thought about it for more than a split nanosecond or so, they might have wondered if it could really be true that NASA had issued such a study, and done some checking.

Nope.

It was a fun study written by a bunch of scientists and bloggers to amuse their friends. One of the scientists, Shawn Domagal-Goldman, happens to be a postdoc at NASA. That's the extent of the NASA involvement.

It took FOX almost a full day to register the disclaimers being issued from all quarters, not least from NASA and the source of the original misleadingly subedited article itself, the Guardian.

This might all hardly be worth recalling -- after all, a story that FOX News and the other rightish "news" sources got something completely wrong falls into the "Dog Bites Man" category of headline -- except that, during the course of that day, FOX anchor Megyn Kelly, one of those FOX pundits you reckon is probably still learning how to read a wristwatch, put a three-question poll up on her blog. The responses to the three questions, as posted on FoxNews.com (and reproduced lovingly by Media Matters), were:

Suggest NASA find better ways to spend taxpayer money: 88%
Immediately increase efforts to curb greenhouse gases: 0.74%
Develop weapons to kill aliens FIRST: 11.26%


The adroit mathematicians among us will immediately recognize that the final figure is over 15 times greater than the one in the line before it.

Now, obviously it wouldn't be quite fair to say that 15 times more FOX News viewers are worried about alien invasion than about climate change, but it gives us at least some glimmering of an indication of the extent to which FOX News has misled its audience on the subject of climate change: clearly, to these viewers, climate change belongs, as it were, in the land of the fairies.

There is, of course, a certain degree of schadenfreude to be derived from the fact that FOX News viewers cluster disproportionately in those parts of the US that are likely to get hit hardest in the next decade or two, but that's unfair on their poor, benighted children, whose fault this is obviously not. Also, of course, people will be suffering all over the world, and some of them far worse, because of these bozoes.



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An item that for obvious reasons flew below most radars late last November was this one, reported in the Austin Statesman for 11/30/2011:


David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, was sifting through the list of charitable organizations approved for state employee donations when he was startled to see that the Institute for Creation Research was included.

Now he and several other faculty and staff members at the university are trying to get the Dallas-based nonprofit group, which promotes a biblical view of creation as science, stripped from the list.

A panel that oversees the State Employee Charitable Campaign will consider the professors' grievance when it meets Friday in Austin. The panel, known as the State Policy Committee, decides each year which charities to include on the list of hundreds to which workers at state agencies and universities can donate through payroll deductions.

The issue, in the view of the creation institute's critics, is whether it meets a requirement in state law to provide "direct or indirect health and human services."



The Institute for Creation Research is a notorious Creationist outfit -- one of the best known of all, in fact (if you have time to spare for some innocent chortling, visit its website here) -- so it's astonishing it was ever granted approval, and that no one within the Texas State Policy Committee ever rang an alarm bell while the whole application process was going through; this is, you'll recall, a state whose Governor is deafeningly proud of his fiscal conservatism in all areas save prisons and executions.

Of course, as soon as the matter was brought to the attention of the Texas State Policy Committee, immediate action was taken to redress this egregious error . . .

Er, not quite. According to the Daily Texan for December 4 the can has been kicked down the road:


The committee decided to delay a decision on the case until all charities are reviewed for next year, beginning with a meeting March 23, committee chairwoman Janice McCoy said.


I wonder if everyone will have safely forgotten about it by then?


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A report discussed by Joe Romm at Climate Progress presents some pretty stark information: during 2011, the three network evening news broadcasts spent a total of 32 minutes and 20 seconds on the single most important threat to US and global welfare, climate change.

I have no figures to back this up, but I'm willing to bet they spent more time during the year on stories about cats getting stuck up trees.

This is a shameful abnegation of responsibility by the networks and their paymasters, and explains every bit as much as the huge public misinformation campaigns mounted by the Koch Brothers, Exxon and the rest of that vile crew why the US population lags far, far behind those of the rest of the developed nations in understanding the reality of climate change and the urgent actions that need to be taken if we're not going to just sit back and watch our national economy -- not to mention many millions of Americans -- be destroyed.

Also shameful is that, as the article mentions, "The Obama administration has not discussed this issue at all." This administration, we'll recall, came into office promising to listen to science and act upon its results. Its record of keeping that promise is abysmal, but nowhere more dangerous than in the almost complete lack of action on climate change. This inaction is suicidal.

Enough of me. Romm's discussion, complete with some exceptionally useful links, is here.
 
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Another science story that came my way after Denying Science had gone to press. I've no idea why it took so long for the story to reach me, but it was worth the wait!

Bioengineered Brick Wins 2010 Metropolis Next Generation Design Prize
Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 

An American architecture professor, Ginger Krieg Dosier, 32, Assistant Professor of Architecture at American University of Sharjah (AUS) in Abu Dhabi, has won this year’s prestigious Metropolis Next Generation Design Prize for “Biomanufactured Brick.” The 2010 Next Generation Prize Challenge was “ONE DESIGN FIX FOR THE FUTURE” - a small fix to change the world. The Next Generation judges decided that Professor Dosier’s well-documented and -tested plan to replace clay-fired brick with a brick made with bacteria and sand, met the challenge perfectly.

“The ordinary brick - you would think that there is nothing more basic than baking a block of clay in an oven,” said Horace Havemeyer, Publisher of Metropolis. “Ginger Dosier’s idea is the perfect example of how making a change in an almost unexamined part of our daily lives can have an enormous impact on the environment.”

There are over 1.3 trillion bricks manufactured each year worldwide, and over 10% are made by hand in coal-fired ovens. On average, the baking process emits 1.4 pounds of carbon per brick - more than the world’s entire aviation fleet. In countries like India and China, outdated coal-fired brick kilns consume more energy, emit more carbon, and produce great quantities of particulate air pollution. Dosier’s process replaces baking with simple mixing, and because it is low-tech (apart from the production of the bacterial activate), can be done onsite in localities without modern infrastructure. The process uses no heat at all:mixing sand and non-pathogenic bacteria (sporosar) and putting the mixture into molds. The bacteria induce calcite precipitation in the sand and yield bricks with sandstone-like properties. If biomanufactured bricks replaced each new brick on the planet, it would save nearly 800 million tons of CO2 annually.


There's lots more on this story here.

last minute

Jan. 5th, 2012 09:29 pm
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One of the things I intended to do as soon as Denying Science went to press was to start posting here notices of the items that had arrived just too late for me to include mention of them in the book.

Of course, what happened next was that I was plunged into writing artist entries for the massive new edition of the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and, more importantly, writing huge amounts of stuff for my own A-Z of Film Noir (or whatever this encyclopedia might eventually be called). Plans to do anything else -- like, say, take regular showers -- took a back seat.

Even so, I've been collecting all of those items. So what I plan to do is start posting links here to some of them. Be warned: many of these stories are out of date. Or are they? Some refer to corporate entities whose efforts to increase their profit margins at the expense of our kids and grandkids haven't changed a bit in the last year or two; the misbegotten US media might judge these stories as dead, because they're, oo, months and months old . . . but, hey, our world is supposed to be depicted as if through the lenses of an adolescent with attention deficit disorder?

Whatever, in lieu of writing natty little essays about antiscientific fuckwittery, I've decided to start posting useful links to places where people are doing this far better than I ever could or where the woo is so rampant that no commentary is necessary.

Some of these pieces are a bit old. So was Galileo . . .


Congress Nixes Climate Service

GOP lawmakers deny NOAA proposal to create central information hub

By Curtis Brainard

Campaign Desk, The Observatory — November 21, 2011 03:45 PM

Congress has denied the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) bid to create a promising "one stop shop" for data and information about climate, according to a scoop in The Washington Post.

NOAA's budget request for fiscal year 2012 (which began October 1) included a proposal to reorganize its existing climate capabilities and services into "a single point of entry" for users called the Climate Service. The stated goal was to "more efficiently and effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate that helps people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses, and communities."

Despite the fact that the proposal did not call for any additional funding to establish the new office, Republican lawmakers opposed it every step of the way, according to the Post's Brian Vastag, who was seemingly the only reporter to spot Congress's decision to scuttle the Climate Service during budget negotiations last week.


Brainard has lots more to say on the subject here.




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Denying Science has finally received an Amazon review from one of the climate-change deniers.

Up 'til now the book's Amazon page has had a medium review, a goodish
(and pleasingly thoughtful) review, and a very good (but sort of fanboy) one -- about par for the course, in other words. I've been nervously waiting for the antivaxers, the homeopaths and of course the climate-change deniers to pitch in. It's kind of a relief the first one has. The reviewer in question, to judge by his other Amazon opinions, supports the views of AGW-denying types like Ian Plimer and Roy Spencer. Oh my.

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Denying Science was published last Tuesday to fanfares of trumpets, wall-to-wall media appearances, telegrams of congratulations from the publisher, phonecalls from the Nobel Committee asking -- if memory serves me aright -- if I could be "pencilled in for next year", and much more besides.

Well, the book was published, anyway. The rest happened in an alternative universe, if it happened at all.

Another event that happened in an alternative universe was the release last Monday in a beta version of the new, massive, online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, for which I've been writing some new artist entries and radically editing some old ones. Unfortunately there were teething problems getting the website technology to cope with some three million words of text, so the new beta launch date is now the 10th, this coming Monday.


(I haven't tackled nearly as many artist entries as I should have liked, because I've been busy on other things. The advantage of this beta launch is that I can add lots more in dribs and drabs over the coming weeks and months.)

And yet one more event: I've signed up with the Hal Leonard Corporation's Applause imprint to write an encyclopedia of film noir, probably to be called -- although no one's decided yet -- something like The A-Z of Film Noir or Film Noir A-Z. I'm kinda thrilled that a project I've been dreaming about and preparing for years is to be published by one of the world's leading entertainment book publishers.




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Ken Ward Jr of the South Charleston Gazette has posted a frightening piece about the fact that, in the upcoming gubernatorial contest, West Virginia's voters have this choice:
  • a moron
  • another moron
Here's how his article opens:

Well, given their earlier answers to similar questions during the primary campaign (see here, here and here), none of this should have come as much of a shock. But it’s still something to see when the anti-science attitudes of West Virginia political leaders and candidates are put out there so clearly . . .

At last night’s debate between the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates (the broadcasters group that sponsored the event refused to allow third-party candidates to take part), Hoppy Kercheval of  West Virginia MetroNews asked: Do you believe man’s actions are causing the world to warm?

Republican Bill Maloney replied simply:
We’re in a cooling cycle.

Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin said: Once again, there are differences of opinion as to whether we’re in global warming now.

Now, we all expect Republican politicians to choose the moron option when asked anything about science -- after all, their science education comes in the form of packets of high-denomination used bills from Exxon and the Koch Brothers -- but it's alarming to find a Democrat doing the same.

Proof of human beings co-existing with DINOs, I suppose . . .


h/t Climate Progress
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Pds_lit got a communique the other day from Representative Scott Garrett that she cites on her LJ blog. It's worth quoting here, too, because . . . well, read it first:

While there is little to no positive environmental impact from the regulation of CO2, the negative economic impact is tremendous. Under this regulation, facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of CO2-equivalent per year and newly constructed or modified facilities that emit more than 75,000 tons per year, will be required to acquire emissions permits. The cost of compliance will lead to higher energy prices, which will ultimately affect American consumers. The overall economic effect will be trillions of dollars and would lead to a decrease of more than one million jobs in our economy. While the nation suffers from numerous months of unemployment at 9 percent or higher, I do not believe we should seek to burden job creators with more government red tape . . .

You've guessed the reason for quoting it, haven't you?

Yep. It is complete and utter bullshit from start to finish. It's hard to know whether (a) Garrett has been entirely bought and paid for by the fossil-fuel industry and is simply regurgitating their falsehoods or if (b) he is so entirely ignorant and/or stupid (in this context the same thing, if you think about it) as to believe the garbage he's uttering.

But, hang on: we pay our representatives not to be ignorant about the issues, and they have staffers -- whom we also pay for -- to research the information for them. So, since Garrett is issuing this tripe with all the faux-authority of someone who supposedly knows what he's talking about, I have to go along with option (a).

Sooner or later there'll be a time when Garrett's kids are going to nail his head to the wall, because they're going to have to live -- or not live -- with the consequences of his eager snuffling at the trough today.






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. . . this time by Michael D. Cramer of Schwarz BioSciences for Library Journal. He seems to like the book:


Drawing examples from topics such as global warming, AIDS, evolution,
and eugenics, Grant cogently presents his case for how corporations as
well as religious and political groups can skillfully present
ostensibly scientific information that is utterly untrue or biased for
their own self-serving purposes, confusing and misleading the general
public. Of particular use to readers are the connections Grant notes
among people, news networks, and other organizations, revealing who
knows whom, with regard to each topic he covers.

His sole cavil is that "missing in this otherwise thoughtful book is a discussion about how we might improve the current situation" -- something I hadn't really thought was part of my chosen topic. But the rest of the review's so kindly that I'm not grousing too terribly much.


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