“U.S. Leads Globe in Oil Production for Third Year.”
“Major New Study Reveals Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer.”
These are just two examples of headlines that circled the world in the past week, subtracting from the sum total of human knowledge. Of course there were others: the “violent, chair-throwing riot” at the Nevada Democratic convention that turned out to have involved no violence, no chair-throwing and no riot; the long, dumbfounded pause when a group of pro-gun people were asked a hard question by Katie Couric, a pause that in reality was neither long nor dumbfounded. And on and on.
How are we to fulfill our responsibilities as informed citizens (I know, it’s a quaint concept) when the information we get is consistently wrong and/or incomplete? For starters, it helps to understand the nature of the problem — in this case the dumbness and dumberness of American journalism. First Rule: when something is happening either because of stupidity or a conspiracy, always assume stupidity. These people aren’t smart enough to maintain a conspiracy.
Consider, for example, “U.S. Leads Globe in Oil Production for Third Year.” Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the oil industry in recent years knows that can’t be true. So how can a slick website like Climate Central, “researching and reporting the science and impacts of climate change,” join the knuckle-draggers who published and believed it?
Hard to say. The Energy Information Administration report to which these articles referred had a slightly different headline: “United States remains largest producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons,” which does not mean, it turns out, that the US is biggest in both petroleum and natural gas, but is biggest when you add petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons together. Moreover, “petroleum,” as used in the EIA reporting, is not the same thing as “crude oil,” although the reporting assumes it is: “Government estimates show that crude oil production has continued to grow across the country, from nearly 8 million barrels of oil per day in 2008 to about 15 million in 2015.”
In fact, government estimates show nothing of the kind. According to the EIA, the same agency being quoted in these pieces, crude oil production in the United States has been declining sharply and steadily for a year and a half — from a high of less than 10 million barrels per day. Saudi Arabia and Russia are both pumping slightly more than 10mgd, meaning that the US is in third place, right where it’s been for years. Moreover, says EIA, world crude oil production has been declining since last November.
The only way you get the happy numbers used in these puff pieces is to change the definition of oil, to include things like biofuels, and suspend your critical faculties. Not what we want our journalists to be doing.
Now to the other journalistic atrocity, “Major New Study Reveals Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer.” No, actually, it did not. It revealed that if you bombard rats with the radio frequencies cellphones use for nine hours a day, the male rats in the group irradiated at an intensity 75 times the maximum allowed human exposure from cellphones had a slightly elevated chance of developing two types of cancerous tumors.
The study did not receive the peer review that is normal before publication,perhaps because the first few peers to look at it had serious problems with it. It had no explanation, for example, for the fact that the irradiated rats lived far longer than the control group, who received no RF radiation at all. Or for why none of the female irradiated rats developed tumors.
Frankly, I smell a rat, and so should every journalist writing and reader reading about this travesty of science, or about the oil business. .