February 22, 2012

#SciAm - another ethics fail

A little over a year ago, Scientific American had a big puff piece special section on electric cars. The "featured" car was the Chevy Volt, which GM itself has admitted is a hybrid, not a true electric. All ads in the section? From GM. I got in a big back-and-forth with SciAm's blogging editor, who never could see the ethical issues.

Now? A multipart series on yeast, alcohol and human cultural development that looks like it could have been sponsored by the liquor industry. One segment claimed humans domesticated grains with the primary purpose of fermenting them.

Then, the last one had this laugher: That a paleolithic cave, alongside pictures of mammoth, bison, etc., had one of yeast! How could a cave have a painting of a microscopic species millennia before the microscope was invented?

As a friend of mine said, if you substituted "shitfaced" for "exhausted" in the headline, it would be about right.

In fact, I went back there later, just to check to see if it had any liquor industry ads on the pages.

SciAm blog editor Bora Zivkovic called me curmudgeonly when I commented on Google Plus. I said I wasn't the only person to publicly question the "grains domesticated for alcohol" thesis in earlier posts in the series.

Add to this, not an ethical issue, on the surface, thought it could turn out to be. It is, though, so elementary of an error of fact it leaves open the question as to whether or not this was deliberate.

Another new SciAm blog talked about how social capital and human capital trump money when it comes to national happiness. While Costa Rica isn't rich, the story cheated by looking at the *total* GDP of a small country, rather than the per-capita GDP. Elementary error. Why? Why? (Going by purchasing power parity, according to three different standards, Zimbabwe, Liberia and D.R. Congo are third-lowest in per capita GDP; I don't doubt that none of them rank high on happiness. Costa Rica ranks at the 40th percentile from the top.)

I mean, per total countries, ranking around No. 70 is FAR better than ranking around No. 180 in per capital GDP.

No comments: