I have been asked recently why I blog on the Huffington Post. The question has come from a friend as well as a journalist, on Twitter, who suggested that I am taking food off his plate. My response is that I have ideas to share and the Huffington Post has an engaged audience willing to read what I have to write, and a venue to share my thoughts, neither of which were offered to me by other outlets.
As many of you know I have a personal blog, where longer, more fully-referenced versions of my Huffington Post pieces can be found. That being said, I use the Huffington Post to present shorter versions of my posts because this blog gets thousands of views while my personal blog only sees hundreds.
In the last six months I have written blog posts on the Overblown risks of synthetic soccer fields,the Nocebo Effect and Electromagnetic hypersensitivity, Wi-Fi in schools, Local is not always better in agriculture, and why I support the Energy East pipeline .
As you can probably guess by reading that list, I appear to have made a habit of poking some angry bears and most weeks have seen me on the receiving end of a good deal of vitriol.
The most common comment is that I am a shill. Well maybe I am, but I am not a paid shill in the thrall of some corporate interest. Rather, I think of myself as an unpaid shill for good science and evidence-based decision making. Because as a citizen I have an interest in how good science can allow us to move towards better decisions and how a misuse of science can have real, negative repercussions.
Consider some of the topics I have addressed in the last year.
The existence of all-weather soccer fields at our local park mean that our soccer organization can use our fields up to 18 hours a day virtually year-round. As a child I remember soccer regularly being rained out and portions of our fields being mud-holes by early November. My children, meanwhile, can play almost every weekend on safe fields that give true bounces and result in fewer injuries.
If we allow unsubstantiated fear to force us off these fields, field availability (dependent on the natural fields) will decrease substantially. Fewer kids will get a chance to play and the smaller number of children will get to play fewer games. If there are fewer spots to play, soccer will become more exclusive and given the nature of our society the hardest hurt will be those with the fewest resources. My kids will do fine, but others will not be as lucky and our society will be worse off as a consequence.
The presence of Wi-Fi in school means that my kids can have access to teaching resources that were unheard of in my days. These resources are regularly threatened by individuals who don't even appear to know what band of the radio spectrum Wi-Fi is broadcast on.
Eliminating Wi-Fi in the classroom to assuage unalloyed fears will eliminate those teaching resources. Once again, because our school has the resources my kids will probably be fine while the schools with the fewest resources will be hit the hardest. Schools that are told they cannot use Wi-Fi and cannot afford to hard-wire ethernet connections will be left in the dark.
Finally to go to my personal bugbear (the topic that finally drove me to speak out), I have watched local and international activists fighting oil and gas pipelines while doing nothing to address our society's use of fossil fuels. We know that the safest, most environmentally responsible way to get fossil fuels to market is via pipelines and the least environmentally responsible ways are via rail and/or truck. These misguided activists, meanwhile, work hard to block our pipelines while doing little to curb even their own personal consumption of fossil fuels. So while we transition away from fossil fuels I will continue to work to ensure that we use the safest modes of transport in order to protect our joint ecological heritage.
To conclude, my intention in my blogs is not to court conflict. Rather, I want to highlight the misuse of science in environmental decision-making. The reason for this is simple. We live in a world of limited resources and when we make bad decisions we foreclose on opportunities. The best way to get to good decisions is by looking at all the data and all the alternatives. I see my role, as a shill for good science and evidence-based decision making, as helping make good decisions possible. Thankfully the Huffington Post provides a widely-read venue to let me get my message out.
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