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Environment

The Atlantic Serves Up Alarmism & Jumbled Science

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 11, 2012 12:15 AM

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I'm making a decree: Food columnists should no longer be writing about anything other than recipes and restaurants. When they stray from their area of expertise, what results is too often ugly and harmful to the public interest. For example, I've previously pointed out where some food writers go badly off the tracks. The latest example is this piece by Ari LeVaux published online by The Atlantic, titled:

The Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods

That scare-mongering headline alone is inexcusable. (Atlantic editors, why?) But then what follows, as Emily Willingham amply shows in her blog, The Biology Files, "is a remarkably confusing article." She thoroughly deconstructs the muddled mess that Levaux makes of this recent study. In fact, LeVaux makes such a car wreck of his article that you have to wonder how it happened (no fact-checking by The Atlantic for online pieces, I'm guessing), and why they would let a food columnist make mincemeat of science this way. Willingham and LeVaux had an interesting exchange at The Atlantic site (in the comment thread of his article), where he dismissed her critique as "nitpicking" and she responded by saying:

Your presentation of the science leaves not only a lot of room for "nitpicking" but also about an office building's worth of room for correction. If you are aware of your lack of knowledge, it would have been a good idea to have run your information by someone with greater insight and experience so that you could have avoided embarrassing yourself in this way.

I'd say The Atlantic should feel equally embarrassed, and might want to consider applying some of the print magazine's quality control standards to its online content.

UPDATE: On Twitter, LeVaux thanks Willingham and says he's "re-writing the piece with corrections."

UPDATE: Charlie Petit, writing at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, says The Atlantic story "has the smell of inflammatory nonsense."

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