Notes October 27th


"Smart Choices and Jiffy Pop"
"Calculating Carbon Emissions"
"Polar Bears at Sea"
"Manufacturing Sugar and Cynicism"
"Scientist Falsified Data, Embezzled Research Funds, and Illegally Bought Human Embryos -- But is Very Popular"
"Corporations, The Working Stiffs, The Rebels"
"Transparency: A Solution for Research Bias or A Refuge for Secrets?"

  • Smart Choices and Jiffy Pop: If a rudderless man seeking fame can enthrall a whole nation -- the leader of the free world, at that -- with what Frank Rich referred to as an "supersized Jiffy Pop bag", we could bet that the largest food companies in said nation could easily pass off junk food like Froot Loops cereal as "Smart Choices". And so they did (or do).

    When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that it would scrutinize food labels in the "Smart Choices Program", have a look at the ingredients in "smart choice" sugary treats like Cocoa Crispies cereal, the program's leaders suddenly announced they would "suspend" operations. Let Frank Rich judge us smug, but we should award "Smart Choices" companies, along with balloon boy fiasco participants (viewers and all), with hearty back slaps for shamelessness.

    "Smart Choices" had been under heavy fire since its inception, and no one, not even FOX Business News, thought the program was anything but "a cynical way" for food manufacturers to sell products -- "dumb and dumber", as John Stossel put it. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called out Kraft for putting the "Smart Choices" logo on its Strawberry Bagel-fuls -- confections chocked full of cream cheese, sugar and red dye. So program's taking a hiatus and getting out of the heat, at least for now.

  • Calculating Carbon Emissions: Scientists and policymakers who rely on biofuel carbon emission calculations to set policy have been using figures that underestimate total emissions, according to an article in last week's issue of Science (Searchinger et al. "Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error": Vol. 326. no. 5952, pp. 527 - 528). The current estimates ignore "CO2 emitted from tailpipes and smokestacks when bioenergy is being used", and also ignore "changes in emissions from land use when biomass for energy is harvested or grown." The errors will increase deforestation, the authors report, because the resulting incentives favor clearing established forest to plant biomass. Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF's) Chief Scientist Steven P. Hamburg told the Washington Post: "We made an honest mistake within the scientific framing of the debate, and we've got to correct it to make it right". Both the Waxman-Markey and the Kerry-Boxer energy bills include the miscalculation. Bioenergy and biomass company representatives loudly disagree with the Science study's conclusions, insisting that biomass is "carbon neutral". But of course we know that that's not true, nothing is carbon neutral -- not cars, not electric buses, not biomass. An "emissions free" electric bus, for instance, is filled with seats and upholstery and metal and paint that produced emissions during manufacturing, assembly, and transport. Emissions accounting is only reliable when it includes all the emissions produced over the full life cycle of the product.

  • Polar Bears at Sea: The US Fish and Wildlife Association in the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed to set aside 128 million acres for the polar bear, following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Greenpeace. Simultaneously, the Minerals Management Service, also in the Department of the Interior, approved oil-company plans for exploratory drilling in the polar bear's habitat in the Beaufort Sea. Brendan Cummings, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity called The Interior Department "schizophrenic".

    Image Copyright Greenpeace/Daniel Beltrá (via Google Images "labeled for reuse" search).

  • Manufacturing Sugar and Cynicism: If you feel sad about the loss of "Smart Choices", rest assured that there's more where that came from. Coke and other food manufacturers have launched the "Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation", which advises people to exercise more in order to balance sugary, fatty food and soda intake. The food industry insists the sugar is not the culprit in the obesity epidemic, lack of exercise is. Acronym Required wrote about this industry strategy against soda critics in 2005.

    Now with governments raising the specter of taxes on sugary drinks, Coca-Cola has introduced its own little "smart choice" -- a smaller can of Coke, containing 90 kilocalories per serving. Coke markets its "portion-control option" as one that will help people "manage their calorie intake while still enjoying the beverages they love". Sort of like like our preferred way of dealing with carbon emissions -- don't lower them, just figure out a way to store them, deny them, or incorrectly calculate them.

  • Scientist Falsified Data, Embezzled Research Funds, and Illegally Bought Human Embryos -- But is Very Popular: Hwang Woo-suk was a national hero in Korea after he claimed he had cloned stem cells. Then a long investigation involving co-researchers in the US and Korea found that his lab falsified data -- he had not cloned cell lines, as we noted in "The Emperor Has No Clones". Now, not only has he falsified data, a South Korean court has now found scientist Hwang Woo-suk guilty of embezzling research funds and illegally buying human embryos.

    The Korean government long ago revoked Hwang's title of "Supreme Scientist" and stopped selling Hwang Woo-suk postage stamps. But the fraud-besotted scientist hardly missed a beat. Since the court's last finding of guilt, Hwang Woo-suk published papers and started a research foundation -- Sooam Biotech Research Foundation. As a professor at Sooam put it: "Dr. Hwang has conducted his research tirelessly under terrible conditions." And despite his crimes, Dr. Hwang attracts tremendous public support. Hundreds of "hard-core fans" were waiting outside of court, and "dozens of lawmakers filed petitions asking the court for leniency", according to the Los Angeles Times.

  • Corporations, The Working Stiffs and The Rebels: Michael Moore's recent movie "Capitalism: A Love Story" reminded people about Dead Peasant's Insurance, which may be the ultimate indignity to workers in the super-capitalist world. But the workers sometimes find ways harangue corporations. The Guardian looks at the campaign of a 92 year old's "gripe site" against Shell, as well as the Twitter campaign against Trafigura and social media's impact on so-called corporate responsibility.

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