Davos Newbies Home

From high to low 

Hugh Greenway has a balanced report on last week’s World Economic Forum extraordinary annual meeting by the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth: “I also heard in the corridors a recognition that there was in fact a new groundswell in Arab lands for economic and political reform that might really lead to something new if only the Americans would really nudge and encourage rather than trying to impose.”

Taking the Times to task 

Felix Salmon conducts a forensic examination of the post-Howell Raines New York Times’s contorsions to be politically even-handed.

“But obviously, the New York Times is no longer the place to look for campaigning journalism, if it ever was. Its grand old franchise has been damaged, and it’ll probably be a while before it once again allows itself to speak out on the news pages when it sees injustice. The idea that journalism should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable has no place on 43rd Street right now.”

And Felix explains why this is so important right now. “The Republican party has made a whole strategy out of spouting complete garbage with such volume and conviction that the news media feel compelled to report it as though it makes sense. Let us hope that the New York Times doesn’t lose its respect for the facts along with its appetite for controversy.”


Hugo Young, one of the best political columnists in the UK, reflects on his art in today’s Guardian. “Reporting is the bedrock of journalism, while columns seem more like the shifting sands of tide and fashion: undisciplined, unreliable and possibly, in the basic scheme of things, unnecessary.”

GM genes 

The reporting of science shouldn’t always be like other reporting: one side says this, the other side says that. As the UK science advisor once told me, there are some certainties in science about which there can be no dispute: the date of the next solar eclipse is a certainty, not a theory.

But even in areas where there is controversy, few writers have the strength or knowledge to really report the science, rather than what people are saying about the science. So kudos to Ian Sample who actually read the single scientific paper that led former environment minister Michael Meacher to proclaim that genes from GM food could get into our gut bacteria.

Sample: “[The] study found that while fragments of genes from genetically modified food might be taken up by gut bacteria, whole functioning genes were not. The finding led the authors to conclude that the effect was unlikely to pose any health risk.” That’s not what Meacher implied in his discussion of the same paper.

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