The Junkman, Fox News and the Union of Concerned Scientists

A study in careless, unprofessional journalism

Since he took office as President of the United States, George W. Bush has had at best a strained relationship with the scientific community. Though his defenders would dispute it, he has essentially adopted a blowtorch policy toward the environment. He has also run roughshod over the recommendations of renowned scientific committees and review boards in areas where his religious and/or ideological views conflicted with those of mainstream science. Countless examples could be presented—his "healthy forests" initiative which runs afoul of just about everything that is currently known about forested ecosystems and fire, his policies on global warming mitigation, his decision to replace two pro-stem cell researchers on the President's Council on Bioethics with three members opposed to research, his opposition to science based salmon recovery policies in the Columbia and Snake River watersheds in Washington State and the Klamath Basin in California, and many more.

On Feb. 18 of this year, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a statement, and an accompanying report, protesting the Bush administration's handling of science in public policy (UCS, 2004). In it they called for legislative reforms to restore scientific integrity to federal policy. According to the report, the administration has suppressed scientific findings from federal agencies, taken actions that have undermined the quality of scientific advisory panels, and even distorted established scientific data to the extent of promoting faulty research from advocacy groups funded by industry and extremist special interests at the expense of established peer-reviewed consensus. It was signed by over 60 of the world's leading scientists, including 20 Nobel Laureates.

On Feb. 27 Fox News ran an editorial by Steven Milloy attacking the UCS report (Fox, Feb. 27, 2004). Milloy, who is also known as "the Junk Man" in reference to his "Junk Science" web site, has a long and checkered history. He got his start in the early 90's as a lobbyist for the Philip Morris Company, where he was contracted at top dollar rates to lobby against the substantial body of scientific evidence linking second hand smoke to lung cancer. From there he moved on to a number of other anti-environmental front groups such as the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), the Environmental Policy Analysis Network,, and numerous lobbying and public relations contracts with clients in various polluting industries. Along the way he has waged war at one time or another against climate change science, clean air, public health laws, food safety regulations, and much more. He is known for the extreme viciousness of his attacks on those whose views do not support his or those of his clients 1.

He is also Fox News' primary source of "information" and commentary on science related subjects, and the UCS report is no exception. The editorial, titled "Enviros commence election-year attack", reveals much about Milloy's quality of scholarship and that of Fox News as well. Like so much else Milloy has written, there is little here worthy of comment. The editorial consists almost entirely of cheap shots at "left-wing, eco-extremists" and their "anti-biotechnology, anti-chemical, anti-nuclear, anti-defense and anti-business screeds", and irrelevant anecdotes - not a single one of which is properly cited to any source in a manner that would allow it to be investigated by a thoughtful reader.

One of his claims sticks out however. In a moment of carelessness, Milloy inadvertently made a statement that actually can be investigated, which allows us to examine the quality of his research. He tells us that,

"The UCS report was issued along with a statement - signed by 12 Nobel Prize winners - protesting the Bush administration's alleged 'misuse of science.' I suppose UCS' hoped the Nobel laureates would add gravitas to its silly report."

This comment caught my eye immediately because it was well known that the statement had been signed by 20 Nobel Laureates, not 12. Where, I wondered, did he get the figure of 12 from—a seemingly random number that had little resemblance to the actual one?

The release of the UCS report was accompanied by a press release, which can be read at their web site at, That press release revealed was followed at the bottom by a list of signatories that included 12 Nobel Laureates. Aha, I thought—this appears to be where Milloy got the figure of 12. However, the list began with a heading that read, "Among the statement signers are". Now to a careful reader, these words would imply that the list to follow was a partial one. Furthermore, it stands to reason that in addition to the press release, the UCS web site would also provide access to the full statement and report themselves, and that these would include a full list of signatories. A check of the same web page revealed a link to the full report, available at from where it can be read in part, or downloaded in full in PDF format. A check of this page reveals a link to a full list of signatories at This list had the expected 20 Nobel Laureate signatories.

Once I had found and read the press release, it took me a mere 2 mouse clicks and less than 40 seconds to find the full signatory list at the same web site. This was apparently too much work for Milloy. It appears that upon learning of the UCS statement, he went to the UCS web site, found the press release and the partial list at the bottom, and immediately flew off the handle and went to press with the figure of 12 Nobel Laureate signatories before bothering to even read the heading the partial list began with, much less invest 40 seconds worth of research himself! And Fox News, whose scholarship and professionalism are no better than his, was only too happy to rush to press with his editorial without investing another 40 seconds of their own. After a blunder of this magnitude, Milloy goes on to say,

"But none of the Nobelists have any notable expertise in any of the public policy issues raised in the report. A Nobel Prize for accomplishment in particle physics or retrovirus research doesn't automatically translate into expertise on global warming and other regulatory issues."


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