Our discussion Wednesday night of the Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling’s 5-part series, Altered Oceans, in the L.A. Times in summer 2006 was much less enthusiastic than I thought it would be. This series is my pick for exemplary science writing, so maybe I’m feeling miffed. Or surprised. Or confused. The comments ranged from criticism of the red tide piece (Part 3 – Dark Tides, Ill Winds) as not being accurate or in-depth enough to the piece on plastic not being innovative enough (Part 4 – Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas). On the plus side, the description of domoic acid poisoning and Pseudo-nitzschia gained praise for clarity — making an arcane subject accessible (Part 2 – Sentinels Under Attack).
We were slated to discuss this series the week before, but we ran out of time. When we walked into class that evening, some of us agreed that reading the series made us angry, frustrated, depressed. Some criticism of the piece said it did not look at other causes rather than human-engineered ones, that the result of the article was to guilt-trip humans. I wonder if the reaction against science that delineates the environmental troubles we’re in stems from a desire to just not entertain our own guilt. We are guilty. Immensely. We have such a sacred trust to take care of this planet. How do we honor that trust?
In the discussion about the Eastern and Western garbage patches (“patch” fits about the same way that “spill” did for the BP oil carnage), someone mentioned the dumping of thousands of yellow rubber ducks from a container. I found the reference — Donovan Hohn’s Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. Gotta love the Rabelaisian title. I just got it from the library and am about to read the first chapter before I go grade papers.
Also, there was some disparaging of journalists, but I think it’s important to note that the Altered Oceans series was awarded a George Polk award for environmental reporting in 2006 and a Pulitzer Prize award for explanatory reporting in 2007.