Would Scientific American Sell Out to Oil Money?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In the August 2011 issue of Scientific American is a devastating attack on the biofuels industry. I've subscribed to Scientific American for 25 years and trusted it. I feel betrayed.

The article, entitled "The False Promise of Biofuels," is a blatantly biased, one-sided and thoroughly pessimistic view of ethanol and biodiesel that misrepresents the research and leaves out important and pertinent information. "Breakthroughs remain possible," the articles says, "and the scientific quest for a better biofuel continues, but investors and politicians might be wise not to stake much money or policy on a high-risk bet." The author, David Biello, is referring to the whole biofuels industry as a "high-risk bet."

Here's another gem from the article: "Replacing all U.S. transportation fuel with corn ethanol...would require a farm three times the size of the continental U.S."

Biello is apparently not even a scientist (usually Scientific American articles are written by research scientists — specialists in their field).

I looked through the board of advisors to see who might be motivated to support such a blistering excoriation, expecting to find someone from the petroleum industry. It would not have been a surprise to see them carrying on their long-running tradition of slandering the competition (they've been doing it since the early 1900s). But I didn't find anyone obviously connected to the oil industry.

I searched through the magazine expecting to find a big ad by an oil company, but there were none.

A week later, Lilly discovered in the previous month's Scientific American issue a double page ad on the first two pages of Scientific American from Chevron, the second largest American oil company (which has been posting enormous profits).

Did Scientific American sell out? After reading about what happened to David Blume, I wouldn't be surprised.

I invite you to answer to the Scientific American article, which you can read here: The False Promise of Biofuels. Letters to the editor go to editors@sciam.com.


Anonymous,  August 27, 2011 at 8:49 PM  

I consider myself an ally of your cause, but it doesn't matter, does it, what the SA author's credentials are. All that matters is whether what is said is true or not. To focus on a person's credentials or lack of them is negative or positive ad hominem, a logical fallacy. A person can have ten Ph.D.s and be wrong on a question. Claims can be securely judged only on their own merits and demerits, not on the basis of who makes them.

I know you are extremely busy, but I hope someone is able to work up a substantive response to the SA article's claims.

Abe Shackleton August 28, 2011 at 1:36 PM  

The whole Open Fuel Standard Coalition, among them several scientists, are aware of this Scientific American article, and hopefully some of them will respond.

I understand what you're saying about ad hominem attacks, and I guess that's what I did in this article. I didn't make a substantive response because this entire web site is a substantive response and to put it in this article would have been redundant. I only mentioned his lack of credentials to point out the break from SciAm's usual protocol (the people who normally write their articles are some of the most accomplished scientists in the field they're writing about).

Rich_T December 29, 2011 at 2:03 PM  

The last thing we need to do is use corn products. We already give that industry too much money and as a fuel it would only hurt food prices.

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