The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Fumento

Mike Hudson gets a whole column out of an exchange with Fumento:

I decided to e-mail Fumento and gloat about his descent into ignominy. I told him that, given his positions on Love Canal and Gulf War Syndrome, it wasn't surprising to hear that he was bought and paid for by a chemical company. What sweet irony.

"Time wounds all heels," I reminded him at the end of the brief message.

Imagine my surprise when, nine minutes later, Fumento replied.

He bragged about having "exposed" Hanchette for "lying about a perfectly safe place called Love Canal." The humorless quality of his post was likely the sign of a general depression at having been so publicly disgraced, I figured, and I decided to leave him alone.

But sitting forsaken in his Washington townhouse, Fumento was fuming. He couldn't let it go. Twenty-seven minutes later, he fired off another e-mail.

"Plus, I forgot the real advantage of no longer having a weekly column," he wrote. "I can now pursue my lifelong dream of becoming editor of a pissant (sic) newspaper!"

I was reminded of the "Seinfeld" episode in which George thinks of a witty rejoinder to a competitor's barb only after the meeting has ended and he's driving home. ...

Cathy Seipp also got a whole column out of Fumento's thin skin.

I've been bemused to notice lately that these sorority slambook style attacks now come more from men than from women. One touchy men's rights guy regularly calls me some variation of a "man-hating, peroxide feminist," which always makes me wonder: Is that worse than being a man-hating, naturally platinum blonde feminist?

Fumento then posted my photo on his own website, asking, "Does this woman not look like a mouse that drowned in a bottle of Old Milwaukee?"

Other folks are also having fun with Fumento. John Fleck got this comment

Guess again, loser. Enter my name and "cell phones" into Google news and what pops up? Why, it's a column! And don't try to pretend those are the only pick-ups I got; those are the only ones so far from a column sent out yesterday that were put online and spidered by Google. I also maintained my column directly with the largest of the Scripps Howard newspapers, the New York Post. But meanwhile, you still have your little ol' Albuquerque column. Don't let anybody tell you you're just a worthless pissant. (Even if it's true...)

Alas, if you do the Google news search he suggests, you find that his column only appeared on a few web sites and not in any newspapers.

John Quiggin got this one:

"Apart from the fact that most of them have at least one individual shill or fraud already exposed (AEI with Lott, Hudson with Fumento . . . "

Please explain in your own words how I was either a shill or fraud, whereupon I will respond and shred them. It's so easy to make an accusation, so much more difficult to back it up.

Quiggin explained it, but is still waiting for the promised shredding...

And lucky me, I find that I got a response to my post on Fumento's lack of a denial of his sock puppetry

Tim Lambert, little child of the Outback, is desperate for me to post a comment on his website denying that I set up a sock puppet. For one, he'd sell his mother's soul to increase his declining blog rankings by one iota. For another, he'd succeed in making me break my vow not to post on his silly little site. So he continues to say I've made no denial since I've made none on Deltoid -- a rather egocentric view of the world to say the least. What's most interesting is the paucity of comments he's gotten on his "still no denial" charge and even the lack of interest shown by those who did comment. In other words, if I did set up a sock puppet it appears nobody but Lambert and his human sockpuppet John ("Duh, whaddya want me to say, Tim?") Fleck seems to care. Alternatively, they may not believe Lambert. Might be a reason for that, since he's played these games before and set up his own sock puppets. So again and for the last time I will deny ON THIS SITE but not on Lambert's that I have never posted under any name but my own, his ability to slap together a name with my IP address on a graphic notwithstanding. (I'll bet he spends his spare time putting actresses heads on the bodies of nude models.)

Finally Tim, if you won't get psychiatric help then at least get something else -- a life.

Those double negatives can be tricky. Maybe he was trying to deny it, but he seems to have actually admitted it.

And Bradley J. Fikes hasn't been insulted by Fumento yet, but soon will be after writing this column:

Science and traditional journalism have an important principle in common: the
concept of objectivity. Whether performing an experiment or writing a news story, the scientist or journalist is supposed to make sure one's personal beliefs don't get in the way of the facts or present a misleading picture. And when there is personal involvement, disclosure is the best policy.

Failure to meet those ethical standards is why Michael Fumento, the self-proclaimed "extremely pro-biotech" writer and acerbic conservative pundit, was dropped by Scripps Howard News Service earlier this month.


More like this

What do you make of the defense of Fumento in the Spectator? Their point is basically that he is an opinion writer even though they like to call him an investigative journalist. Am I wrong to expect that the latter require a much higher standard of objetivity than the former?

Fumento will have a hard time depicting me as part of the media conspiracy against him. Several years ago I wrote praising his debunking skills. I began to regret that later, because his writing smelled of an agenda and less-than-stellar ethics. I didn't write anything until now because I wanted to be sure before making any accusations.

(Side note: What Fumento doesn't write about is as interesting as what he does write about. Where are his articles about the threat to biology teaching from intelligent design creationism? Fumento knows science teachers aren't going to pay his bills at Hudson, and he also likely doesn't want to offend his conservative readers - or perhaps he's an intelligent design creationist himself. So much for Fumento's love for biotech, which I have been covering since 1990.)

The most damning fact about Fumento is his admission that he continued to solicit corporate contributions while writing his column. Hustling corporate cash is part of his job at Hudson, Fumento just wasn't successful at it. The Spectator article by Iain Murray skillfully avoided that issue entirely. But it was helpful in revealing Murray's (lack of) journalistic ethics. I sure won't use him as a source. Thanks, Iain! And Fumento, learn how spell your defender's name.

As I commented on Seipp's blog, Fumento, tried to sell his soul to the devil, but the devil wouldn't return his phone calls. How humiliating that must be for him!

And thanks for the link!

What a pathetic little man. I never cared for people who do anything for attention, any kind of attention. And can't wait for your post on the Aryan Spectator arty, Tim.


"... [A]bility to slap together a name with my IP address".

This can be done but don't ask a non-geek like me, how? For a while I was 'stalked' around 'blogdom' by some-one writing in my name and using my web-site address.

I'm not here to defend Fumento, although I am an admirer, but, apprapos Bradley's comment above, it seems a tad harsh to criticise and draw conclusions concerning a man for what he *doesn't* write rather than what he does!

Sorry to barge back in again, but really, that Bradley J.Fikes, I regret to write, is a pompous twerp! Journalists with a "concept of objectivity"? Do me a favour! The late, and deeply un-lamented Nikita Khrushchev, was absolutely right in one thing he once said, "There are *no* neutral men!" If Mr. Fikes thinks *he* is, he's a dollop - or a saint!

Also, I just read Iain Murray's article and, provisionally and subject, of course, to reading our host's stringent analysis, I thought it was excellent.

From Mr. Murray's article:

An opinion piece -- whether an individual op-ed or a column -- exists to promote a point of view by argument. It does not seek to establish a fact, but to win people over to a particular viewpoint or opinion.

It certainly describes his take on global warming. ;)


By John Cross (not verified) on 02 Feb 2006 #permalink

David, I've been called a lot worse than "pompous twerp", so go on with the name-calling, if that makes you feel any better.

As far as what Fumento doesn't write about, I never made it a huge issue. It is just a side note, as I said, one more piece in the puzzle of what Fumento is up to.

I have yet to see Fumento's defenders, whether here, in the American Spectator or Human Events, confront Fumento's ongoing financial conflict of interest. Contrary to the Fumento spin, the conflict is not just a one-time donation from Monsanto that paid his salary years ago.

By Fumento's own admission, his job at Hudson includes hitting up corporations for contributions. Fumento touted his column as an altruistic effort to inform Scripps Howard readers about the wonders of biotech. Thanks to Fumento, we now know that the same companies his column praised so fulsomely were solicited by Fumento himself as Hudson donors. Nothing that Javers, Lambert, Seipp or any Fumento critic wrote damns him more clearly than this unwitting admission. (Fumento's admitted failure to get donations in the last 4-5 years doesn't make him any more ethical, it just shows how ineffective he is).

This institutionalized conflict of interest means Hudson itself ranks with the sleaziest of think-tank propaganda mills, right up there with the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute. What a contrast with the Cato Institute, which did the right thing by getting rid of Doug Bandow and reaffirming its scholarship is not for sale. Thanks to Fumento, we know Hudson's "scholarship" is.

Bradley, I apologise instantly for the name-calling, not my usual style, but in mitigation, the notion that journalists, of all people, cling through thick and thin to the great ideal of objectivity is so preposterous that the words were out of my keyboard before I could stop them.

However, you remain detemined to miss the point. Try re-reading the quote that John Cross reproduces so usefully in the comment above your last one. Fumento never claims to be a scientist or physician and anyone reading his stuff, as I do, realises that fact and takes it into consideration. Over the years, he has garnered a considerable amount of information on the subjects that interest him, but he is still a 'hack', and so one reads him and then uses one's judgement on the end result. As it happens, I have dis-aggreed with him on one or two items but on the whole I find his arguments persuasive. Even if the PR director of the bio-tech company concerned really wrote his articles and then paid Fumento to sign them off, I would still read them and judge them. I suggest you and the others spend more time attacking Fumento's scientific facts if he has got them wrong, and his opinions if you dis-agree with them, and forget about who pays his wages. After all, I don't care who pays yours!


Funding matters. Heck, Bjorn Lomborg tries to use it as a stick for bashing scientists like myself, claiming we have to scare the public to secure funding for our research. How else can he smear pretty well the entire scientific community when they weighed in against all of the distortions in his book? That was his last refuge from the substantive criticisms he and his book received. The problem was that Lomborg couldn't provide a single example. Not one. Heck, my research has nothing whatsoever to do with alarming the public about anthropogenic global change, yet Lomborg's smear has been used against any scientist who dared criticize his nonsense, no matter what their field of expertise. Yet his smear achieved its goal: he managed to convince a lot of laypeople and those desperate to legitimize him and maintain the status quo, by 'deligitimizing' his opposition.

By contrast, with Fumento, we have proof. Definitive proof that he amplified the kind of nonsense that his funders wished to spread. Of course, Fumento is hardly unique in being 'bought-and-paid-for', because the same is known for many of the so-called 'contrarians' who have had to admit that they received huge stipends from industries and interests who just so happen to have benefitted from the so-called conclusions of their research. Many of the AGW climate-change sceptics had to admit this before congressional testimony in the 1990's, and have become laughing stocks amongst most of the scientific communty. Yet we still see the same names crop up again and again in reports shedding doubts on the influence of human actions on the current warming episode. Why is this? Simply because the fossil fuel lobby has been unable to 'recruit' (pay off is a better word) new names to join them in their denial. In 1996, a memo from Joe Walker of the American Petroleum Institute was leaked in which Walker stated that he wanted the industry to recruit more 'independent' scientists (independent here refers to scientists whose views are the same as most of the fossil fuel lobby - that global warming is a myth and that we should therefore do nothing about it) because the 'usual suspects' were using up their credibility in the debate. Yet the same miserable cast of characters is still being dredged up and employed today, ten years later, to deny the seriousness of climate change. The API ust couldn't 'recruit' enough scientists!

The bottom line is this: if I am a lawyer, and you pay me big bucks to represent you, who am I working for? Even if I find that you are guilty of a particular crime, am I still not working for you, trying to do everything in my power to get you acquitted, in spite of the truth? Of course funding matters, especially when we are talking about huge sums of money. Just look at the corporate money that flows into a gamut of right wing think tanks. Is it any coincidence then that these think tanks espouse and publish numerous position papers that promote the corporate perspective? Wake up man. Fumento is nothing more than a symptom of this disease, albeit an incompentent one.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 03 Feb 2006 #permalink

Tim, once again you have grasped Fumento by the balls and given them a damn good squeeze. Will he ever learn?

By Steve Munn (not verified) on 03 Feb 2006 #permalink

David, you said:

Over the years, he has garnered a considerable amount of information on the subjects that interest him, but he is still a 'hack', and so one reads him and then uses one's judgement on the end result. (emphasis added)

I think your phrase is key and while I commend you for doing this I think it is far from the norm. Thus in the general public (or at least his readership) his opinion gets taken for fact and that is where the danger lies. That Fumento does nothing to point out that he doesn't really know much about various topics makes this even worse.

Murray is another one who uses the tactic of promoting opinion as opposed to fact (until you actually try to get him to bet on global warming).


By John Cross (not verified) on 03 Feb 2006 #permalink

Well, John, I have been reading Fumento for many years and I have *rarely* seen him caught out on facts. But anyway, facts are like bricks, you can build a variety of structures with them even, sometimes, by using the same bricks! These structures are called 'opinions'. Which ones we like or dislike is a matter of, er, opinion!

Jeff, up above, does not inspire my already minimal trust in science when, as a scientist himself, he claims that Bjorn Lomborg could not name any scientific group that scared its public in order to gain continued government grants. I don't know whether Jeff's accusation is true or not, but Lomborg doesn't have to name one because anyone with more than three brain cells knows the ways of bureaucratic organisations hanging off the government teat. It doesn't *prove* (or disprove) that their science is bad, it is just a factor you take into account when judging their 'opinion'.

I thought this was a shrewd, tough, sceptical blog, so why all this soppy nonsense trying to convince us that 'hacks' and 'boffins' are whiter than white?

Hi David,

No offense taken. But the accuracy of Fumento's work was not the issue with Scripps Howard News Service. Ethics was the issue -- his lack of disclosure to Scripps Howard. Journalists have been axed for far lesser offenses.

While conflict of interest rules are a bit looser for opinion columnists (Scripps Howard, had it been informed, might have been satisfied with a disclosure), concealing a financial tie was a deal-breaker.

Fumento complains it is unfair to expect him to forever disclose a financial deal that happened just once. But he never disclosed it at all. And thanks to Fumento himself, we know that his job has a built-in financial conflict of interest, so this was not a one-time thing.

Remember, I am a reporter who also writes about biotech. I write from a non-scientist perspective, for far longer than Fumento has. So I've had plenty of occasion to dwell on these ethical issues.

I used to think highly of Fumento. I publicly praised him several years ago, even giving his Web site as a resource for debunking scientific myths. . Count me as a greatly disillusioned former Fumento admirer, one who objects both to his hidden financial agenda and his using science writing to advance his conservative agenda.

I believe science writing should stress science before one's personal ideology. For Fumento, ideology determines the politically correct way to spin the science.

A bit about objectivity: Please do not reject the idea as "preposterous." It is a useful tool to ensure a journalist is not being unfair to someone or an ideology. And if the journalist is unfair, you can call him or her on it. If you do not have that standard, anything goes. Perhaps that's the way it works in Fumento's world, but not in the MSM world Fumento wanted to be known in.

To me, objectivity means no double standards. You don't go easy on those you agree with, and switch the rules on someone you disagree with. Scripps Howard did not persecute Fumento; it enforced well-accepted journalistic standards.

As far as Fumento's accuracy, I've increasingly had reason to call it into question. For example, his coverage of the embryonic stem cell controversy has been warped. Since I cover the issue myself, I've often wondered how Fumento can make the statements he does.

Example: One stem cell expert Fumento used in his columns, Dr. David Hess, says it is immoral to use embryonic stem cells. Hess says adult stem cells can probably do whatever embryonic stem cells can do -- a view that is, to say the least, not the consensus position.

Hess, as it turns out, dislikes embryonic stem cell research in principle because of his anti-abortion views. Even if the science worked, Hess still would not use it. And Hess insinuated that embryonic stem cell research is similar to Nazi atrocities, in an article published on the National Right to Life Committee's Web site at

But Fumento just cites Hess as an expert source on embryonic stem cells without disclosing Hess' own personal dislike for embryonic stem cell research or pointing out the controversial nature of his views among embryonic stem cell researchers. He also doesn't even bother to cite a researcher who actually works on embryonic stell cells. That's bias, plain and simple. Moreover, it's a bias that fits his self-proclaimed conservative views.

I wrote a column about such distortions of embryonic stem cell research. You can read it here:

So yes, David, Fumento's firing was well-justified. And aside from that, Fumento's blatant bias made his scientific writings less than honest.

If you are looking for clear explanations of biotech from gifted journalists, try Matt Ridley or Carl Zimmer For a scientist who writes accessibly about biotech, try Richard Dawkins

"What do you make of the defense of Fumento in the Spectator? Their point is basically that he is an opinion writer even though they like to call him an investigative journalist."

Fumento is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. His bio at the Hudson web site describes him as "an author, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues" (my emphasis). There, we're also told that,

"Fumento was the 1994 Warren T. Brookes Fellow in environmental journalism at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.; a fellow with Consumer Alert in Washington, D.C.; and a science correspondent for Reason magazine."

The very institute he currently works for explicitly describes him as an investigative journalist.
Again, in Hudson's Mission Statement we're told that they are,

"a policy research organization dedicated to innovative research and analysis that promotes global security, prosperity, and freedom.... Through publications, conferences and policy recommendations, we seek to guide global leaders in government and business."

Likewise, at the web site of the Competitive Enterprise Institute where Fumento used to be a Fellow we're told that they are,

"nationally recognized as a leading voice on a broad range of regulatory issues-from free market approaches to environmental policy, to antitrust and technology policy, to risk regulation. But CEI is not a traditional "think tank." We frequently produce groundbreaking research on regulatory issues, but our work does not stop there.... We reach out to the public and the media to ensure that our ideas are heard, work with policymakers to ensure that they are implemented, and, when necessary, take our arguments to court."

In other words, the stated objectives of the institutes Fumento has, and currently is working for is to provide published reports and policy recommendations that will directly inform national policy decisions, and when necessary even fight for their implementation in the court system! these Iain Murray's idea of "opinion forums"? Does he really think that companies like Monsanto sink cash into these institutes simply because they enjoy their opinions? Oh please!

And of course, let's not forget that Fumento was not funded by Monsanto for an opinion column--he was funded for a book titled "BioEvolution" that was clearly intended to be viewed as an authority on the subject and a vehicle for undergirding the very sort of "policy recommedations" Hudson and the CEI are in the business of providing.

Yet again, Iain Murray and the American Spectator haven't bothered to fact-check any of their statements, and given the ease with which this information about Fumento can be accessed, we have to wonder how honest their defense of Fumento's activities is. I never cease to be amazed at how conveniently blind these people become when their own interests are on the line, and how seldom they back up their accusations about the rest of us with anything other than rants about "leftists".

"Heck, Bjorn Lomborg tries to use it as a stick for bashing scientists like myself, claiming we have to scare the public to secure funding for our research."

It's more than that. Lomborg basically asserts that people worldwide, first world second world and third world alike, are overly worried about the environment only because they are being pestered by scientists (in particular Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, who gets 15 references in the index to The Skeptical Environmentalist, more than nuclear power, oil, the ozone hole, or the Kyoto Protocol.)

Apparently, people who are alarmed about uranium or heavy metals or cyanide or any of the other debris from mines upstream in their water supply, people concerned about a smelter being built next door upwind, people who are worried because the local schools are built on toxic landfills because that's where the land is cheapest (currently an issue in my little town), third world mothers who see their kids get sick when unregulated businesses do mysterious things upwind or upstream that they aren't allowed to do in their first world home countries; all are only parroting the chicken Little dictates of a vast top-down conspiracy originating with Brown and a few other environmental organizations, otherwise everybody would be perfectly content and nobody would be concerned about any degradation to the environment possibly affecting them.

A conservative paper's defence of Fumento (or more correctly, attack on Javers for double standards).

I can't see what all the Fumento fuss is about, I must admit. On the one side you have spokespeople from all sorts of leftist organisations (WWF, Greenpeace etc) making all sorts of claims that go pretty much unchallenged. They promote their constituents in the same way as a rightist will.

Where's the news in that?

By Jack Lacton (not verified) on 03 Feb 2006 #permalink

Javers is not the issue. Fumento's ethics, or the lack of them, is.

The Human Events article was apparently based on the premise that if it smeared Javers enough, it would take the heat off Fumento. But since Fumento has admitted to a continuing financial conflict of interest -- his job includes raising money from those he writes about -- Javers is totally irrelevant. Nothing indicts Fumento more than his own words.

In journalism, we have a name for someone who takes money to write good things about companies: PR flacks. Done properly, a PR job is just as honorable as reporting. But mix the two by breaking down the church-state separation, and you get the unholy hybrid of Michael Fumento and his fellow thinkers for hire.

As a reporter, I respect companies like Monsanto and biotech trade organizations that let you know where you're coming from far more than those who parasitize off journalism such as Fumento.

As Cathy Seipp pointed out, the Fumentosites aren't doing good for their own professed ideology, or for the clients who pay their salaries.

It also struck me as oddly pleasing how Fumento referred to what his lack of fundraising success means in that Hudson has to pay him now out of its own overhead: "So in a real sense I'm drawing from grants I know not which."

Hiding the source of one's salary is a great way to ensure that one isn't tarting up research to please individual donors. Hudson, if it wishes to have any credibility, should make it offical policy.

I apologize for the length of these posts, but this touches me deeply. I am as pro-biotech as Fumento claims to be, and I detest the way he's debased journalistic standards by reducing this fascinating science to a financial and ideological crusade.

Well, as I explained privately to Bradley last night, I have been celebrating my wife's birthday and if I am less than coherent today that is the reason. In my absence, of course, the number and complexity of comments has increased. I can only echo what Jack writes above that I, too, cannot see what the fuss is about.

Whenever I read a newspaper, magazine or 'blog' on a serious matter of public discourse I instantly sense where the writer is coming from. Sometimes it is the newspaper concerned that gives me a clue, for example, anything in the UK's Guardian is almost certainly going to come from a Left/socialist/liberal base. Similarly, when I first started reading Fumento years ago in the American Spectator even I managed to infer that he was fairly Right-wing. For me, as a consumer of other people's opinions (having better things to do than waste my life on politics), all that 'axe-sharpening' is excellent. I can quickly pick up most of the essentials, or to be both precise and honest, I can choose to believe those polemicists with whom I am generally in sympathy, whilst always bearing in mind that they are trying to sell me a bill of goods.

Fumento is excellent in this respect. It is screamingly obvious where he is coming from, and why the commenters above need smelling salts upon discovering that Fumento is probably (actually, I'd bet the deeds of the house on it!) anti-abortion, beats me. I have never given a thought as to where his money comes from but I would have guessed, from the little I know of the Institutes for whom he works, that its source would be in big business. Good! Excellent! We should know what big business thinks and wants, especially in the fraught area of bio-technology.

At the risk of terminal tedium, I say again, I have dis-aggreed with Fumento on occasion but I still value his opinions.

At this point, it seems to me, we are hovering on the cusp of a new and very difficult subject. How are our opinions formed? Bradley, and I accept his statement in good faith, believes that his opinions are formed by scientific facts, rather like that old American TV cop who always demanded, "Just give me the facts, Ma'am, just the facts!" I would point out to him gently that it is likely to be very much more complicated than that. We all come to these disputatious matters from a myriad of directions and it is hellishly difficult to analyse quite how we came to be on any particular path. I, as you might have deduced, have always been more or less Right-wing, but for the life of me, I couldn't explain why. However, I do know that it didn't have much to do with 'facts', probably much more to do with 'gut-feeling', and it is that same 'gut-feeling' that tells me that, within his lights, Fumento is pretty straight.

David, relying on gut feeling without checking with your head often leads to intellectual indigestion. That was Margaret Thatcher's belief: she valued head over heart. As someone on the right, you should appreciate that.

You mischaracterized my views, inadvertantly, I am sure. I never said my opinions are formed by scientific facts. In most cases, that is impossible for any human. Most of our opinions are irrational.

How can one scientifically decide if Sangioveses are delightful wines? That R.E.M. is preferable to Britney Spears? That it's ethical to use animals in lab experiments? Which pub is the best in which to celebrate your wife's birthday? (Congratulations!)

What I said is that while doing science writing, I try to put science before my personal opinions. Being human, I will sometimes fail, but it's a goal worth striving for.

Personally, I care much more about the integrity of science than political opinion. Science advances when new information is uncovered. In politics, faulty ideas linger on. Consider the issue of intelligent design creationism; a view science repudiated long ago but which still persists in politics.

For me, shoehorning science into a pre-conceived opinion is repulsive and a disservice to my readers. For Fumento, it's an expected part of his job. I ask you to ponder the difference.

You still trust his reporting, but my own experience as a biotech reporter has opened my eyes to how Fumento cherry-picks to find the view he wants and stacks the deck.

As I kept finding instances of Fumento's science distortion, I lost my original admiration for him. If Fumento is wrong on subjects I do know about, in a consistently biased direction, how can I trust him on subjects I don't know?

There are many people who write about bioscience -- right, left and center -- with more accuracy and ethics than Fumento. Don't waste your time trying to pull diamonds out of the Fumento dunghill.

Re: your interest in what biotech companies say. Why not just visit their Web sites? You can get it straight from the source without the middleman. That's what I do, and with the Web, non-journos can do it as well. Many biotech companies, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), have materials written for the general public. And with them, you know what you're getting.

As always in this type of conversation, we seem to be meandering. Allow me to pose some questions to ensure that I have "the facts, Ma'am, just the facts".

1: Fumento solicited a grant from a bio-tech company on behalf of his employers because he was writing a book concerning the bio-tech business in general. True/False?

2: This book was almost certainly going to be favourable anyway because Fumento had *already*, and *before* receiving any contributions, exhibited a strong bio-tech leaning in his numerous writings. True/False?

3: The book (or more articles of the same flavour) was going to be written *whether or not* the arms-length contribution was received because that was the driving force behind Fumento's philosophy. True/False?

4: The arms-length contribution was paid in 1999. True/False?

5: Fumento began his contract with Scripps Howard in 2003. True/False?

6: *All* Op-Ed opinion writers in America, as a matter of course, *always* declare *every* source of income they have received during there working lives to any publisher they write for. True/False?

7: Shortly after writing his book, Fumento criticised the company that had provided the contribution. True/False?

Tsk, tsk! In #6, for "there" read 'their'.

And whilst I'm at it, here's another question.

7: Scripps Howard sacked Fumento without hearing his side of the story. True/False?

David, Monsanto is not a charity. If the $60,000 made no difference to anything, why give money away?

Do you think newspapers should distinguish between ads and editorial content?

And Fumento's "criticism" of Monsanto was hardly that. His column was about how mean and unfair the greens were to Monsanto and how Monsanto should not have given in to them.

Now, now, Tim, you know as well as I do that big companies have budgets to support organisations that are sympathetic to their aims and they will dole out this money to different institutes at different times. For all any of us know, they might have given that money to the Hudson Institute whether or not Fumento had written the book. (Trades Unions do much teh same thing for various Lefty mags and rags.)

Most of the sneers I read concerning Fumento are to the effect that he hardly ever succeeded in raising any money - but he still continued to write in the same vein, irrespective. Hardly the action of a man hanging off the corporate teat, unlike, say, some government-backed scientists and their 'hack' supporters who parrot *their* opinions. And Fumento *did* criticise them, whatever you say!

Surely the key question is this: Do you think it likely that if Greenpeace offered Fumento sackloads of 'readies' he would write articles damning bio-tech research? If the answer is 'no' then you have nothing to complain about.

As to your second question, the answer is that newspapers *don't* discriminate between ads and editorial ecept in layout. If the London Guardian or Daily Mail (exact political opposites) write an editorial it won't stop them earning money from ads emanating from organisations that support their editorial so long as they are legal and decent.

Honestly, for a rough, tough 'Aussie' you do seem a tad delicate concerning the ways of the world.

David, the word I used was DISTINGUISH. When you read a newspaper ads are distinguished from editorial content. They will print "advertisement" on the page if there is any chance of confusion. Why do you think that is?

Tim, you seem reluctant to answer my questions 4, 5 and 6 above, so I will try another one:

8: How many column inches would be taken up if Fumento insisted to Scripps Howard that they print above his column the name of every company that has contributed to the various institutions to which he has belonged' or belongs to now? (Remember, the subscription was not to him but to his employer.)

Tim, sorry, I failed to address *your* main point. Fumento isn't a newspaper! He's an Op-Ed 'hack'. I don't see any of his, say, political equivalents in the Guardian or the Daily Mail printing dis-claimers to the effect that such-and-such an organisation regularly drops us bundles of money in the form of advertising. Do you?

Your questions 4,5,6 are irrelevant. The contribution paid his salary, so it was to him, and it woulf have taken one sentence to disclose this in his article.

And we're still wating for your explanation of why newspapers distinguish ads from editorial content. Well?

David, I will give more details later; I am writing this on a mobile device after a long party. The crux of the issue, as I see it, is that Fumento's job involves raising cash from companies while writing reports (and a newspaper column) that serve there interests. At least in American journalism, this is considered unethical. Fumento's status as a freelance columnist gives him an out; he can disclose this conflict of interest. He did not. Fumento implicitly recognized this point when he claimed the Monsanto gift was so far in the past it did not need to be disclosed.

Fumento tried to paint his column as a labor of love, because he did it for free, and in any event had not been able to raise corporate contributions to pay his salary, so the Hudson Institute paid him out of funds raised by others.

Ethically speaking, this is no defense at all. And when Fumento began his column in 2003, the Monsanto donation was not that far in the past. It should have been disclosed so Scripps Howard could make an informed decision about whether it wanted to run his column.

Since Fumento had worked in the MSM, he knew the rules, or should have. Journos in America are routinely fired for this or far lesser transgressions. So Fumento's claim this is a witch hunt is false on its face. He did not provide expected conflict of interest information at the outset, and had an ongoing conflict while the columm ran.

Fumento's witch hunt claim is to journalism what intelligent design creationism is to science. It is rejected by nearly everyone save the extreme right wing, and not all of them are backing Fumento.

Tim, we're rapidly approaching the sort of 'Mexican stand off' you see in films in which everyone draws a gun on everyone else and waits for some-one to blink.

Thus, you dismiss my questions as irrelevant and refuse to answer them but insist that I answer your equally irrelevant point concerning newspapers and ads despite the fact that Fumento isn't a newspaper! To be honest, I'm pretty feeble and my arm is likely to drop first and I'll shoot myself in the foot!

As for Bradley (I trust his hang-over isn't as bad as mine was yesterday), I can only ask this: I know you Americans tend to be somewhat innocent, especially compared to us slithering, slippery Europeans, but was anyone in America, and I do mean *anyone*, surprised that Fumento had received an arms-length contribution at some time? My only surprise is that he didn't get more and more of it directly!

But my main point remains the same. *With or without* his 4-year-old, arms-length contribution, do you think Fumento would write anything different?

Hi David and all,

I'm home now, so answering your points will be easier. No hangover, just a severe lack of sleep due to being in a jacuzzi until 6 am.

1: True.

2: True, although I would say it was "certainly", not "almost certainly," going to be favorable. There was no chance the book would be unfavorable to biotech.

3: Possibly, and you have a misconception. The contribution was not arms-length, it was directly related to the book.

Fumento has explained that the $60,000 Monsanto grant went to his employer, the Hudson Institute, which paid most of it back to him as salary. If that donation had not been made, Hudson would have had to find another source of money to pay Fumento, or the book might not have been written.

4: True.

5: True.

6: False, but your question was phrased badly.

It has never been expected that op-ed writers (or freelance reporters, for that matter) declare all sources of income. They are expected to disclose if the sources could reasonably be construed as to have a conflict of interest connection with their assignment.

By any standard, taking money from the biotech industry and then writing about how wonderful biotech is constitutes a conflict of interest. But if Fumento had been given $60,000 by a non-biotech source to write a book about, say, the history of the Vikings in Greenland, there's be no conflict.

7: Hard to tell. Fumento called Monsanto cowardly, but not because of any inherent wrongs in its products. He said Monsanto's products are great, but it should not have backed down to those wicked environmental extremists. Monsanto would be happy if it received more criticism of this sort!

As for your bonus question, I don't know if Scripps Howard talked to Fumento before axing him. If it didn't, that would have been unfair to Fumento and careless on the part of Scripps Howard. But the basic facts are not in dispute, and Fumento has unwittingly conceded to a far worse conflict of interest.

Here's a bonus tidbit: Another conflict-ridden pundit, James Glassman, used to have a column in the Washington Post. His column included a disclosure of his many business connections. The column was ultimately dropped, but not for any ethical transgression. The reason given was that listing Glassman's conflicts began to take up too much space!

This example illustrates that the rules of disclosure are taken seriously by reputable news outlets in America. They were not invented ad hoc to bring down Fumento, as he claims.

Here's the Society of Professional Journalists's code of ethics on conflicts of interests:
Journalists should:

* Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
* Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
* Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
* Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
* Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
* Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
* Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.


Not everybody agrees with these guidelines, of course. But they do represent the views of America's most prominent journalistic organization.

One might be tempted to give Fumento a pass on the conflicts, because they are unavoidable given the nature of his job. But even then, Fumento still should have disclosed.


"*With or without* his 4-year-old, arms-length contribution, do you think Fumento would write anything different?"

You need to stop thinking of the contribution as arms-length. The relationship is direct. If you don't grasp this point, you won't understand how Fumento's job works. I am taking this description from what Fumento himself has written.

Fumento solicited money from Monsanto to write a book on biotech. The money paid his salary. Passing it through his employer didn't make it arms-length, since the money was specifically earmarked for the biotech book.

If Fumento had not raised the $60,000, the biotech book might not have been written, because the money was simply not there. And without that initial success at tapping biotech cash, Fumento might have pursued something more lucrative.

Remember, the grants are specifically tracked -- individual grants pay the salary of the person who raised the money, with Hudson taking some out for overhead.

Fumento said he is now being paid out of overhead alone. So he does not know which grants (raised by others) are paying his salary. He said this is not the way things are supposed to work at Hudson. I'd wager his job is rather tenuous.

How long Fumento can hang on depends on how patient Hudson is willing to be with Fumento's failure to bring in money. And since he has become so radioactive, fund-raising won't be any easier.

Of course, if Fumento paints himself as the victim of a left-wing witch hunt, perhaps some right-wing billionaire (Paging Richard Mellon Scaife! Paging Howard Ahmanson) will take pity on him and contribute to the Hudson Institute in his name. My guess is that's what Fumento is trying to do.

Thanks, Bradley, for 'going where no man has dared before' and replying to my questions.

I gather that the hero of the hour in 'unmasking' the dastardly Fumento is a certain Eamon Javers, so I was amused at this quote from:

"Taking a page from Javers ethics handbook, I called and e-mailed his editors at Business Week to let them know that Javers has written favorably about a lobbying firms clients after his employer, Business Forward, received money from that firm.

After numerous calls and e-mails, I was able to get through to Business Week News Editor Ira Sager and question him about Javers past relationship with Patton Boggs. He angrily said, You need to talk to the PR department. Kim Quinn, director of communications, responded, Eamon and all BusinessWeek reporters adhere to a code of ethics that strictly upholds the principles of journalistic integrity including the disclosure of conflicts of interest. We fully support Eamon in his reporting.

Its a shame that Scripps Howard didnt show the same support for Michael Fumento. More importantly, its outrageous that BusinessWeek doesnt hold its writers to one-tenth of the journalistic integrity it demands of conservative writers ...

Of course, Bradley will instantly respond, correctly, that two wrongs don't make a right, but I fail to see any wrongs in the first place, except some prize humbuggery from 'BusinessWeek'! It all strikes me as as part of 'the Great American way'. Anyway, I shall continue to read Fumento mainly because he is an entertaining writer and polemicist, but mostly because my 'gut-feeling' is that much of his science opinionating is very soundly based. However, Bradley should not fear for me, I shall still disaggree with Fumento as and when I see fit.


Author Lisa De Pasquale falsely described Fumento's relationship with Monsanto.

De Pasquale:
"The 'payment' was not made to Fumento. The grant was put toward Fumento's book, BioEvolution, which was published by the Hudson Institute.

"Javers asked if I had EVER received money from Monsanto. Sure, I said. It was a $60,000 book grant to my employer, solicited back in 1999, which was applied to pre-established salary and benefits."


Once again, the best witness against Fumento is Fumento himself.

Sorry, Bradley, I'm sure it's me but I don't quite get your point. Fumento has never tried to hide or evade the fact that his employer/publisher received a contribution from Monsanto, he just never bothered to tell Scripps Howard about it 4 years later. Nor do I see any material difference between your two quotes. The money, of course, was not for him, personally. It would simply go into the Hudson coffers from which Fumento drew his "pre-established salary and benefits." In the Hudson accounts there would also be the costs of producing Fumento's book, so in that sense, some of the money would have been ear-marked to defray that cost.

But anyway, we're arguing about the number of angels (or devils!) on a pin-head. The Hudson Institute, and several others just like it, exist on the donations of big business and, in turn, their employees draw their salaries or fees from them. So far, 'so bleedin' obvious' (as we say over here!) The only "Shock-Horror" appears to be that 4-years later Fumento never bothered to tell Scripps Howard, possibly on the basis that it was, er, 'bleedin' obvious'!

I'm sorry, but I simply cannot take this nonsense seriously, particularly as the main accuser, a young 'jack-the-lad' desperate to make his name, stands accused himself of trousering his salary and perks from big business. I have never read your journalism (but I will try to do so from now on) but I don't care where you get your money from in detail because I already sense that you will tell it the way you see it who-ever signs the cheque. I believe the same of Fumento.

You eagerly embrace unsubstantiated charges against Fumento's accuser, but try to deny factual charges against Fumento. That's the double standard I was talking about.

Read the Human Events article carefully. It did not cite any unethical acts by Javers. It only implied there were some. The direct evidence is missing.

For example, to write favorably about a company that gave money to your employer is only unethical if there was a quid pro quo. The article does not establish that.

And its headline allegation, that Javers partied with lobbyists, also does not show wrongdoing. I've partied with lobbyists myself. It's called schmoozing, and there's nothing wrong with it per se.

The two quotes I mentioned directly contradict each other. De Pasquale said the money did not go to Fumento. Fumento said "Sure," the money went to his salary.

Why you take that inaccurate article seriously is beyond me. I guess you believe whatever makes you feel good to believe. Enjoy.

Fumento did in fact try to hide the fact that Monsanto paid for his book to be written. He said he did not disclose the payemnt in his book because Monsanto asked him to keep it secret.


We still haven't seen any disclosure of your funding and the funding of any institutions you work for (for at least the past five years). How do we know you aren't funded by neo-nazis or some such? As you have shown, funding is extremely important to credibility, and I am sure you want to maintain your own credibility.

Thanks in advance.

You should be embarrassed to use such a cheap, non-responsive debating tactic. Do any of the Fumento defenders have anything better to say than
"I say it's spinach and I say to hell with it"

And David, Fumento's failure to disclose his conflict to Scripps Howard is an ethical violation
in American journalism. no matter what the rules are elsewhere. This seems strange to you. but dems the facts.

Perhaps Terry could tell us where he gets the money to afford internet access and so comment on blogs?

Disclosure: This comment funded by a non-corporate day job and a little speculative trading in land mines and tainted antibotics for third world markets.

Two points:

David, your argument, "But Lomborg doesn't have to name one because anyone with more than three brain cells knows the ways of bureaucratic organisations hanging off the government teat" is purely a straw man. I don't know how to credibly argue against it, because it is so inane and vacuous without any form of substantiation. You might just as well say now that it would be better to submit grant proposals to US government agencies arguing that global warming is non-anthropogenic and thus natural, and the funding is likely to come because of the current administrations hostility to the AGW phenomenon. This is the same kind of ridculous argument employed by the political right to defuse any kind of cogent criticism. Don't provide facts; simple smears will suffice. If someone dares to attack the behavior and policy of the established order, then just call them 'conspiracy nuts' and you've won. This was exactly the type of tactic used to undermine critics of the Iraq war (which was pure and simple aggression, if one recites the Nuremburg trials overseen by S attorneys Robert jackson and Telford Taylor).

You lost big time on this argument, Dave. Herewith I suggest you take your empty points to the Competitive Enterprise Institute or Center for the Defense of Free Enterprse, where its the norm. They'll be sure to employ you.

Z, your arguments were even more inane. Straight from Dave's book: deligitimize the opposition by claiming that too much attention is paid to organistations like the Worldwatch Institute, which has a budget that is puny compared to that of the CEI and the other thousands of libertarian think tanks on the corporate payroll. Don't offer any scientific evidence for the current state of the biosphere, merely claim that bodies like the WWI are spreading doomsayer myths that you think are bunk. You are even worse than David. What on Earth do you know about climate change? Biodiversity loss? Forest quality? Acid rain? The relationship between the health of civilization and the life-support services emerging from nature? Have you spent time researching any of these areas, or does your inherent political bias cloud you judgement?

I would debate either of you on issues in which I do have some expertise (like the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem servcies in permitting human existence and the current deteriorating state of these systems) but you prefer to read know-nothings like Fumento because it more closely fits in with your world view. That Fumento has no basic understanding of natural systems is immaterial: he argues that business-as-usual is the only business, which you so desperately want to hear. That he, like many in the structurally corrupt media receive huge stipends from industry with clear vested interests in 'denial' is irrelevant to you.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 05 Feb 2006 #permalink

I was not intending to rejoin this debate on the grounds that it had run its natural course and as no-one was sending me any cheques, why bother. But then, 'Jeff' Harvey, above, touched a nerve!

'Jeff', I forgive you on the grounds that you could not have known what I am about to disclose, and also because I suspect you are an American, but I must tell you that I am the Founder, President-for-Life and so far, alas, the sole member of S.A.D. (Society Against Diminutives). I am now, and always have been, an immense admirer of *nearly* all things American but this habit of reducing people's Christian names to a single syllable grunt is imperialism of the worst kind.

Should this comment lead you to suspect that I do not enjoy a particularly full social life, you would be right!

David Duff


I just noticed your kind aside about my telling it the way I see it, "regardless of who-ever signs the cheque". Thank you.

By the way, here are two more instances of American journos getting axe in just the last week: One, a reporter/copy editor made rude comments about blacks on his blog, as well as made fun of people who tried to get coverage.

Two, a sports reporter was fired after admitting to giving the lowest possible score in judging an athletic contest to someone she didn't want to win.

My point is that journo sackings for ethical breaches happen all the time in America. Contrary to what Fumento says, conservatives getting axed for non-disclosure are just one part of this story.

And yes, Americans may be more innocent about such ethical breaches than those in Dear Old Blighty, as this famous verse seems to imply:

"You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British journalist.
But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to."

Humbert Wolfe

Mr. Harvey

Did you read the comment by Z? It was satire. Take a deep breath.


Thanks JP. I got up on the wrong side of the bed. Apologies to you and Z.

I am touchy when people start using strawman ad homs to support their tenuous hypotheses. Its pretty easy to smear the vast majority of scientists with the usual refrain, "You guys say what you do because you exist on grant money and government handouts!!!". No evidence needs to be procured to substantiate this smear, its just enough to state this as a form of broadcast deligitimization. It was Lomborg's last refuge because he knew that most scientists would disagree vehemently with his conclusions. Owing to the fact his puny credentials are almost non-existent in any of the fields he superficially covers in his book, he knew that his only chance at retaining credibility would be to suggest that we scientists have a vested interest in our research in which our bank balances are bloated if we irrationally scare the public with environmental scares that he argues are overblown or even non-existent. None of my research has had anything to d with alarmism, but to better understand how communties and ecosystems assemble and function. I won't deny that I beleieve that there is sufficient empirical evidence to show that the welfare of human society depends on the health and vitality of these systems and the services that freely emerge from them, but this is hardly controversial. I criticized Lomborg's book because his conclusions are not supported by most empirical studies and they lull us into a false sense of security. Moreover, he excludes the natural economy in most of his so-called 'calculations'.

Winston Churchill once said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before truth puts on her boots". Thus, if something is said often enough and with enough conviction, it becomes accepted even if it is based entirely on supposition.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 06 Feb 2006 #permalink

1) Tim believes that a person's funding is extremely important to assessing that person's credibility.

2) Tim refuses to disclose his own funding.

Obvious conclusion:

Tim is a hypocrite.


Tim is hiding something.

Umm Tim, I think Terry's only got one point to make. And he's gonna keep making it regardless of the data. And I bet he could also blow a lay down misere while making it.


Thanks for the "about" link. I had checked that before I posted and it only talks about who you have worked for. In your criticisms of Milloy, however, you use the term "funding" much more broadly. You use it to include money given by Monsanto to the institution that employs Milloy. That is what I was asking for from you, the people who give money to the institution you work for.

Footnote: in your posts, you mention that the money Monsanto gave to Milloy's institution was "folded into" his salary. Does this mean that his salary was increased by the amount of the money given (in which case, it would be essentially equivalent to Monsanto giving the money to Milloy)? If so, my point may be off-base, and an apology (from me) may be in order.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Feb 2006 #permalink