I nominate Will Saletan’s Slate article Unhealthy Fixation for Food Essay of the Year. Happily there are many other readers with an appreciation – as we can see in the left-pictured social feedback indicators (captured June 20th). Myself, I was alerted to Saletan’s Slate Plus publication by a Nuzzel notification that more than six of my curators had collectively voted Will’s essay best of the week.
On my iPad the Nuzzel curator icons stretched all the way across my screen. At the moment it looks like this, but this is only of four Nuzzel picks of the same article (I don’t know why Nuzzel shows separate entries for the same article).
In fact I’ve never actually seen so much enthusiasm for a just-published article. Since then my available reading minutes have been absorbed reading the various discussions that have erupted from the original.
So why is Saletan’s essay so unusual? Why don’t journalists routinely deconstruct the daily volume of pseudoscience attack on the genetic engineering process?
- Editors don’t like long, complicated articles.
- Especially articles that question the received wisdom of the NGO elites such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Consumers Union, Union of Concerned Scientists.
- Writers have to pay the rent – Will says “I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence.” Gathering, analyzing and verifying this much evidence would have been a job of many, many hundreds of hours. At some point Will persuaded Slate to assign interns Natania Levy and Greer Prettyman to assist with the research.
- Reputation return to the writer? I asked Nathanael Johnson, author of the very valuable Grist series Panic-free GMOs, about the value proposition for a writer “If I rebut every activist claim there’s no time for…insert priority.” Nathanael replied “Also, more risk less reward in cultural capital in doing that kind of rear guard policing”.
I thought I would write a tweet or two quoting from Will’s article. Hmm… this is so tightly written that every other sentence is quotable. But the value of every sentence is built from the fabric of the analysis and argument. Clearly the best time value for you, dear Reader, is to focus your attention on the original essay which is subtitled “The Misleading War on GMOs: The Food is Safe. The Rhetoric is Dangerous”. And if you have time to listen before you read, I recommend listening to Will read his essay – you’ll enjoy the 65 minute podcast.
The bottom line, I think, is that it’s very risky to do what Will Saletan has undertaken. Let’s try to improve the odds that Will’s rewards justify the risks he took. Buy the Book! And for sure follow Will Saletan on Twitter. Enjoy Will’s engagement with the critics:-)