Need more dead ducks

Interesting post by Brad Plumer on the surprisingly low level of media coverage of the Gulf oil spill relative to other major oil spills.  Main conclusion– we need more dead, oil-covered ducks.   Plumer's explanation:

So what accounts for the difference? Imagery, for one. After the
Exxon Valdez disaster, you had scores of images of ducks and otters
slathered in crude. There were

pictures of dead whales washed up against gleaming black rocky
beaches. It was lurid—and impossible to ignore. By contrast, Brulle
points out, not nearly as much oil from the BP accident has reached the
shores of the Gulf Coast yet. Even groups like Greenpeace have only been
able to rustle up a few
pictures
of a handful of ducks covered with oil. That's not the sort
of thing that drives TV coverage. And it may mean that the current
spill makes far less of a dent in public opinion than past disasters
have.

Part of the explanation here is that BP has been quite deft at
managing appearances. For one, they've poured more than 300,000 gallons
of chemical dispersants to break up the oil before it can reach the
beaches, causing it to sink down to the sea floor. In some cases, these
dispersants may be
more harmful
, ecologically speaking, then letting the oil
wash ashore. We don't know what is in these chemicals and there's a very
high potential that they could do a lot of damage to the food chain in
the Gulf. That's precisely why Exxon was constrained from using
dispersants in Prince William Sound back in 1989. But, from BP's
perspective (and the Obama administration's), avoiding the sort of
graphic imagery that Exxon had to deal with in Alaska has an undeniable
appeal.

Whole thing sounds damn unfortunate, and I suspect Plumer is very much right.  The media loves good visuals, and when they are there, they drive a story.  Good stories with weak visuals (i.e., oil causing catastrophic effects under water) just don't get the coverage they deserve.  My favorite anecdote on this point (probably mentioned before) is that there was actually a single story describing the abuse at Abu Ghraib months before the scandal broke.  Nobody cared.  Show us pictures of naked pyramids, though, then you've got a different story.  Time for some more oil-covered marine life!

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The Neanderthal in me

Perhaps you heard the recent news that scientists have now sequenced the Neanderthal genome and found, contrary to earlier belief, that Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals did, in fact, interbreed.  Most modern humans have anywhere from 1-4% Neanderthal DNA.  Interesting, those of pure African ancestry have none, as scientists hypothesize that modern humans and neanderthals had some level or inter-breeding after early humans left Africa somewhere around 80,000 years ago.  These interbred populations than spread all over the world, leaving only those of pure African ancestry lacking any Neanderthal DNA.  Here's a great story on it from Quirks and Quarks

I found this recent news especially timely, as I was just finishing Robert Sawyer's, Hybrids, the third and final book in his "Neanderthal Parallax."  In this final book, a human an Neanderthal character actually try to create a hybrid child.  The basic premise of the series is that 40,000 years ago the earth split into two parallel worlds– one of which we know and the other in which Neanderthals became the dominant species.  Through a quantum computing experiment the two worlds join and the species meet.  The first two books are great speculative Sci-Fi, creating a richly imaginative vision of what a Neanderthal world might be like.  The third was superfluous, actually, but worth finishing off the series.  Anyway, the novels didn't need to create a hybrid, because we already have them– us. 

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