Monday, September 20, 2010

Digging by the Daily on "Troubled Waters"

The Daily has a great story out today on the "Troubled Waters" fiasco. They dug up some interesting new information.

First, Karen Himle spoke to them. She'd been refusing to comment. And her comments reveal that her concerns were editorial. According to the Daily, she

"watched a copy over Labor Day weekend, [and] what she saw unsettled her. The contents of the film were a long way from what the title, “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story,” led her to expect, Himle said. Her concern began when she saw a commercial sign for Organic Valley’s dairy farm. “Typically, in an institutional documentary you wouldn’t see a commercial interest,” Himle said. A few minutes later the film walked through the practices of Thousand Hills Cattle Company. Both companies, which use alternative methods of farming, were shown favorably, Himle said. There was also a scene at the Walker Art Center that discussed local food. “Now I’m thinking, well, OK, so now where’s the river? Because we’re getting an awful lot of commercial conversation,” she said."

Let me connect the dots for you, Karen. Agriculture is responsible for much of the run-off that is damaging our waterways, so to understand what's happening to the Mississippi River, the film had to cover that. And alternative farming methods that reduce run-off offer some solutions for this problem.

Another piece of interesting new information is that a cabal of deans at CFANS also previewed the film and were dismayed by what they saw.

"Levine said questions were raised about the impartiality and the scientific accuracy of the documentary. “I’m not a scientist in this particular area. I was just looking at balance, and it seemed unbalanced,” he said. Greg Cuomo, CFANS associate dean for extension and outreach, said he thought the film “dramatized” the relationship between farming and river pollution and “vilified” agriculture without a strong understanding of how it works. “They made agriculture look very bad,” Cuomo said. Scientists are obligated to look objectively at both sides of a problem, he said. But he said he thought the film “drew strong connections to things that weren’t well supported.” Abel Ponce de León, another CFANS associate dean who viewed “Troubled Waters,” scrutinized its scientific approach, calling it lopsided. He said he did not judge the documentary for which side it advocated, but for a lack of “vital” information. “The University is a place that tests all angles and opinions,” Ponce de León said. “We are not here to give one single opinion or choose an opinion.” The group called for another review, though Cuomo said he didn’t know what the goal of a second look would be. But, he said, there is an expectation of “scientific validity.”"

And the clencher, which finally puts to rest WHY the U pulled the film: "If the scientists from CFANS had not also had an issue with it, the film would have gone forward as is, Himle said."

Say it ain't so! Can you imagine your Dean messing around in your work and telling you that it doesn't meet her/his standards for balance (whatever that means)?

Finally, U scientist David Tilman comments on the film after viewing it. He doesn't think the U caved to special interests. But he also said that the film didn’t appear controversial to him. "“We need agriculture to provide food, a point the movie makes. Agriculture has some environmental impacts,” Tilman said. “All documentaries have to have a point of view. This was a proponent of the Mississippi River.” But he said he thought the film presented scientific facts — “science as best we know it.”"


  1. Absolutely fantastic job, Daily. The administration's words are there for all to see.

    The University of Minnesota Administration Does a Modified Limited Hang Out...
    Their Version of the Troubled Waters Controversy?

    PRESIDENT: You think, you think we want to, want to go this route now? And the--let it hang out, so to speak?

    DEAN: Well, it's, it isn't really that--

    HALDEMAN: It's a limited hang out.

    DEAN: It's a limited hang out.

    EHRLICHMAN: It's a modified limited hang out.

    PRESIDENT: Well, it's only the questions of the thing hanging out publicly or privately,

    This is yet another example of horrible judgement at the University of Minnesota. The administration is at fault because they still do not seem to understand the concepts of academic freedom or conflict of interest.

    Please note that it does not require agribusiness to approach Dean Levine with a bag of silver to influence the U's decision on this. In fact if this was an act of self-censorship to appease the agricultural interests, this is even worse from the standpoint of academic freedom.

    Third greatest what?

    Although some in Morrill Hall talk a good game:

    "I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

    Sadly, it appears to be too late for this administration

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