Live from The Gulf: Independent Scientist as Press


Now, it’s not just The Gulf of the Middle East where the world press is in a blackout. It’s right here in the good old USA, within OUR Gulf where a press blackout on our war with oil is taking place. Except for scientists who may be the future of the media.

(Picture taken by J Nichols)

That’s where this ironic story starts. My friend and marine biologist Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols emailed me the other day from our Gulf letting me know, ironically, CNN had asked him for footage from his flyovers in a small charted plane. This is one of many of these stories, and worth our attention. CNN link here

For months, independent scientists have been clamoring to get close to the burn site that BP is executing. As well, the access to mammals being impacted by both the toxic “clean-up” and the burn have been denied.  (Dan Froomkin wrote about this brilliantly for HuffPo

Because of this block on scientific review of the ocean, mammals and people of the gulf, critical health and environmental issues have been not been monitored, supported, and helped through the process. This denial is both an ecological and civil rights violation in my eyes, and another expression of both the fear of/negation of scientists.

Well, J got fed up. As one of the world’s leading turtle scientist it’s been a kind of slow torture for him to watch from so far away. For me, I have watched his laid back manner turn to stoicism: a shift in his character that became alarming – for under it laid both rage and grief.   This combination of feeling is in many of us, but for those like J and his colleagues, all of who have spent their life advocating for the ocean, these past months have been surreal and profoundly altering.

Screw it. That’s J – he said, to hell with this, so he chartered a plane (with no funds), networked with his colleagues to meet in the Gulf, packed a bag and left.

Once on the plane he captured extraordinary footage of the burn site and other areas in the sea engulfed in oil (that have had little or no public view).  After he landed CNN asked him for any footage he could share so they could report the news.

What the hell is going on here?

Ok, we’re not naïve, if there is a blackout for press there are potentially two different (or combined reasons why): the clean-up has totally failed and BP’s liability is exponentially more exposed than anyone knows, and/or the impact of the combined toxin “cleanup” and burn has an even wider destructive impact.  That’s the reason for black outs: when it’s so bad that the culprets, usually devoid of creative solutions close down shop. So, let’s accept it’s the worst case scenario.

And, that’s what J reported to thousands of us on Facebook this past Monday


It’s worse and he was the one reporting it – not with a TV reporter’s baritone voice – but from the seasoned eyes of a true oceans biologist.

He’s not the only one.  Scientists like J who have fought for permits, gotten down to the Gulf with no funding, and rallied together to support communities, fishermen, divers and rescue programs are providing footage, insights, data and anything needed through social networks, press, and their networks.

So, as far as I am concerned, they are the press: they are observers, they are trained to report facts, they check their facts, they are experts with on the ground experience and they know their stuff.

Remember that great line in Broadcast News? A veteran journalist is watching a sports anchor turned news desk anchor present the news.  He calls into the news desk and starts to provide seasoned data and insights to the producer. The producer whispers this into the earpiece of the rookie guy at the desk. The rookie repeats his words. Then veteran war reporter says, “I say it here, it comes out there.”

It’s hysterical in the movie. It’s terrifying in this context.  Why, because independent scientists were denied access and now it’s even worse, and they are now the only ones who can report the massive nature of the issue. So, let’s have CNN, NBC, CBS, BBC make them correspondents and give them a commission and let them take over the airways. Let’s make them the press and get the real news – and while they are there do something remarkable: do their jobs.

There’s also one more critical reason to make our scientists on the ground the new press: there are amazing things happening in the Gulf. People are organizing. Citizens, divers and rescue volunteers are being taught to care for turtles. Fishermen are preparing to work together to fight BP. Court rooms are filled with cases against the oil industry.  Having scientists, now activist scientists, now our true press might make a difference.

Let the ocean revolution be televised, and let it be led not by our disorganized government and religions, but by scientists who have been the true “Anchors” all along.

If you want to support J, here is a tangible way:

Donate to Ocean Revolution: Any contribution you can give will help him. If you are able, you can make your donations through Ocean Revolution: If not, please help us by passing this on to your friends and family.

Sarah Kornfeld
Sarah E. Kornfeld is a writer and hybrid communications executive for those innovating in art/ social sharing/biosphere/and neuroscience initiatives. Her blog on trends and creative visions is widely read: what sarah sees . Born and raised in the theater, Sarah's worldview is shaped by creation in public spaces. She's deeply passionate about applied neuroscience and it's impact on policy and place, how art and international issues intersect, and her groovy seven year old son.

Sarah works with The George Greenstein Institute, The Institute for the Future, Bluemind/Liveblue and other organizations bridging the mind, planet and health issues. She was an original member of the producing team for Dancing in The Streets, which placed dance in public places around the world: Grand Central Station, The Brooklyn Bridge, Place de Concord/Paris, the Tiber River/Rome. She is finishing her first novel.
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