Kristof: Still Outraged, Still Sloppy

by Brien Jackson

When Nicholas Kristof put out his coulmn this week trying to draw a link between an outbreak of MRSA bascteria and a hog farm in one small Indiana town, I took umbrage with the New York Times publishing a piece full of sloppy reportage and logical fallacies. Well, apparently no one on the editorial board listens to me, because Kristof is back with another column on the same topic today, that’s arguably even worse. The key takeaway is that we’re over medicating hogs in this country, and that’s creating antibiotic resistant bacteria. And I suppose there’s a fair debate to be had in that, but Kristof’s column is riddled with the absolute sloppiest arguments you could make. For one thing, his specific doesn’t match his general. In the argument Kristof has constructed, the general problem is supposed to be overuse of antibiotics creating super germs, and the specific example is supposed to be MRSA. But the place you’re most likely to encounter MRSA, as Kristof himself points out, is in a hospital. I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to recall the last time I saw a pig at a hospital. And Kristof himself acknowledges in the column that there are no known cases of someone contracting MRSA from eating pork, in no small part because proper food preperation kills the bacteria. And this is where Kristof’s entire case falls apart. Believe it or not, meat is actually pretty nasty stuff. There’s a lot of bacteria in it, because the animals it came from probably ingested a lot of bacteria when they were licking rocks and barn doors and rolling in their own excrement. In fact, you know who else carries around a lot of bacteria? Humans. Your hands are like giant cesspools for all sorts of germs, which is why we make a point to encourage good hygiene like washing your hands. Similarly, the way to deal with bacteria in food is to educate people about it and encourage proper food preperation.

As I said in my earlier post, I don’t necessarily blame Kristof for these things. I think every writer has a problem with a personal opinion clouding their professional work from time to time. But I do fault the Times editors, who should be pointing these things out, and declining to print these shoddy columns. But that’s not how our maor Op-Ed pages work. Instead certain people are given contractual access to those column inches and are allowed to run whatever factual inaccuracies or logical fallacies they want. Tell me why I’m supposed to be upset these institutions are going out of business again?