My time on FOX News

A scientist defends his stimulus-funded project to preserve a large arthropod collection to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity

Anthony I. Cognato
Mar 24, 2010
March 8, 2010, was my national television debut on FOX News. I didn't initially realize that it was __the__ FOX News when an assistant producer contacted me for an interview concerning a National Science Foundation linkurl:grant;http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0844133 worth about $187,000 that we received to renovate Michigan State University's entomology collection. At first, I thought our local FOX affiliate, a little slow to report on this almost year-old grant, was contacting me. But subsequent phone conversations revealed that it was the National FOX channel, home to Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, knocking on my door. An assistant producer named Lauren and Tucker Carlson, a correspondent, would make the trip from New York to East Lansing that same evening.So I had a day's notice that I was scheduled to appear on Hannity's Wasted: 102, a special FOX News program about grants and projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e., stimulus...
ted me for an interview concerning a National Science Foundation linkurl:grant;http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0844133 worth about $187,000 that we received to renovate Michigan State University's entomology collection. At first, I thought our local FOX affiliate, a little slow to report on this almost year-old grant, was contacting me. But subsequent phone conversations revealed that it was the National FOX channel, home to Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, knocking on my door. An assistant producer named Lauren and Tucker Carlson, a correspondent, would make the trip from New York to East Lansing that same evening.So I had a day's notice that I was scheduled to appear on Hannity's Wasted: 102, a special FOX News program about grants and projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e., stimulus dollars). I asked Lauren if she was sure that I was the right interview subject, as I believed that stimulus money was in no way wasted on my grant, the goal of which was to help preserve a national resource of more than a million arthropod specimens from an infestation of carpet beetles. She said that she wanted to give me the opportunity to tell my story and assured me it would be a balanced interview. So despite Sean Hannity's ultra-conservative viewpoint, FOX's right-handed spin on reporting, and advice to abort the interview from a friend in the media industry, I decided to proceed with the interview.I felt that it was my obligation to defend the importance of entomology collections. I had little time to prepare some concise talking points on the value of the collection before Lauren, a cameraman and soundman from Detroit arrived - the FOX was in the bug house. For an hour, they recorded B roll and we chatted about the collection and grant as we waited for Carlson to arrive. Much of this conversation aligned with my preparation and was welcomed practice for the actual interview. After the B roll was beamed via satellite to New York using a huge truck that FOX News rented from an Indiana-based company, Carlson arrived. We chatted and toured the collection as the crew set up the lighting and cameras for the interview. Carlson was surprisingly fascinated with the collection. He asked many entomological questions and indicated that it was a noble cause to preserve it.The interview began and Carlson transformed into an effective pundit for the Right; the questioning was quick, the topics a little disconnected, and at times he seemed to fish for a particular sound bite that would support the opinion that funding the collection was a waste of money. For example, he asked me a couple times if I could have controlled collection pests by just continually freezing the drawers that contain the specimens, thus making our purchase of new storage cabinets unnecessary. I answered repeatedly that freezing our thousands of drawers was not optimal for long-term preservation, that it drained time and resources, and kept researchers from using the collection for scientific studies. Looking back, I liken the experience to engaging in late night bar-banter with a layperson.Overall, the FOX News crew was nice to me and somewhat fair in the linkurl:interview;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7f52y4Nq4E that they aired, despite their dismissive spin. There was a lot more to the linkurl:full interview;http://hannity.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/03/10/web-exclusive-full-interview/comment-page-2/?action=late-new which was not used, and I guess they could have selectively edited the interview to make funding the collection look like a total waste. My colleagues were surprised that they aired more than a sound-bite of the interview and that they included my explanation of the value and use of an insect collection.As evidenced through email and comments left on Hannity's blog, many of Hannity's viewers understood the value insect collections provide to agriculture, human health and the study of biodiversity. Through several blogs (e.g. Alex Wild's, linkurl:Myrmecos Blog;http://myrmecos.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/defending-public-investment-in-entomology/ and Debbie Hadley's linkurl:About.com Guide to Insects),;http://insects.about.com/b/2010/03/11/sean-hannity-bugs-entomologists-belittles-bug-collection.htm the entomological community expressed its disapproval and outrage at Hannity's attempt to belittle the science of entomology in support of his negative opinion of stimulus funding. Thus, I think Hannity failed to cast the preservation of MSU's insect collection as a waste of taxpayers' dollars. Hannity's producers included about 30 science or technology based grants in the final linkurl:Wasted: 102 list;http://hannity.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/03/12/waste-102-the-final-list/. They ignored the purpose of the ARRA to reinvest in America in favor of glib reports of seemingly useless scientific study. America is currently a world leader in science and technology, and our government is wise to reinvest in projects that will ultimately educate a new generation of scientists, increase our knowledge, and strengthen our ability to remain a world leader in research.In addition, money spent on stimulus grants helps to stimulate the economy. For example, our grant spent approximately $137,000 on new storage equipment, which was manufactured by American companies. The materials used to build these items came from American companies, and Americans shipped the supplies and products. Clearly jobs were preserved and created. Even in its attempt to belittle and disparage the outlay of stimulus funding for research projects, FOX News paid salaries, travel costs, and rented equipment which likely contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the national and local economies. It appears that many facets of society, even the ultra-conservative media machine, have been stimulated by "wasting" government money on science.linkurl:__Anthony I. Cognato;http://ent.anr.msu.edu/Directory/Facultypages/Cognato/tabid/135/Default.aspx is an associate professor of entomology and the director of the A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection at Michigan State University. He is an expert bark beetle (Curculionidae: __Scolytinae__) systematist and travels the world to document their diversity and study their biology.__
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:The Earwig's Tale;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57172/
[26th February 2010]*linkurl:A Fading Field;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/55708/
[June 2009]*linkurl:Palin vs. the flies;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55137/
[27th October 2008]

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?