Stacking the Deck

The Far Middle episode 124 arrives as this year’s Major League Baseball playoffs get underway. Accordingly, Nick dedicates the episode to two recent baseball milestones that occurred on October 4, the episode’s first airing date.

On Oct. 4, 2021, Barry Bonds hit his 70th home run to tie Mark Maguire for the most home runs in a single season. And then a year ago today, Aaron Judge broke Roger Maris’ American League single season home run record with his 62ndblast. While the achievements were notable, Nick sees them as a product of professional baseball’s evolution—”making what was once exceptional, the home run, the norm.”

By stacking the deck for a favored outcome, Nick suggests baseball has demoted the essence and purity of the game, becoming more contrived and manufactured entertainment.

With that observation, Nick stays on the topic of optics and manufactured outcomes, and pivots from baseball to the episode’s principal topic: the recent University of Pittsburgh’s (Pitt) studies on public health impacts from natural gas development in southwestern Pennsylvania.

This episode’s discussion expands upon Nick’s commentary, “Natural Gas Development and Human Health in PA: Let’s Get the Facts Straight.

“The Pitt studies, they left much to be desired and suffered from fatal design flaws, many of them self-inflicted by the research team, despite having the benefit of a $2.6 million taxpayer budget for the effort,” says Nick. He proceeds to examine the studies’ results that found no causation linking natural gas development to health problems, but you wouldn’t know that from the media coverage.

Nick highlights the massive body of prior health and environmental research on natural gas development from the last several years before delving into the flaws and limitations of the Pitt studies. Further, Nick addresses reactions from various parties upon the release of the studies, and how, “they provide a window into how this type of research has been co-opted to fulfill predetermined views of the natural gas industry by those opposed to it.”

The studies’ release, the ensuing media headlines, and subsequent calls from study authors for more taxpayer-funded research, is another example of the positive feedback loop that perpetuates a desired storyline.

Nick concludes by first offering few refreshing doses of truth, and then makes one final connection to Rembrandt who died on October 4, 1669.

Nick calls out Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, which, “shows a doctor performing a dissection of a body to instruct other medical colleagues as they looked on,” explains Nick. “I think that this is a fitting final connection for this episode as we’ve dove deep on dissecting a process designed to create opportunity by stoking baseless innuendo when it comes to the health of residents and industries that drive quality of life in western Pennsylvania. This episode in many ways served as an anatomy lesson consistent with the Rembrandt painting and its title.”