A misleading anti-oilsands National Geographic article proves to be so very wrong about science

Special to Financial Post

Warren Kindzierski

The National Geographic article paints a distorted, untrue picture about oilsands’ effects on a heart-defect case

National Geographic published an online article on April 11th about oilsands development in northern Alberta. Called “This is the world’s most destructive oil operation — and it’s growing,” the article, by a Toronto-based reporter, made claims about health effects in Fort Chipewyan caused by oilsands development activities, including cancer, stillbirths and miscarriages. A claim was also made about the case of a baby born in Fort McKay, located in the oilsands region, with an underdeveloped heart (congenital heart defect). The article stated that “Though proof is elusive, his family believes his condition was caused by pollution from nearby oilsands developments.”

While much hay can be (and has been) made about dubious claims of elevated cancer rates, stillbirths and miscarriages in Fort Chipewyan, the Fort McKay heart defect case is worth discussing. After digging into facts about congenital heart defects and the state of the environment in Fort McKay, which like Fort Chipewyan is predominantly First Nations community, it is apparent that sub-standard journalism was on full display in the National Geographic article.

“Congenital” refers to the existence of a disorder before or at birth. Congenital defects include birth defects or a variety of other disorders. Roughly 380,000 births occur each year in Canada. About 350 to 400 babies are born with some kind of defect, including 50 to 150 with heart defects, for every 10,000 total births. Fort McKay, with a population less than 900, would be expected to experience a heart-defect case at some point, although rarely.

Causes of heart defects involve many factors. As well, it is a polygenic inherited disorder (meaning an inheritance pattern controlled by many genes). In most cases there is no clearly identifiable cause for a heart defect.


full story at https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/a-misleading-anti-oilsands-national-geographic-article-proves-to-be-so-very-wrong-about-science

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