Author Archives: Prof. K

Information politics and oil wars

 

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World oil reserves were supposedly located mostly in the Middle East (green column). Source: BP, 2002.

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But now we know that was only one category of world oil reserve. (BP chart modified with 2000 USGS data).

By Bill Kovarik

One of the more painful lessons of recent  history involves the way money and  politics can slant  scientific information.

Take the curiously sudden abundance of fossil fuels.   Where we once had imminent shortages, and the need to go to war to protect the lifeblood of the world’s economy,   we now have an abundance of natural gas from fracking, heavy oil from Venezuela and unconventional oil from Canada’s tar sands. And much more to come from the Arctic and coasts of Africa.

How do we explain the sudden abundance of fossil fuels?

  • “We were wrong on peak oil,” said  George Monbiot of the Guardian in July, 2012.  “There’s enough to fry us all.”   Environmental strategies must change now because “the facts have changed,” he said. Continue reading

It was the End of the World as we Knew It

(Update: Nov. 2012 — ProPublica maps the ongoing scandal.

(Update: May 2015 — Editor Andy Coulson on trial for perjury.)

Breathtaking.

The sheer mad genius of the thing.

Journalists bribing security guards.  Tapping cell  phones. Hacking computers. Spying on emails.

And not just once in a while, like the Cincinnati newspaper’s  Chiquita banana episode in 1997, or the Chicago Mirage Bar sting of 1974.

But permanently, as part of an ongoing operation, with an A-list of  targets including British prime ministers, rock stars, crime victims, even the royal family. Like Watergate in reverse gear.

The unprecedented, unmitigated  gall of News Corp. and its cheesy tabloid:  To run a private spy agency and dress it up as a newsroom.

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The newsroom and the greatest country

Among the hundreds of reviews of  HBO’s The Newsroom during the summer of 2012,  so far, none have questioned the basic accuracy of the screed heard round the world.

You can watch it at this link  or just read it here:

“And you — sorority girl — yeah — just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.”
“We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. America leads the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined.”

Acerbic. Bitter.  Certainly human. But …  journalistically accurate?  Let’s take a look. Continue reading

New metaphors for information

At the end of the 20th century,  two main metaphors for information were common:   information “overload” and the information “superhighway,” and the two concepts worked together.   Just as trucks on a highway can be over weight limits, so, too, could a person’s capacity to absorb information deliveries also be overloaded.

The problem with this metaphor is that it assumes a one-dimensional delivery of a quantity of information from point A to point B.

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On April 1, Google re-introduced Morse Code …

Note the two buttons - dot and dash - on the "Gmail tap."

Yes, its just two keys that express the entire alphabet.   And, while we’re at it, what about hand-set type and manual printing presses?

(Note the date – April 1) !

Threatening the media

 

“Ted” Kaczynski, who killed 3 people and injured 20 with his bombs, is featured as typical of someone who “believes” in global warming.

In the long history of public relations blunders, perhaps the strangest is the saga of the disintegrating Heartland Institute.

Most recently, its choice to link a terrorist with “belief” in climate change has eviscerated the Chicago based advocacy group.  But even before the May debacle, the signs of dangerous incompetence on the part of public relations practitioners were all there.

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Letters to the science editor, 2016

Now that the average American has taken a  serious interest in science,  we’re seeing all kinds of new debates.  People  worry about radiative forcing and the use of the Stefan-Boltzmann constant in global climate models, among other things. So it’s not hard to imagine that there will be a lot more of this ersatz erudition in the media. Here are a few of the letters to the editor we will probably be seeing soon:

  • The so-called Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction theory is ridiculous!  Iridium does not kill dinosaurs !! Show me just one tiny bit of evidence that a dinosaur ever keeled over after being exposed to iridium! You cant, can you? Stupid ass scientists.   —  BJR, Lubbock, Tx.
  • It’s hard to believe anyone but an outright moron would accept the Kepert model as a modification of the valence shell electron pair repulsion theory. VSEPR theory is practically written in the Bible.  You will fry in hell, Kepert model fools! — TD, Richmond, Va.
  • Bateman’s biological principle is clearly an abomination in the sight of God. I cant tell you how repulsive it is to have this taught to my children in school.  If people didn’t believe in Bateman’s principle, biology teachers would be cast out of their lucrative $40,000 a year jobs.   When oh when will these lying scientists ever learn? — BZ, Bozeman, MT.
  • Quantum Field Theory? Ha! Just a plot by montrachet swilling mathematicians!   — YN, Portland, ME.
  • And that goes DOUBLE for the Banach–Tarski paradox!  — YN, Portland, ME.

A Fleet Street relic strikes again

Scientists worldwide were alarmed  Jan. 29 when the London Daily Mail reported — inaccurately — that British Meteorological Office had released “temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.”

The Met Office immediately issued a press release saying the article contained “numerous errors in the reporting.”

In other words, the Mail just seems to have just fabricated the data they attributed to the Met Office.  They just made it up. Invented it.  Pulled it out of the air.  Lied.  (Could it be any clearer?)

This would be outrageous for an actual NEWSpaper, but it’s standard procedure for the Daily Mail —  one of the grotesque and humble relics that once adorned Fleet Street the way gargoyles have graced Notre Dame cathedral.

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Yes, Virginia, and Robin, there IS a Santa Claus

Thomas Nast 1892.

Chicago Fox news anchor Robin Robinson played the Grinch this week by advising parents to tell children the “truth” about Santa Claus.  (At about 3:30 on the video).

“Stop trying to convince your kids that Santa is Santa,” Robinson said on the air.  “That’s why they have these high expectations. They know you can’t afford it, so what do they do? Just ask some man in a red suit. There is no Santa. (Tell them) as soon as they can talk — There… Is … No … San… Ta …”

Outraged parents threatened to roast her like a chestnut if she didn’t rein it in.

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In memory of Joseph Pulitzer and Charleston Bay

By Bill Kovarik

Years ago,  when I worked as a reporter at the Charleston SC News & Courier, I would often look out over the bay and think about Joseph Pulitzer.  

Out there, where the muddy Cooper River met the great blue Atlantic,  Pulitzer died 100 years ago this week ( Oct. 29,  1911).

He was hidden away on his yacht, as usual, suffering from an extreme hyper-sensitivity to sound.  According to biographers, even the sound of a person’s voice was painful, and his last words were to ask that an assistant reading to him speak more softly.

Pulitzer’s sickness is astonishing — for a journalist, at least.  Most editors and many reporters have the opposite problem. Their lack of sensitivity, in both physical and moral terms, approaches outright deafness.

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