Astronomical Arrogance in Journalism

Over the last few days, there have been gleeful reports of the ‘big brains’ at NASA having really goofed up – again – only to have a 13-year-old kid fix the mistake in their math.  The arrogant reports also touted a tantilizing tidbit of ‘secret’ information:  ‘someone from NASA confirmed to someone from the European Space Agency that the kid is right!’

Ooooh!  That must have sent shivers of schadenfreude up some journalistic spines!  After all, everyone keeps using the term ‘rocket scientist’ as the ‘smartest possible thing ever’ – and here, we have proof the silly eggheads are not so smart, after all!  Even a kid can wipe the floor with them! 

Except, of course, that the news reports were WRONG!

So, was this a simple case of journalists attempting to inflate their own egoes by taking the scientists down a peg?  Or is there something more at play here…like ‘credibility’.

As Bill Nye the Science Guy used to repeat over and over and over:  extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof!  But these reports went out all over the world – many papers which like to consider themselves ‘respectable’ have reported this as FACT!  The only pretense at ‘proof’ was the ‘uncofirmable gossip’ bit:  done deal, no doubt, NASA is wrong and a 13-year-old is right!   Our source is so very high up in NASA, we cannot even reveal their name!  So, we know and you should trust us.  It’s a fact.

Lubos Motl, one of the world’s leading physicists, has a bit to say about this on his blog, The Reference Frame.  He gives an excellent analysis (both in the main post, and in the comment section where he responds to specific questions) from a scientists’ point of view.  I could not have done it better, and so I will not go into the reasons why Nico Marquadt is not likely to have found an error the NASA dudes missed.  If you’d like, you can read his post here.

My question is a little different:  HOW did this story ever make it into ‘the News’?  And, perhaps more interestingly, WHY?  And why did we hear so much about the original story, but hardly a whisper about the fact that we were fed unverified, unchecked, unreliable and downright wrong information as ‘established facts’?

I can only guess:  it was fun and juicy, looked like it would take down a peg someone who is seen as smarter than most journalists, and – let’s face it – most members of the MSM (main stream media) just do not posses the math skills to check the calculations for themselves.  And they could not be bothered to email the nearest scientist/mathematician for comment.  And they wanted to get that juicy story out right away.  Ok, that might cover the ‘HOW’. 

But WHY?

Again, this is just a guess from an outside observer:  nothing more.  But, could there be some deep resentment between the MSM/journalists and (almost) ALL scientists?  Is there any benefit the MSM could derive from attacking the credibility of scientists in general?  If so, that might signal a sinister bias could be creeping into our news coverage…

No, don’t worry – I’m not turning into a ‘Conspiracy Theorist’ – pointing out who owns what percentage of which paper or magazine…  I cannot really be, because I have not done my homework on this.  However, I do understand a little bit about human nature… Hopefully, I am wrong on this one.

It brings me to the tired old topic of ‘Anthropogenic Climat Change’ (ACC) in its many incarnations.  In the very beginning, I, too, bought into it.  It sounded plausible.  So, I went and learned about the underlying science of it.  Being somewhat obsessive, I read quite a bit about it.  And I learned it was not plausible, after all – and that what was used to tout it was ‘junk science’ and bits of legitimately good science, just taken out of context and twisted.  Oh, and it was all anchored in a study which has been shown to be not just wrong, but actually fraudulent.  So, egg on my face, I had to stand up and say I was wrong to have thought ACC was right.  Yes, I felt a fool…but I deserved it for buying into something before I really checked it out!

The MSM also bought into it.  It sounded good, and they did not bother to look too deeply into the ‘scientific mumb0-jumbo’.  Byt the time the MSM had figured out that the ACC movement was – from its inception – driven by policymakers and not scientists, that the very first studies were commissioned to be one sided only (and by Margaret Thatcher, no less), they had invested themselves WAY too deeply into propagating it.  They bought into it, and sef-righteously attacked any lone scientists who dared to stand up and speak about scientific rigour, actual data, the underlying science….you know, the basis for it!

But now, more and more scientists are speaking out.  More and more data is showing there has not been any ‘Global Warming’ in the last decade.  More and more scandals are coming out about the IPCC report.  Yet the media does very little to cover these new developments.  Unless you go out of your way to look for this information (or regularly check the science websites/scientists’ blogs), it is unlikely that you will have heard about this.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Perhaps because of the explosion of information available on the internet, perhaps because fewer and fewer people trust that the MSM is a trustworthy source of information – the fact is that the MSM is slowly dying.  And they know it.  But instead of examining their lack on impartial and or informed reporting, they blame the loss of their credibility on ‘scientists’….for uncovering the magnitude of the fraud they allowed themselves to be suckered into.

So, whether it is an attempt to regain some relative credibility for themselves by taking some away from ‘the scientists’, or whether it is a punch of an industry that’s going down kicking and screeching – should we be surprised that the MSM reported this falsehood the way they did?