Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The sorry state of the "profession" of journalism

Maybe you noticed a few days ago a flurry of news stories about an impending "mini-ice age." I did, on the front page of the CNN and CBS news web sites, among other places. The story claimed that a study predicted a "60% fall in solar activity" by the 2030s, which would produce an effect similar to that of the "Maunder minimum" in the 17th Century, which was associated with a cold spell in Europe.

This was, in fact, totally bogus, as Michael J. I. Brown explains for (which is a science news aggregation site that you ought to bookmark).

The predicted 60% decline is in sunspots, not solar radiation. The study made no prediction at all about the impact on climate, but:

a) The relative solar quiescence of the Maunder minimum may not have been the main cause of the cold spell in the first place;

b) Any effect of a repeat of a similar solar minimum in the 2030s would be overwhelmed by the higher concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today, resulting in at most a temporary slowdown in global warming, not a "mini-ice age."

What is most disgraceful about this is that the reporters apparently made the false deduction on their own, after a little Wikipedia research, and without consulting any relevant experts. And of course, climate change denialists jumped all over the completely false story and will, I am quite sure, never give it up.

And now the New York Times, apparently motivated by a corporately pervasive and completely irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton, puts out a false story about her stupid e-mails. Apparently the Justice Department has asked for a criminal inquiry into how a FOIA request for the e-mails was handled, with respect to classified information, and the NYT reporters assumed that the target was Ms. Clinton -- who obviously didn't even work for the State Department at the time the events in question occurred and had nothing to do with them.

Stuff this bad and worse happens every day, of course. It drives me crazy. I didn't go to journalism school, but I know how to get these stories straight. Really, they're just lazy and unaccountable.

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