The Polar Vortex and Baloney Detection

no clue what it means

A comment that Michael Campbell made way back in the 1990’s when I worked on the BCTV Noon News stuck with me. He was trying to show me how to present ‘numbers’ on-air or while being interviewed so the audience could best understand their significance. He explained that I ‘needed to direct every interview because most journalists don’t know how to ask a second question’. He was referencing his experience presenting reporters with numbers or statistics: mostly, he explained, they’re flummoxed.

If true, this seemed unfortunate since journalists are generalists, rarely (if ever!) having even a basic understanding of the issues covered by the stories they create to help (presumably) their audience understand the world. If you accept that it is impossible to understand the world around us without first understanding statistics, then the people presenting us with stories everyday are in a whole-heap-of trouble. And so are we. The sad truth was never more evident than during the recent ‘Polar Vortex’ hysteria. As usual, Cliff Mass skewers it beautifully:

Unfortunately a good argument can be made that, since the 90’s, it’s only gotten worse. In the two decades since Michael’s comment I’ve noticed that many journalists don’t know how  to ask a first question! That question being one or more of the following essential probes:

1) Why should I be asking you this question?

1) Are you an expert in this field?

1) Can you describe or show me your credentials on this topic?

1) How much experience do you have with this particular weather issue?

If I’m correct, it’s been two decades, two steps backward and little forward motion. Newsrooms and audiences everywhere (us!) seem increasingly willing to accept meteorological mumbo-jumbo and climatological crapola. Real science? Science be damned!!…that guy is loud-ass and controversial…get the weatherman on the set!

Have we all taken stupid pills? Perhaps it’s time for Michael Shermer to produce a Baloney Detection Kit for Journalists on Weather and Climate…?

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