Sunday, 17 March 2013

Why blogs are more reliable than the press

Good news blogosphere! I have found the perfect example to illustrate why blogs are more reliable than the press and articles in newspapers!

Yesterday Lib Dem Voice published an utterly bizarre piece by one Michael Taylor in which, on the basis of a ten year old book he's just read, he asserts that the new discoveries (e.g. the decade old "discoveries") of "cosmoclimatology" turn all models of climate change on their head and that Lib Dems should consider this important new "evidence".

Well, the article is a complete and utter load of hokum. Taylor begins the article with:
I have just finished reading what for me is the most thought provoking book I have ever read. I was totally unaware until I read The Chilling Stars by Nigel Calder and Henrik Svensmark that not only does the earth move round the sun, but that the sun moves round the Milky Way Galaxy that we live in.
Now that set of warning bells for me right from the start as, call me precocious, I was familiar with the fact that the Sun and the solar system orbited the galactic centre of the Milky Way from the age of about 12. So this alerted me pretty early on to the fact that this was someone who clearly lacked a scientific background. I'll also just point out that the Sun doesn't "move around the Milky Way Galaxy". The Sun itself remains in pretty much the same place within our galaxy and our galaxy itself rotates - much like a dot painted onto a wind turbine blade, for example.

I won't bore you with the details of the rest of the article and its insistence that 'cosmic rays' (a horrifically imprecise term) make a greater contribution to climate than carbon dioxide does as you can read the article itself but I will highlight just one of the many, many, detailed comments pointing out why this article is nonsense:
#21 on the list of climate change myths ( http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php ). See http://www.skepticalscience.com/cosmic-rays-and-global-warming-basic.htm for a rebuttal at basic, intermediate and advanced levels. 
“Hypothetically, an increasing solar magnetic field could deflect galactic cosmic rays, which hypothetically seed low-level clouds, thus decreasing the Earth’s reflectivity and causing global warming. However, it turns out that none of these hypotheticals are occurring in reality, and if cosmic rays were able to influence global temperatures, they would be having a cooling effect.”
Some of the latest research is also reviewed by climate scientists 
at http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/12/a-review-of-cosmic-rays-and-climate-a-cluttered-story-of-little-success/ : “There is still no evidence suggesting that [galactic cosmic rays] influence our climate in significant ways.”
The other comments are all well worth reading but the bottom line is this:
  • This evidence is not "new" - it's over a decade old
  • This "evidence" is not evidence - it's got no hard data backing it up and plenty of hard data disproving it
  • The author of the book has not published a single piece of peer reviewed (i.e. verified) research
  • The very basics of "cosmoclimatology" don't match with the most elementary rules of physics
  • There are many more reliable sources out there which debunk the basis of the article which could have been found within five minutes of googling
  • There are about 40,000 different studies on different aspects of climate change which provide evidence of man made global warming and only a handful of scientific studies casting doubt on it
  • The theory expounded in the article is pretty much identical to claiming that the moon is made of cheese in terms of all the evidence available for it
And this, in my opinion, highlights perfectly why blogs, like Lib Dem Voice, are more reliable than the printed press. Because, despite the utterly bizarre, unsubstantiated claims of the article which make me wonder why on Earth Lib Dem Voice ever chose to run it, the fact that there's a comment thread underneath the article allowed it to be swiftly rebutted and evidence posted which proved that the article was wrong and that its conclusions were false.

In contrast, plenty of allegedly "quality" newspapers (such as the Telegraph) regularly run articles which are just as bad in terms of their wilful ignorance of basic scientific principles and which make similarly flawed claims about topics such as climate change - expounding crackpot conspiracy theories without a shred of evidence to back them up. But the difference is that when something like that is printed in the press there are no comment threads and no way for the article to be visibly challenged immediately. So people often read the article and assume it to be true without ever noticing the letters published a week later which actually prove that the article was a tissue of lies and misinformation.

And don't even get me started, incidentally, on the quality of scientific reporting in tabloid newspapers which have included such pearls as claims in the same paper that coffee both causes and cures cancer and the infamous list of "100 reasons why global warming is a myth" which featured the same claim made twice (that wind turbines kill birds) and claims which have nothing to do with whether global warming is true or not (such as that countries like India need to consume fossil fuels in order for their economies to develop) with the few claims actually relevant to the topic all being completely disproved by actual scientists in a series of rebuttals published a couple of days later.

So this is why blogs are much more reliable than the press. You're equally likely to come across articles which are utter nonsense with not a shred of evidence behind them but at least with blogs any unreliable articles will normally be swiftly rebutted in the comment threads whereas when you're reading a newspaper you've got no way of telling whether the story is true or not.

That being said, the one proviso for that rule is that the comment threads themselves need to be open for free and rational debate - for there are quite a few blogs (strangely usually of a right wing persuasion) that refuse to publish comments which disagree with or challenge the viewpoint of the author so it should go without saying that these are just as unreliable as the printed press is.

The simple truth is that no publication, online or offline, is infallible and all of them are likely to publish complete nonsense at times - just like Lib Dem Voice has just done. But fortunately, online publications like Lib Dem Voice at least provide a mechanism for readers to find out easily that an article is complete nonsense whereas offline publications almost never do. Which, of course, is just another reason why newspapers are rapidly going the same way as the dodo. Some might consider that a shame but, to be honest, if anyone misses the fiction you regularly find in newspapers then you're probably better off just buying a book.


4 comments:

  1. I absolutely agree.I do not buy Newspapers any more.They mostly go along with the views of the proprietors and to heck with facts.

    I have been able to define fact from fiction since I first went on the Net about 6 years ago.

    I buy a local paper occasionally.But have abandoned all hope in the National Press.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I have been able to define fact from fiction since I first went on the Net about 6 years ago."

    Wow. And there's no distortion or misrepresentation or agendas of proprietors (blog owners) on the Net? I must get online and find out the truth!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think the point is that an enquiring mind armed with critical faculties would approach articles in both the press and online sites with similar alertness. But online the opportunity for reply and rebuttal AND for comparatively speedy cross-net commentaries trounces press journalism. And most press journalism is constrained by media owners and the advertisers in some way or other (which also happens online though usually behind paywalls).

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete

I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.