Posts Tagged “mass media”

Observed departure of temperature from average for the period Nov. 2004-Mar. 2005. Superimposed in bold text is the winter forecast made in the 2004 Old Farmer's Almanac for the same period. The Almanac got four regions correct and eight incorrect, with two too close to call. / NOAA-CIRES & Climate Diagnostic Center, via Weather UndergroundEvery year around this time the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and its similar rival the Farmers’ Almanac, trot out weather predictions for the coming winter. And every year we’re treated to media stories about it … as though any of it actually means anything. Yesterday the Associated Press published a story with a lede guaranteed to pique Americans’ interest (WebCite cached article):

Just when you thought you had gotten over last winter, be warned: The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts it will be super cold with a slew of snow for much of the country, even in places that don’t usually see too much of it, like the Pacific Northwest.

If you don’t want to read about those four-letter words, there’s plenty more to peruse in the folksy, annual book of household tips, trends, recipes and articles, such as animal jealousy, the history of shoes and anticipation for the biggest Supermoon in decades in November 2016.

That crap is all I can take, so I won’t quote any more of it. In spite of the AP story’s paean to a supposedly accurate prediction last year, in truth, the two Almanacs” weather predictions are, in a word, bullshit! A steaming load heaved right out the back of the barn. Claims of over 80% accuracy are not true at all. They’re lies. Real meteorologists who really study the weather, who base their conclusions on real measurements, and who have real credentials that show they know what they’re talking about, have determined the Almanacs actually have very poor track records (cached and cached). The Farmers’ Almanac was, quite famously, wrong about Super Bowl XLVIII being hit with snow.

It’s utterly irresponsible of mass media outlets — especially those as widely-read and respected as the Associated Press — to treat this rank bullshit as though it’s news. It’s not. The Almanacs’ predictions are nothing of the sort! Making everything much worse … because this was released by the AP, it will get propagated by virtually every other media outlet in the country, and internationally too. Which is far more publicity than this crap deserves.

It’s time for the mass media, especially the AP, to just fucking stop falling for bullshit like this. Yes, as I said, the lede of this story is compelling. It’ll draw eyeballs for sure … but it will still be uninformative and useless crap that no one should bother seeing. Both Almanacs sell well enough that they don’t need the AP shilling for them.

P.S. Mention of the Almanac‘s prediction of a “supermoon” in 2016 is superfluous. A supermoon, aka a “perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system,” is a very predictable phenomenon. Astronomers (as in, real scientists using real equipment) can predict them many years in advance, and have done so — without the specious help of the Old Farmer’s Almanac or their mysterious, undisclosed algorithms.

Photo credit: NOAA-CIRES & Climate Diagnostic Center, via Weather Underground.

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#CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA TodayMost of my readers will, no doubt, already have heard of something called “the Charlie challenge” (or perhaps more correctly, “the Charlie Charlie challenge”). Apparently this is something teens must do to entertain themselves, because … I guess … the poor little things just don’t seem to have any other entertainment options left (I mean, it’s not like they have TV, radio, video games, Netflix, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, or any of thousands of other outlets to occupy their time).

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the idea is to line up two pencils in a cross formation, one balanced on the other, with “yes” and “no” marked in the quadrants they border, then talk to them (and to some putative Mexican demon), flip out when they move on their own, then post videos of all this on the Internet to impress one another. Or something.

I don’t quite get it, but then I’m a curmudgeonly old guy who’s just not “hip” enough to understand the importance of it. Or something.

At any rate, this supposed paranormal game is getting a lot of play in the mass media. I guess reporters are bored, too, and have run out of stories to investigate. Or something. Here, for example, is a piece by USA Today on this topic (WebCite cached article); here’s Time magazine’s story on it (cached); and here’s CNN’s piece on the subject (cached). All of this constitutes yet another example of the “paranormal as news” trope that’s infected journalism for a number of years. Yawn.

The usual suspects have lined up to declare that the Charlie challenge is, in fact, the supernatural (or maybe more precisely the preternatural) at work, and have taken to whining and bellyaching about it, warning teens not to partake. For example, a Catholic priest has ordered people to avoid it, calling it “a dangerous game” in which demons truly are summoned (cached).

There are so many things wrong with all of this, I hardly know where to begin. First of all, contrary to the legend that accompanies “the Charlie challenge,” there’s no “Charlie” demon in Mexico (cached). People in Mexico, who speak Spanish for the most part, would give their legendary demons Spanish names, like “Carlos,” instead. Second, there’s no such thing as a demon … nor is there any Satan, or devils, or anything else of the sort. They do not exist — period.

Third, the supposed “paranormal” effect is rather easily explained, in a mundane fashion, using conventional science. The (UK) Independent, among other outlets, goes into it (cached) … although I suspect those who truly believe in the paranormal aren’t going to buy that it’s merely “gravity” doing it. They’ll just insist it couldn’t possibly be anything that simple … because, you see, they were there, and simply “know” it couldn’t be!

I suppose a skeptic like myself could perform a test, by setting up the pencils — without markings and without the required incantation/question — and then see what the pencils do on their own. But I doubt any “true believers” would really care about the results of that test. Yeah, they like to whine and gripe that skeptics are “closed-minded” and won’t just take their word for the bullshit they fabricate; but ironically they, themselves are “closed-minded” to any possibility that their paranormal B.S. might be invalid. Hmm.

Photo credit: #CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA Today.

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Ebola Facts - v by SouthernBreeze, on FlickrIt’s old news by now that Ebola virus has been on a tear through three different west African countries. It’s also not news that a man came to Texas from Liberia carrying Ebola and eventually died of it in a Dallas, TX hospital. What’s more, it’s also not news that two nurses who’d cared for him have contracted it (cached). All of that is bad enough. But the reaction to these stories has been … well, the phrase “fucking insane” may not quite do it justice.

First, we have the inevitable political reaction from Republicans using this as another way of tearing into Barack Obama’s hide. Their reactions range from the calm yet still irrational, demand that the CDC’s director resign (cached), which will accomplish nothing whatsoever, as well as demanding travel bans from the affected countries (cached), which also isn’t likely to do much good, to the extreme and ridiculous, such as bundling several crises into one big, neat package of hate, sanctimony, and paranoia by claiming ISIS/ISIL/IS fighters have contracted Ebola and are (cached) trying to get over the country’s southern border to infect Americans en masse (cached) — there is, of course, no evidence of any such conspiracy. And then there’s the garden-variety wingnut Religious Right wackiness of claiming Obama caused (cached) the Ebola crisis as a way of “taking over” or something (cached) — as though that makes any sense at all.

But on top of all this, we have a number of other asinine reactions (cached):

That’s not the limit of the insanity, but it’s enough to illustrate what I’m talking about. It really needs to fucking stop already.

I’m with Shepard Smith of Fox News. Please watch as he decimates the (largely media-driven) insanity:

Smith cites influenza, which annually kills thousands of Americans, as a much greater danger than Ebola, but I can think of another, that being Enterovirus D68, which currently is something of a problem in the US. Although Ebola is more deadly than either of these, Americans are incredibly less likely to contract it. Which means it’s not something they have any reason to be terrified about. The panicking lunacy is enough to make me tag this post “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

OK, people, I get it. You don’t want Ebola. Really, I understand. I don’t want it either. But this blind panic isn’t going to help you avoid it. I’ll tell you what will: Calm down, grow up, and get over it, fercryinoutloud!

Photo credit: SouthernBreeze, via Flickr.

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Scary Ghost / naoshika, via Open Clip Art LibraryIt’s been a while since I last blogged about the phenomenon of “hauntings as news.” Of course, that’s not because media outlets have stopped reporting on “hauntings” and other “paranormal” events as though they were legitimate news stories. Oh no. In this age of so-called “reality” shows featuring ghost hunters, mediums, etc., it’s obviously something the media have decided they’re not going to let go of.

And frankly, why should they? “Haunting” stories are the sorts of things that literally drop themselves into reporters’ laps. Either people tip reporters off to “hauntings,” or else they overhear a “haunting” story and decide to relay it. They might have to talk with a couple of people familiar with the supposedly-haunted location, but most of those folks are willing interviews who have a lot of information to give (or so they think). It’s quick and easy to write a “haunting” story … whereas, by comparison, most other types of real news are much harder to develop. In this age of pared-down newsrooms, one can see the appeal of such stories.

As for “reality” shows, supposed ghost hunters (cached) and “paranormal investigators” are very good at ginning up drama and staging things to appear however they wish them to. The shows’ producers don’t have to work too hard at their jobs. It’s easy money!

The latest example of “paranormal journalism” caught my eye — and engendered this blog post — because the venerable Hartford Courant reported flat-out that a building is haunted. As though it were definite and confirmed. There are no caveats, qualifiers, “reportedlys” or anything of the kind. Reporter Dan Haar lays it out unequivocally and unreservedly (WebCite cached article):

In Canton, near the town green, the contrast between The Junk Shop and The Blue House a few doors away is striking.

Both sell antiques and vintage furnishings but The Junk Shop, owned and run by Eric Hathaway, has the feel of a chaotic workshop and is open to noise from Route 44. The Blue House, owned and run by Eric’s wife, Kimberly Hathaway, is quiet, orderly, filled with linens and lace, artwork and clothing.

Oh, and The Blue House is haunted.

Did you catch that? It’s a simple, clear, unqualified statement: “… The Blue House is haunted.” Nothing else.

This is not the first time Connecticut’s newspaper of record has declared a building definitively “haunted”; I caught them at it right around 5 years ago. The Courant is also part of the same group (within the larger Tribune media conglomerate) which thought exorcisms were genuine “news” a couple years ago and told us all about how a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified” … as though they’d somehow managed to verify that claim.

Anyone with a brain — and who can use it — knows there’s no such thing as a verified haunting. Lots of places are supposedly “haunted,” but that’s a far cry from being definitely known as “haunted.”

If Canton’s “The Blue House” has, in fact, been confirmed haunted, it ought to be trivial for its owners (or for reporter Haar or anyone else connected with the place) to provide verification of it. So let’s have it! Upon what objective evidence can anyone know this building is “haunted”? I dare someone to demonstrate it. (Oh, and when they’ve done so, they may as well turn around and apply for the million-dollar grant that the Randi Foundation will no doubt provide them.)

This is the kind the bullshit a paper like the Courant ought never to stoop to. It’s beneath their dignity, and their editors ought to have known better. And it’s a cheap way of grabbing eyeballs. As I said above, I get why they want to churn out stories like this. It’s easy writing and it’s dramatic. People like hearing this crap. Unfortunately, it remains crap, no matter how much readers might like it. And reporting affirmatively that a building is “haunted” without any verification that it actually is, is dishonest at best and lying at worst. It needs to fucking stop. It just does. No one is served by overly-credulous reporters repeating bullshit and lies as though it’s all true — no matter what excuse they come up with for having done so.

Photo credit: Naoshika, via Open Clip Art Library.

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you probably don't wanna knowIt’s another “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me” moment in the mass media’s shambolic hypercoverage of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. This time, CNN’s HLN network brought a psychic — of all things — on national television to “find” the missing airplane. Mediaite reports on this sad debacle (WebCite cached article):

On Thursday night, HLN invited a psychic to discuss what she think [sic] may have been the fate of the lost airliner and the 239 souls that were on board that plane.…

“Naturally, I don’t have hard, concrete evidence,” Lisa Williams confessed. “I think any psychic who has hard, concrete evidence can’t do their job correctly.”

“They’ll just work off what they know,” she continued. “I tend to work off what I don’t know.”

Considering that a lot of psychics make claims that are so vague as to fit with nearly anything, and which therefore ultimately are non-informative, Williams actually said a few fairly specific things:

Williams said that her powers are telling her that some of the passengers are still alive and are being held in an undisclosed location. She added that she knew this because she was attempting to contact MH370?s lost passengers for their living relatives.

“I do believe that it actually crashed, and I see a lot of trees,” Williams revealed. “I think there is a larger organization behind this that is leading us off track with this debris.”

“Do you think we’re going to get an absolute resolution?” Hutt asked Williams.

Williams said that she was just informed by the voices in her “witchy woo land” that the mystery behind the plane’s disappearance will be finally resolved “within the next three weeks.”

Once more is learned about MH370’s fate, at least some of these claims can be confirmed or refuted. But the problem here is that she made several claims which are independent of one another, and if just one of them turns out to be correct, Williams can claim she was “right” about it all along and that her powers have been verified. In other words, while her individual claims are specific and most are (potentially) testable, that she “shotgunned” them out introduces the sort of vagueness that psychics tend to rely on in order to appear as though they have ESP.

It won’t matter that any of the rest of her claims turn out to be wrong: So long as just one of her statements can be construed as verified, the whole package will be widely viewed as “confirmed.” For example, if it’s discovered that the plane fell somewhere in the ocean, her statement that “it actually crashed” will have been “confirmed” and people will say her magical powers have been verified. That she mentioned trees and survivors being held somewhere, will be conveniently forgotten.

I wasn’t able to embed Mediaite’s video of HLN’s laughable absurdity, but did find it on Youtube, which you can view here:

By now we should all realize how ridiculous this wall-to-wall coverage has been. This bullshit needs to just fucking stop. If media outlets don’t have any news to report about flight 370, they should just not report anything … and then move on to other material. Making up bullshit like appeals to the supernatural, black holes, and trotting out “psychics” is just asinine beyond words and there is no excuse for it. Not one.

Finally, I note that the HLN host who introduced this segment states, at the start of it, “In the past, governments have used psychics to help with searches.” While this may be true on its face, it does nothing to support the effectiveness of psychic powers or psychics’ ability to find things. Yes, some governments, including the US and USSR, have dabbled in things like remote viewing. However, all those projects died out decades ago, due to the lack of useful results from any of these psi-ops, and the reality that psychic powers have never been demonstrated to work. And while some folks claim to be “psychic detectives,” not one crime has ever been shown to have been solved by a psychic. Not once. Ever. The HLN host’s appeal is a misleading one, and a journalist ought never to have attempted granting psychics credibility by using it.

Photo credit: Flood G, via Flickr.

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Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statueI’ve blogged previously about the foibles of journalism and the mass media. Mostly I’ve complained that they take things like pseudoscience and pseudomedicine too seriously; follow a “duellistic” approach to reporting (i.e. telling two opposing, and usually wrong, sides of something, expecting the truth will magically pop out of them — somehow); think regurgitating press releases actually helps readers understand things; and treat anyone with a book to sell or documentary to promote like a credentialed expert on a topic, even if they’ve got their heads up their asses.

Most of these horrible trends have come about because of the long decline of journalism in the advent of the Internet; it’s hard for them to make money in an era where most news is free to anyone with an Internet-connected device (which have become ubiquitous). This means newsrooms have very little staff any more, and those who remain in them have little time for serious investigation of anything. Everyone connected with the media have offered endless excuses for this, but the bottom line is, journalism is now pretty fucking bad and only getting worse.

But lo! Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, CT has got it all figured out. The problem, he claims, is not with the economics of journalism in the World Wide Web age, but rather, because there are too many single-parent households (locally-cached article):

Even in a supposedly prosperous and well-educated state like Connecticut, how strong can demand for those things be now that half the children are being raised without two parents at home and thus acquiring developmental handicaps; 70 percent of community college and state university freshmen have not mastered what used to be considered basic high school skills; poverty has risen steadily even as government appropriations in the name of remediating poverty have risen steadily; and democracy has sunk so much that half the eligible population isn’t voting in presidential elections, 65 percent isn’t voting in state elections, and 85 percent isn’t voting in municipal elections?

This social disintegration and decline in civic engagement coincide with the decline of traditional journalism just as much as the rise of the Internet does.

If you thought Powell blaming the demise of journalism on the existence of single-parent households, and accusing single parents of giving their children “developmental handicaps” isn’t bad enough, hold on to your seats, because he digs in even harder and insults single-parent households even more:

Indeed, newspapers still can sell themselves to traditional households — two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such. But newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read. And such households constitute a rising share of the population.

This is such a vile verbal assault, I hardly know where to begin critiquing it. I’m truly astonished that anyone in 21st century Connecticut can be saying that single mothers all live on welfare, are illiterate, move often in order “to cheat their landlords,” are ignorant of their whereabouts, and can’t afford newspapers. Where did he get these ideas? I suspect he would answer that by saying he knows of a single mother or two that have done these things, which (in the cavernous, echoing void which is his brain) constitutes irrefutable “proof” that all of them are like that. His complaint is probably more appropriate to the 1980s and early 90s, before welfare reform, because welfare benefits have an expiration date, now; no one can viably “live on” them. I wonder if he’d planned to mention Ronald Reagan’s legendary “welfare queen” but, for some reason, left it out.

I know folks raised by single mothers who are very educated (including several who’ve graduated from college, one a CPA, another a lawyer even), very literate, and who read and buy newspapers. So I can’t really imagine what Mr Powell’s problem is with these folks.

Moreover, Powell’s historiography is off. Single-parent households have been on a long rise since the 50s, yet the decline of journalism was more precipitous, and didn’t begin until the late 90s and early 00s. That alone shows he’s blaming the wrong bogeyman.

I suggest that, instead of childishly and petulantly railing against and outright insulting single mothers and their children, Mr Powell should grow the hell up, pull on his “big boy” pants, and actually work as the managing editor of his paper. It may be difficult to do, and I imagine he’d much rather blame his industry’s problems on someone or something else … but too fucking bad. It’s his job. He picked it. He needs to fucking do it … or resign.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Hypervocal.

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Pay no attention to headlines ... they lie! (PsiCop original)It’s not news that the numbers of “Nones,” or the religiously-unaffiliated, are growing in the US. It’s been documented for several years now, particularly after Trinity College’s ARIS 2008 project generated a report in 2009 about what they called “the Nones,” or the religiously-unaffiliated. This week, the Pew Forum released the results of their own survey on the matter. They find that “the Nones” are growing in number (WebCite cached version):

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

This part of the report has generated any number of mass-media stories trumpeting the growth of “atheists”; for example, this one from Canada’s National Post, whose headline reads as follows (cached):

Rise of the atheists: U.S. Protestants lose majority status as church attendance falls

The NP article itself fails to mention atheists or atheism very much, only noting that they’re merely a subset of the “religiously unaffiliated.” So where does this headline come from?

The truth is that this survey doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about atheists or atheism specifically. The folks at Pew are, themselves, quite clear on this:

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.

The fact is, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated as identified in polls such as Pew’s and the earlier ARIS survey, are believers. They simply don’t belong to any religious organization and don’t attend services regularly. But they remain religious people.

The Pew data itself shows that those designated as “Atheist” has grown only 0.8% since 2007, and “Agnostic” has grown only 1.2% in that time. These results can hardly justify any of the media headlines (such as the above) declaring that “Atheism” is growing astronomically. It isn’t. Non-believers are assuredly a minority in the US, and they’re likely to remain so, for quite some time to come. Only paranoid religionists would fear they’re going to be outnumbered and have their beliefs outlawed.

P.S. The full report is available on Pew’s Web site (cached).

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