Fake News and Science Reporting - Comments

  • #101
149
109
Sabine Hossenfelder:
No, physicists have not created “negative mass”
This is by no means to say that the result is uninteresting! Indeed, it’s pretty cool that this fluid self-limits its expansion thanks to long-range correlations which come from quantum effects. I’ll even admit that thinking of the behavior as if the fluid had a negative effective mass may be a useful interpretation. But that still doesn’t mean physicists have actually created negative mass.
 
  • #102
129
57
I wasn't sure exactly where to put this one (also fits into the "March for Science" thread a bit), but it has been bugging me for a week:
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SCI_WINTER_WEATHER_FORECAST?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2017-03-14-17-17-34 [Broken]

For the un-initiated, a "Nor'easter" is a storm system unique to the northeastern US, where a cold front comes in from the north west and collides with warm, moist air coming up the coast. The collision of the air masses produces a severe and rapidly intensifying storm. In the summer they rival hurricanes and in the winter, they produce massive blizzards along the Washington-Boston corridor.

Because they involve a cold and a warm air mass, there is a potentially wide variation in impacts across the storm from east to west. In the east, you might get all rain and in the west it is all snow. There will be a gradient of each, with the center generally producing the most snow, along a swath 10-50 miles wide and up to several hundred miled long.

Last week's nor'easter was late for a snowstorm, which produced a forecasting problem. Early indications were that it would be a classinc winter nor'easter, almost entirely snow, and cutting straight through the population centers from Philly to Boston. But hours before the snow started (Monday morning), the models started showing the warm air from the east would win and produce mostly rain along the coasts and a snow/sleet mix further inland, only producing all snow much further inland. These models were correct. The National Weather Service held a meeting on Monday afternoon and decided against updating the forecasts, "out of extreme caution" (quote) and "...they didn't want to confuse the public." (AP paraphrase).

Wait, what? A coherent message is more important than the quest for accuracy?

So along the east coast, we went to bed last Monday night expecting to wake up to a foot+ of snow and actually finding totals less than half of the low-end of the forecast (NYC predicted: 18-24", actual: 7"). Scientists can claim somewhat of a win in that the mass of precipitation was actually accurate, it was just denser than predicted, but that difference matters a lot in how you respond to the storm. Particularly when eastern Delaware and NJ saw mostly rain instead of a foot of snow! You can't un-cancel school if it doesn't snow. As for me, I did notice something was off when I woke up, but I was sicklazy and stayed home from work on Tuesday though many of my colleagues ended up going in.

This is from a division of the same government agency responsible for collecting, interpreting and disseminating climate data. Which begs the question: is the climate data/warming predictions we get filtered with the same bias?
In the first bolded and underlined section, it is illustrated that they were choosing between two messages based on how they wanted the public to respond. The message that was chosen to be delivered was selected because they desired the response that it would illicit from the public.

In this scenario, they have demonstrated that they do indeed believe that its okay to deliver alternative "facts" with the intent of shaping public response.

If a politician were to discover that this organization had this trait, he/she could coerce them to deliver numbers that are convenient to use as "scientific evidence" proving the need for whichever legislation he/she wanted to pass.

If you combined P-hacking with their willingness to deliver information purely based on the desired response from the public, a group of like-minded politicians would be able to "scientifically prove the existence of" faux problems that can only be solved, conveniently, by giving those politicians the very power over the means of production/commerce that they have demonstrated wanting throughout their entire career.

That is not speculation, either. Analogous things have been done before. Only, instead of basing their justification in the words of "scientists", the kings/chiefs/emperors claimed that "prophets" had delivered the word of god/gods to them. Then the peasants believed the claims of their leaders and dutifully participated in whichever war, sacrifice, or relinquishment/reallocation of resources it was that the king/chief/leader wanted them to participate in.

That's why threads like this are important for us. Bad science can be used as a political weapon, and that needs to be acknowledged.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #104
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
23,495
5,943
New York magazine last week published an article by David Wallace-Wells entitled "The Uninhabitable Earth". This article claims, among other things, that in 83 years or less "parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable". This piece has been criticized as inaccurate by, among others, Michael Mann - hardly a climate change denier. (But I confess it's fun to hear him called that)

What's interesting is the reaction by Vox and Slate and others. Their position is that scaring people is important - more important than getting the facts right - because political action is necessary. It's a thin line between that and "if we told the people the truth, they might not do what we want", which is a heck of a position for a journalist.
 
Last edited:
  • #105
27,157
7,336
It's a thin line
I would say it's no line at all.
 
  • #106
Dr. Courtney
Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
3,010
1,960
What's interesting is the reaction by Vox and Slate and others. Their position is that scaring people is important - more important than getting the facts right - because political action is necessary. It's a thin line between that and "if we told the people the truth, they might not do what we want", which is a heck of a position for a journalist.
It's seemed that way to me for a long time.
 

Related Threads for: Fake News and Science Reporting - Comments

  • Last Post
6
Replies
128
Views
7K
Replies
21
Views
2K
Replies
3
Views
2K
Replies
26
Views
4K
Replies
1
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
7
Views
2K
Top