Monthly Archives: August, 2017

The recriminations of Harvey

It’s already started, but in the weeks and months to come, we can expect to see many more recriminations about who’s to blame for the disastrous flooding of America’s fourth-largest city. Undoubtedly, there will be plenty of blame to go around. News reports going back years already indicate that Houston city planners and state officials …

Continue reading

Penny wise and pound foolish

Today’s hue and cry over “fake news” is nothing new. History is filled with stories of people insisting that reality isn’t real. History consistently proves these people wrong in the end. In the shorter term, reality has another way of putting a damper on irrational, non-evidence-based and just-plain-stupid assertions and policies: they often cost way, …

Continue reading

Meaningless without perspective

Remember “Jaws,” when the guys on the Orca first spot the shark? Hooper, Richard Dreyfus’ character, asks Chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, to step out on the bowsprit, over the water, so he can take a photo of the shark. Brody’s not interested, but Hooper knew what he was doing: without the police …

Continue reading

I’ve seen things…

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Roy, “Blade Runner” Of all the qualities I find hard to understand …

Continue reading

Why reality matters: You don’t want to be a sucker

Why do we care what is real or isn’t? What does it matter? Some 2,500 years ago, a disinformation campaign aimed at the Persian king Xerxes thwarted that ruler’s ambitions of conquering Greece and changed the course of Western civilization. Several hundred years later, Roman emperor Julius Caesar drummed up political support among common citizens …

Continue reading

Without verification

Since receiving considerable — and justified — criticism for helping Trump’s election with false equivalence coverage, media outlets have become better about adding “he said without evidence” caveats whenever the president says or tweets something outrageous. However, it appears for now that they’re applying that lesson to only one subject: the president himself. This is …

Continue reading

The time for ‘neutrality’ has passed

Just as pseudoscience — “science-y sounding” information that is not scientific — is dangerous when used to convey misinformation about health, energy, the environment and other topics, “pseudonews” is dangerous when used to convey misinformation about politics, finance, regulations, public policy and other matters of importance to citizens and society. It’s not necessarily “fake news,” …

Continue reading

What does it take to change strongly held beliefs?

When a person does something awful to a fellow human-being, there’s always more than one person who feels the pain. In many cases, those hurt include the perpetrator’s parents, who might have done everything they could to raise a caring adult… only to see things end badly. What decent human, then, could read the comments …

Continue reading

Be alert to hedging language designed to ‘make things fuzzier’

In the wake of this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, I thought it might be helpful to consider science’s understanding of hedging language, and how word choices can color our understanding of news coverage and officials’ responses. Hedging language uses cautious wording to imply lower certainty in a statement. Cognitive linguist/philosopher George Lakoff wrote famously …

Continue reading