Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Propaganda Machine in action

This just cheeses me off:
Hurricane experts say the Atlantic has swung back into a period of heightened storm activity that could last another 20 years. Climatologists also fear global warming could be making the storms more intense.
Does anyone other than me notice the bias inherent in these two statements?

Over the past several months, I have seen and read innumerable stories in the news about how global warming is expected to increase the number of intense hurricanes per season. It seems to be a fairly accepted theory, in spite of the fact that, other than during the present year*, these more intense hurricane seasons haven't happened yet. I have also noticed one or two mentions of the competing theory, which is that the high number of storms this year is simply a normal part of long-term statistical variation--look at any random distribution, and there will be sections that are noticeably higher than others. The 20-year part is new. I haven't seen that before today.

There are two possibilities with respect to these competing theories.

The first is that the climatologists' theory has an edge, which arises from the fact that it's a predicted consequence of another well-established theory, namely global warming. Global warming predicts a likelihood of increased hurricane intensity per season, and a prediction is more definite than simply saying, "Random statistical variations will be higher for the next 20 years." The problem with random statistical variations is that you never really know what they are going to do. They cannot be predicted, not ever. Attributing this year's hurricane season to statistical variation and nothing else is essentially like saying, "We don't know why there are so many hurricanes this year." This, by itself, is perfectly fine. However, with the addition of a 20-year prediction, you end up with, "We don't know why there are so many hurricanes this year, and, based on this lack of knowledge, we predict that this will continue for the next 20 years." Ridiculous. Theories like global warming, on the other hand, are all about prediction. Prediction is used to test the theory, and once the theory begins to be generally accepted (as global warming has, by all but a few think-tank crackpots), it can be used to make other predictions--which will in turn be used to re-test and refine the theory.

The second is that both have equal merit, since we don't actually know what's going to happen. I think the arguments in favor of the first possibility are much more compelling, however.

Either way, the climatologists' theory is being poo-pooed and the "20-year random variation" theory is being touted as authoritative, when in fact the opposite is true or they are of equal merit. It is clear that the truth is being toyed with.

It's easy to see how this is being done. First, note the use of the term "hurricane experts," which conveys a sense of authority and surety. Also, the use of the word "say," which implies definiteness--definiteness which is entirely unwarranted, due to the unpredictability of random statistical variations. The statement also contains no information whatsoever about what these "experts" are basing their prediction on. Those who are familiar with this debate will assume that they are talking about the normal statistical variations of the weather, but it doesn't go so far as to actually say this. Is this simply for the sake of brevity, or are they leaving this information out deliberately?

Compare this to "Climatologists also fear." Note how climatologists are not labeled as "experts." The word "fear" is also problematic. While it is accurate in the sense that it doesn't convey an inappropriate level of definiteness, it is problematic due to the fact that, in this context, it characterizes the climatologists' theory as being inferior to the other, simply by not giving it that same level of definiteness. (This is doubly ironic because the climatologists' theory is, in fact, more definite than the other.) "Fear" is also problematic due to being pejorative and non-neutral. It carries a sense of irrationality, cowardice, and most importantly, lack of authority.

So, when one view is portrayed as being definite and expert, while the other is portrayed as being uncertain, irrational and cowardly, when in fact the two theories are probably of opposite merit from what is being portrayed, can there be any doubt that the authors of the article are trying to tell you what to think? And why would they do that, anyway? It's difficult to avoid noticing that the viewpoint they are softpedaling is related to global warming--a theory greatly loathed by the people who control most of the money in this world. And most of the media.

What especially cheeses me off about this is that it's coming from Reuters--a news agency that, for the most part, I am inclined to trust. I guess this is a good object lesson: read the news with a critical eye. Always. It's a pain in the ass, but if I'm going to be lied to, I would at least like to be aware of it.


*2005 is now a record year in at least four different respects: tied for total number of storms in one season (and likely to exceed that number), tied for total number of hurricanes in one season, highest number of category 5 storms in one season, and first ever tropical cyclone to make landfall in Spain.


Post a Comment

<< Home