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Todais Linkz

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Media False Balance, Climate Change & the anti-Flannerites …

[Writtern inresponse to Gemma Jones‘ anti Tim Flannery article in the Daily Telegraph]

You can read the full article via the link above, so let me start with a couple of responses to quotes from the writing in question.

After being warned to expect drying conditions but more rain in winter than summer, Tamworth was drenched last month with 121mm of summer rain in 24 hours – the highest fall on record.

What is not mentioned in the above sentence, or in the story, is that the site at which this climate statistic was recorded (Tamworth Airport AWS ? Site #055325) has only been operational since 1992. Using such a short period of time as a reference point to support this anti-Flannerite story is naive, unscientific and ironically exactly what their expert (later quoted in the article) says folks like Flannery et.al. are doing incorrectly.

The same goes for Gemma’s reference of Port Macquarie Airport AWS, where rainfall is ” now more than 100mm above average ” ” for the year ” (-to-date ??). This location has only been operational since 1995, and a cursory glance at the month by month rainfall here will illustrate that rolling monthly averages of rainfall on this section of the coast are a dangerous game to be playing, given the likelihood of well above average monthly falls at any time during a year (a study of other reporting stations close-by with longer recording histories will back this statement up).

” Wollongong was warned it could experience such significant drying conditions that bushfires would be worse, and when rain came it would be in intense bursts.

The city was drenched in the past nine weeks with 661mm of rain, more than twice the 258mm average for the first three months of the year

This quote contains statistics from the Belambi AWS (~7 km North of Wollongong), which has been operational since 1988, with mean rainfall statistics only based on data since 1997. In contrast, other weather stations around Wollongong have climate statistics stretching back to 1900 or earlier (Albion Park). A quick addition of the rainfall mean figures for January through March at Bellambi shows the rolling average for the period is 295.9mm not 258mm as quoted.

This may all seem pedantic and a waste of my time, but if a story is going to be reported the facts presented by the journalist must be correct and presented in a factually (in this case statistically) relevant light.

An academic who specialises in climate science has accused Prof Flannery of getting predictions “spectacularly wrong.” Writing for education publication The Conversation, Associate Professor Stewart Franks from the University of Newcastle’s School of Engineering said he believed Prof Flannery was no better than an “amateur enthusiast” at climate science.

It should be made clear that AP Franks is a credible Scientist pinning his opinions on Climate Change to real and credible (from the papers I have read) research. However, it is also worth noting that Franks is an Environmental Engineer who specialises in Hydrology — specifically on Hydroclimatology when it comes to the opinions he espouses on the greater climate change debate.  It is also worth noting that the field of Climatology covers a wide spectrum of discreet scientific sub-principles. Whilst this does make his opinions automatically invalid, it goes a long way to explain them, and also frames his inferences with sharp contrast in terms of the portion of the overall climate cycle he is basing his conclusions on and the restricted scientific and geographical research area he works on.

My point here is not to dismiss Franks’ opinion, in fact I encourage robust scientific debate around this issue to allow us to continue to strive for the best way forward in respect to climate change. The Australian covered this story in a far better way last Thursday by providing Franks himself a platform, which itself was a response to an article published on The Conversation a few day earlier.

However, the way that the Daily Telegraph continues to cover this issue, by continually striving for world’s best practice in journalistic false balance, does nothing but fuel the reactionaries at either end of the spectrum; whilst denying the Public (a large portion of whom look to this channel for their main source of News and thus education on current issues) an accurate cross-spectral coverage of one of the important issues of our and future generations. This article, and the Telegraph’s broader coverage, does nothing positive for either Franks’ point of view or the greater climate change debate. The arrogant disregard for statistical accuracy and lack of detailed reporting, does nothing to further the cause of science either.

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Todais Linkz

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Todais Linkz

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Social Media Immediacy

There is no doubting that one of the potent differentiators of Social Media as a communication channel is its immediacy. This immediacy results in many different reactions; commonly including informed considered soliloquy, logical passionate adult debates, farce, tragedy, cynical recidivism and ruthless emotional lambasting. Nothing has encapsulated this more than the Kony2012 meme of the past couple of days.

The fact a shed-load of folks have, in a short period of time, awoken to the ongoing harsh reality of the military use of children in (what I will term) Middle Africa is a step forward. Social media can achieve in hours or days what has previously taken years; and in some cases can disseminate particular information to folks who would previously have never come across it.

However, this immediacy comes with a number of risks and pitfalls which increasingly radiate outside the divergent social media reality into the real world. Examples of this I have observed during these #Kony2012 days include:

  • Need to take action now, to be a part of the virus as it spreads (or be left behind in the eyes of your network) – peer pressure on steroids
  • Want to dismiss any dissenting voice with a force far more disrespectful and trigger-happy than in person – effectively bullying
  • Selectively short-handing complex issues into flat-packs for easy efficient digital dissemination – cutting out elements of the whole story
  • Use of overly emotional propaganda that dilutes the facts; or often spins the facts out of the equation – style over substance

As the mainstream media continues to flirt with social media reporting in order to retain its relevance, the results of this immediacy are transferred into our everyday lives via more traditional publication and broadcast mediums.

What I want to see in response to a campaign like #Kony2012 is debate, discussion, disagreement, dissection and even direct action. What I have observed so far less than that, and I feel that the immediacy of social media is to blame. Do you agree, and if so how can this be changed?

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