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April 27, 2013

The Media Just Doesn't Get Science, Part 16,331

I read this woser of an article last night.

One giant leap for mankind: 13bn Iter project makes breakthrough in quest for nuclear fusion, a solution to climate change and an age of clean, unlimited energy

It may be the most ambitious scientific venture ever: a global collaboration to create an unlimited supply of clean, cheap energy. And this week it took a crucial step forward. Steve Connor reports

Big shakes, huh?

This morning I read Doc Zero's debunking of it.

The "breakthrough" is that they got final approval for pouring the reinforced concrete blanket. After thousands of words extolling the benefits of nuclear fusion, and relating the long history of the Iter project, we're finally given a timeline that doesn't even mention the year 2013 at all. The last significant event on the timeline was 2005, when the Iter site was chosen; the next notable event will come in either 2021 or 2022, when the first infusion of ionized gas is scheduled. Electricity will not be produced until sometime in the 2030s, and power from the plant won't be commercially available until sometime in the 2050s.

One discounts claims made in advertisments because one understands, naturally, that a business is attempting to create hype for its product.

The media shouldn't be hyping Iter -- this newspaper reporter doesn't own a share of Iter, after all. So one might expect him to offer a straight accounting of the subject matter. He doesn't seem to have a vested interest in Iter, so one isn't on defense as regards exaggerated claims.

But of course the whole of the media has an interest in hyping the shit out of every article they publish, just to grab interest and sell ad-space.

I realize this is a little obvious but I always seem to forget it. I tend to focus on the most obvious bias -- politically-oriented bias, shilling for a party or a policy -- and forget the basic bias of any writer to Get His Stuff Read.

Even though I do that myself.

So here's the accurate, straight version of the headline:

$20 Billion Multi-Government Project Begins Pouring Some Concrete After 10 Years of Planning

Which is slightly less likely to be linked by a blog or in an email.

The project itself may be exciting, but the recent news of it? Not so much. I also imagine this is an easy article to write -- every time a trivial step is taken in the project, one can trumpet a "breakthrough," and then just regurgitate all the previously-written stuff about the goal of the project, which itself does not change, thus being an easy evergreen article capable of many deployments.

"Churnalism:" Weft-Cut Loop tells me that Watts Up With That has coined a term for this fashion of journalism, the re-writing and re-purposing the same damn article with the most trivial of "new" newshooks (such as the breakthrough of successfully mixing and pouring concrete).

They call it "churnalism."


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posted by Ace at 02:04 PM

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