Thursday, December 10, 2009

The quality of the "filter"

Worth keeping in mind when reading NYT analyses of Climategate.
In 1920, Robert Goddard was conducting experiments with rockets. In an editorial, The New York Times sneered at Goddard’s work and particularly at the idea that a rocket could function in a vacuum:

That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react – to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

In 1969…the year of the Apollo moon mission…the NYT finally got around to issuing a correction for their 1920 mistake.

What is noteworthy about the original editorial is not just the ignorance, but the arrogance and the outright nastiness...It appears that some of the attributes of the NYT which make it so untrustworthy and unlovable today are actually cultural characteristics of long standing.

How many journalists are qualified scientists? How many have good experience and expertise, even from an academic perspective, in any of the hard sciences, higher level math or statistics? Are not they drawn almost exclusively not just from the ranks of Liberal Arts majors, but from the ranks of Liberal Arts majors who want "to make the world a better place?" And that's the filter through which we've gotten our news on everything. Al Gore, for example, depends on it.

Thankfully, there's a lot of information getting past the filters now...

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