Can only prove non-science wrong

March 19, 2011

Before we drilled for water we employed at water diviner.

He wandered around the paddocks with a forked stick which pointed down at a spot where he told us we’d find water.

When the driller turned up we told him that and he laughed and said we’d wasted our money. “The trouble with water diviners is that you can only ever prove them wrong,” he said. “If they’re right without the backing of science you don’t know if it’s just luck.”

This applies also to anyone who says they can predict earthquakes.

Ken Ring has terrified people in Christchurch by warning there could be another big earthquake this weekend. Some are so scared they’ve left the city.

David Winter took a scientific approach to his predictions and showed them for what they are here and here; his account of being on TV here and the Campbell Live interview here.

The full moon will be very close to the earth tonight, but David shows that lunar phase is a very poor indicator of earthquake strength.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the people who have found Ken Ring’s prediction the last straw and have left the city for the weekend. Emotion beats facts and their fear is understandable.

And I applaud those like Keeping Stock who is visiting friends and whanau in spite of it; and Nick Smith and the Skeptics :

The minister and the Skeptics Society are planning to have lunch in the Sign of the Kiwi, one of the tallest and oldest buildings in Christchurch, at noon this Sunday, the day Ken Ring predicted another earthquake would hit the city.

The minister, who has a background in earthquake engineering and a PhD in geotechnical engineering, told NBR he had been taken aback by the number of people taking Mr Ring seriously.

So will there be an earthquake in Christchurch this weekend?

Who knows? There might be and there might not be, there is no credible scientific method of predicting that.


Announcing The Mediocres

May 17, 2009

Had I attempted to file a story which cast aspersions on someone and included the statement “There is no evidence to support this impression,” the report says. when I was working for a newspaper I’d have been told to find some proof and re-read the law on defamation.

Had I attempted to file a story questioning the timing of a marriage I’d have been told that it is not a journalist’s job to seek and report on the feelings of grieving friends and relatives.

It’s only a few weeks since I asked what’s happened to the gatekeepers?

These two stories from the last couple of days are just the most recent examples which show that either the gatekeepers have gone or they’ve lost the ability to differentiate between news and gossip.

The Qantas Awards celebrate what’s supposed to be the best in New Zealand journalism. Cactus Kate questions that which made me think: the Skeptics have an annual Bent Spoon Award,  Fair Go has its Worst Ad Award,  is it time for a competition to find the lowest of the low in the media?

I think it is and am using the working title of  The Mediocres for them; but I’m open to a name which better illustrates that the award  is not for journalism which isn’t good, it’s for journalism which is really bad.

I’m open to suggestions of who could judge theses awards and the criteria to be used.

Macdoctor’s definition of spam journalism: The spurious use of sensational headlines to add spice to an otherwise pointless article would be a good starting point – he’s already up to #32 in his series. But there’s a lot more to bad journalism than headlines which aren’t supported by the facts in the story.

In the interests of inclusion there will be a category for blogs too.

Monkeywithtypewriter thinks it’s time to consider a voluntary code for blogs. I don’t think that would work because those likely to adhere to the code will blog responsibly anyway and those who don’t won’t. But a Mediocre would stick a badge of shame on the worst.

The award needs a name, judges, judging criteria and nominations – your views and suggestions are welcomed.

P.S. If there’s a category for published typso typos in blogs I’d have to nominate myself.


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