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Monday, January 01, 2007

Hey, did you hear the story about ...

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Hey, where did all those hurricanes go? You know, the ones that were supposed to be proof that the human race is to blame for global warming?

We were warned by the media--actually it was ground into our consciousness--that in comparison to the devastating 2005 hurricane season, the worst was yet to come. The 2006 season was to be "distressingly like" 2005 (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and "another tempestuous one" (San Francisco Chronicle), which would produce more Katrinas (CBS' "The Early Show.") Turns out that there were fewer and less damaging hurricanes.

Of course, one year of reduced hurricane activity doesn't prove anything, just as one year of heightened activity didn't either, but that didn't stop a media panic attack. It was so wrong that it earned second place on the new Top 10 Dubious Data Awards list, issued annually by the Statistical Assessment Service, which describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. The organization seeks to correct media misinformation resulting from bad science, politics or a simple lack of information or knowledge. STATS concluded that the "hurricane blowhards" who engaged in "media doom-mongering" have appropriately "gone with the wind."

I would have given them first prize, until I saw the lunacy that got STATS' top award: The Dec. 13 issue of Time magazine that warned parents to throw out all pacifiers, teethers, sippy cups and vinyl toys to avoid poisoning their children with phthalates, a family of chemicals that makes plastics flexible. "This Grinch-like recommendation came despite the fact that phthalates in toys have been cleared for children's use by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the European Union's Institute for Health and Consumer Protection," STATS said. Never let facts stand in the way of a "good" story.

The rest of the Top 10:

Girls not as wild as I hoped I: The media gushed over an AP report that "all but confirm[ed] what goes on in those `Girls Gone Wild' spring-break videos:" young women blacking out from drinking, having sex with more than one partner and so forth. Actually, the American Medical Association study was a non-random Internet poll of volunteers, of which only 27 percent had been on spring break.

Girls not as wild as I hoped II: The Wall Street Journal misreported that teenage girls increased alcohol consumption more than 30 percent from 1999 to 2004. The study's mistake was that it treated, for example, a 6-ounce glass of alcohol the same as an ounce of alcohol mixed with 5 ounces of orange juice. U.S. government studies show that binge drinking by college-age women has remained steady since 1980 and daily drinking has been declining since 2002.

More crocked booze news: Forbes and The New York Times bit on a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, which claimed that the alcohol industry reaped almost $50 billion, or half its revenue, from underage drinkers. To buy that, you have to believe that teen drinkers consume as much as all adult drinkers combined, and that half of all teens consume more than 1,000 drinks a year, or almost three daily.

Fishy new car smell: The Los Angles Times reported that the interior smell consisted of "dangerous" chemicals "outgassed" from polyvinylchlorides. The report was based on the claims of an environmental group that hadn't even bothered to measure how much of the chemicals had actually been outgassed in the cars it tested.

Miami vs. Baghdad: The Miami Herald and other American media went wild with filmmaker George Gittoes' statement that life is "much worse in Miami than Baghdad." Just a short glance at murder and crime statistics makes Gittoes and those who gave him credence look foolish.

An overly convenient poll: The AP announced that "the nation's top climate scientists are giving `An Inconvenient Truth,' Al Gore's documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy." Please. Of the "more than 100" climate researchers the AP contacted, only 19 had seen the movie or read the book.

The kids are all right: NBC's "Today" show claimed the number of missing American children had risen 44 percent since 1982. Justice Department data, however, showed no increase during that period.

This is your brain on porn: To support its claim that pornography causes physical harm, ABC's main expert was an automobile executive.

As stupefying as these mistakes were, don't expect to see the corrections get as much media attention as did the original stories. Even though the corrections make for more interesting reading, and demonstrate why the public has such low opinion of those of us in the media.


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dennis,

Loved the article. I wish more people in the media would point out what I refer to as "Dan Rather-isms". A.K.A. Just because the media thinks it's true, or because the media wants it to be true does not make it true/printable. Perhaps you have found your niche. Keep working closely with STATS and run regular installments that factually shatter the fabrications of the main stream media. Most of the people sitting around you at the office will soon come to hate you, but I think your readership would skyrocket

Phil

Anonymous said...

People like Dennis Byrne, who mock the science behind global warming (column January 1), are downright dangerous. Byrne’s message: don't worry and don't change.

Even if global warming were in fact "junk science," America would still need to change—fast—to avoid disaster. Over half the existing oil reserves are exhausted. What remains will be increasingly difficult and expensive to extract. Meanwhile, the explosive growth of India, China, and other nations is intensifying competition for this dwindling resource.

While President Bush discussed America’s severe oil addiction, his administration took no corrective action, but only made things worse. Bush continued the criminal neglect of mass transit, alternate energy, fuel efficiency, and conservation. This neglect not only puts our entire economy at risk, but is far more of a threat to national security than terrorists will ever be. Historians may say Bush’s biggest blunder wasn’t the Iraq war, but his failure to intelligently plan for America's energy future.

Anonymous said...

Phil aptly talks about the "Dan Ratherisms" in the media. The most famous Dan Ratherism was about Bush's military service. Although the documents were forged, the story was TRUE. Bush didn't show up for duty. His commanding officer said so. No one from the base came forward to say they served with him. Bush himself says he "doesn't remember" what he did there. Interesting.

My own suspicion is the Karl Rove set up Dan Rather. Who would benefit more than George Bush from having an obviously-forged document on a TRUE story that is one of the black spots in Bush's past.

The most serious "Dan Ratherisms" are important stories that are TRUE, but are shouted down as nonsense by hacks like the writer of certain newspaper columns in the Chicago Tribune.

Sam said...

Well said, anonymous. I'm not sure what is with the people who say that global warming is "junk science." Who coined that term anyway? I suspect it was some schill for reckless American corporations....the people who want to make a buck for themselves, no matter what they do to America as a nation or us as individuals.

David Brown said...

After reading this column ridiculing the concept of global warming, I'm left wondering if you get outside much. Temperatures are in the 40s today, and may go higher later this week. There's not a snowflake on the ground. When I was a kid, huge mounds of snow reliably covered the ground from around Thanksgiving to sometime in March and skating rinks stayed frozen hard all winter. This changed in the mid-1980s, and we haven’t had a "real" winter since. I invite you to leave your computer and the press releases from the "nonpartisan" group you cite, and take a walk once in a while.