Wee Whoppers

Alan Sullivan, the Seablogger, who lived on a boat for many years, happens to know rather a lot about the weather. He points out a small error in a BBC news story and speculates how such errors arise and accumulate in a post entitled Little Falsehoods. Here is the quote from the BBC:

It was only the 10th named storm to develop after the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season since records began in 1851.

And here is Alan’s analysis:

Storms were recorded long before 1851, however they were not named until 1951. This mistake makes it sound as though post-season storms are much rarer, the present one more freakish, and therefore more likely to have been caused by global warming. I do not believe there was any intent to deceive. The problem is more subtle. If you passionately believe a thesis — whether or not it is true — you are likely to make mistakes in its favor. Thus is a “consensus” formed, one falsehood at a time.

Despite being an academic directly concerned with the study of media since the 60s I did not fully appreciate the extent to which the traditional industrial age media – newspapers, radio, TV – created mass opinion until after the rise of the Internet. I am reminded of McLuhan’s argument that we remain unaware of how much we are hypnotized by a particular media environment until a new one emerges and gives us some perspective on the older forms.

Media institutions are being forced to recant – sometimes in humiliating fashion – because they can’t control the flow of criticism from interested and expert observers in the blogosphere. There are many people, myself included, who actually shout at the TV because we object to being propagandized by it. It is very different now that we can hear each other.


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