Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

What Else Is New?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

As is its wont, the Beeb gets things quite wrong:

Race for God particle heats up by James Morgan of the BBC
Fermilab say the odds of their Tevatron accelerator finding it first are now 50-50 at worst, and up to 96% at best.

Cern's Lyn Evans admitted the accident which will halt the $7bn Large Hadron Collider until September may cost them one of the biggest prizes in physics.
The race hasn't heated-up; it has slowed-down as a result of the CERN accident, giving Fermilab a chance to catch-up and possibly win.

Speaking of the Beeb getting things wrong (this time for lack of ethical bearings), here's and interesting (if somewhat lengthy) critique of Earth: The Climate Wars:


Monday, 2 February 2009
Mighty HMS Victory wreck found from the BBC
But the wreck's location, 62 miles (100km) away from the rocks, suggests the 74-year-old admiral was not to blame.

His ancestor Sir Robert Balchin said: A piece of my family history and of national history has come alive.

“As a family we have always been proud of Sir John but this confirms what a fantastic admiral he was.

One of the functions of the 'Net has been to demonstrate that the typical British journalist doesn't know English any better than does the typical American journalist.

[Up-Date (18:43PST): The word ancestor has been replaced with descendant.]

Tweaking the Truth

Friday, 9 January 2009

Here's an example of a wretched journalistic practice:

US job losses hit record in 2008 from the BBC
More US workers lost jobs last year than in any year since World War II, with employers axing 2.6 million posts and 524,000 in December alone.

The US jobless rate rose to 7.2% in December, the highest in 16 years.
One should not begin with a news story with a lie, and then correct it. The head-line here doesn't refer to a post-war record. A head-line is often the only part of the story read, and almost always the first part of the story read. So people with no sense of history — because their educators in the school system and in the main-stream media don't impart one to them — are filled with anxiety and rage. The emotional effect lingers even after the correction is given, and some never get the correction.

The economic news has been bad, but it simply doesn't compare to that of the Great Depression — which itself shouldn't be seen as necessarily our worse down-turn. (Those who uncritically presume that it was should look into the Depression of 1837.)

One should, BTW, be careful to distinguish amongst different statistics:

  • the number of jobs lost,
  • the unemployment rate,
  • the employment rate,
  • changes in these rates.
Note that the article acknowledges that the unemployment rate is not at a post-war high; it has, rather, climbed faster than at any time previous in the post-war period. The unemployment rate itself was worse at the end of the kinder, gentler Administration of GHW Bush.

Second, when there is job creätion as well as job loss, people may lose jobs but spend relatively little time unemployed. (Being dismissed from a job is still a stressful experience for most people, but not necessarily equivalent to being materially impoverished.)

Finally, the unemployment rate is not simply the complement of the employment rate. The unemployment rate, which tries to measure the number people who are seeking employment and unable to find it, is a fairly junky statistic. On the one hand, it doesn't count people who would choose to work if the were offered a job, but who have just given-up hope of finding one; and it doesn't count people who are under-employed, wanting full-time jobs but only able to secure part-time employment. On the other hand, it does count people who aren't sincerely seeking employment, but are going through the motions of seeking a job so that they can continue to collect benefits from programmes that require them to seek employment. The employment rate is simply the percentage of people of working age who have jobs. It has problems — including that it counts under-employed people — but it's less junky that the unemployment rate.

Bladder Control Problem

Monday, 10 November 2008
Jersey City Councilman Steven Lipski is No. 1 threat at Washington club by Richard Shapiro of the New York Daily News
A drunken Jersey City councilman was arrested for urinating on a crowd of concertgoers from the balcony of a Washington nightclub, police and club sources said Saturday.

And, since the Councilman's party affiliation is mysteriously not given in the story, one might google

"Steve Lipski" (democrat | democratic | republican)

This time, I was amused to find that many of the first hits are exactly about the failure to report his party affiliation. I was also amused to find his declaration

Yes, I am a Democrat, but I have always put people before politics.
as urinating on the crowd suggests that he puts some peculiar things well ahead both of people and of politics.

Equations and Differentiations

Monday, 3 November 2008

A couple of things to note about this story:

Eurozone is on verge of recession from BBC
The eurozone is on the brink of recession with economic growth falling 0.2% in the second quarter, the European Commission has announced.

First, we yet again have the BBC confusing a rate of change with the thing changing, The last time that I took note of such confusion from them, they were confusing the growth rate of GDPYt) with the change in that growth rate (Δ2Yt2). This time, they've turned around to confuse the growth rate of GDPYt) with GDP (Y) itself. (If they maintain the earlier confusion, then by transitivity they confuse Y with Δ2Yt2.)

The Eurozone economy isn't growing 0.2% more slowly than before; its production is shrinking at a rate of 0.2%. (GDP is not itself a growth rate of under-lying wealth, because the vast majority of what is produced is consumed, rather than saved.)

A second thing to note is that the BBC is referring to the Eurozone as on the verge of a recession, while America may already be in recession. The brute fact is essentially the same across these two economies — one quarter in which production declined — but the Eurozone is made to seem on the cusp while America is presented as perhaps already well-in.

And did I mention…?

Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Iranian cleric blasts Ahmadinejad from the Jerusalem Post
Iran suffers from a rising consumer price index, high percentage of unemployment and an inflation of 26 percent.

Also, it takes increasing amounts of money to buy stuff. And prices are going up.

The Curse of Stagnant Change

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Here, from the BBC, is a bit of rot:

Policy makers will begin their two-day meeting later amid signs that economic growth has stagnated, or even shrunk.
Okay, stagnate means to become unchanging; which is to say that stagnant growth would be a constant growth. Some might perhaps hope for ever-accelerating growth, but most people would be happy with constant growth at, say, 3% to 4% per annum.

There is indeed some concern that the rate of growth has shrunk, but what really concerns people is the possibility that the rate of production (rather than of growth) may have shrunk.

Journalists are just constantly confusing underlying values, first differences, second differences, and so forth. In this case, GDP (or something like it) is our x, growth is Δxt, and the change of the rate of growth is Δ2xt2. A stagnant rate of growth would imply

Δ2xt2 = 0
whereäs the fear is that
Δxt ≤ 0
Last year, the Beeb similarly confused the inflation rate with the price level:
The latest inflation rate — or Consumer Prices Index for December as it is formally called — was known to the Bank of England before it made the decision last Thursday to raise interest rates to 5.25%.
(The initial version of the story was even worse, having the title Cost of living at 11-year high. Various parties tried to tried to get the Beeb to fix things, but they just couldn't wrap their heads around the matter.)

This confusion of underlying values and differences is illustrative of the more general problem that the mass of journalists and the mass of their editors just have no understanding of economics, and couldn't sensibly inform the typical reader even if they wanted to do so (and I seriously doubt that they want to do so).