People wonder why I don’t take the media very seriously when it comes to their coverage of military or scientific matters. This story by Keay Davidson in the San Francisco Chronicle nicely encapsulates much of what is wrong with the contemporary media. [via Reason Hit and Run] In one story, Davidson manages to reveal his anti-military, anti-War-on-Terror and anti-Bush prejudices while simultaneously missing a real story of government waste. It’s bias and incompetence rolled up neatly in 500 words.
The headline and opening paragraph get it wrong immediately:
Military examines ‘beaming up’ data, people ? Critics say its extreme computing, energy needs keep teleportation unlikely for now
Frustrated that terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden is still on the loose nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a few military types and their scientific advisers are pondering a “what if” solution straight out of TV’s “Star Trek.
Get it? The War on Terror is going so badly and the military is so desperate that it is trying to create a teleporter technology to use as a weapon!
Oh, and it just goes to show you how dumb the Bush administration is:
Victor J. Stenger, a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii, said: “I didn’t realize that President Bush’s faith- based initiatives have reached so far as Air Force research projects …
There is only one minor problem with the picture Davidson tries to paint of desperate generals and a scientifically illiterate Bush administration: The paper [PDF] was commissioned on January 30th, 2001! I don’t see Rumsfield, ten days after the inauguration and 7 months before 9/11, pounding on a desk and screaming at the military to pull a super technology out of its hat in order to catch Osama bin Laden. Given the way such government research works, the impetus for the paper would have come months before, probably even before the election, so any political influences (of which there probably weren’t any) would have come from the Clinton administration. Clearly, Davidson in his eagerness to smear the contemporary military and Bush, couldn’t be bothered to even check his timeline.
Davidson also implies in the story that the military is clearly wasting money on “researching” a phenomenon like teleportation that the scientific community thinks is impossible. Yet the actual paper isn’t really research. Nothing got built or tested. The paper is really just a “review of the literature,” i.e., a summation of the state of knowledge about anything related to teleportation. The military has an obligation to study any phenonemon that might pose either an opportunity or a threat. It commissions a lot of papers looking into strange stuff. There is really no reason the military shouldn’t have had someone compose a paper examining teleportation as a concept.
However, this particular paper is largely garbage. It took 3 years to complete 79 pages, cost $25,000 and the author, Eric W. Davis, looks to be either a con artist or a nut job. The paper spends most of its time talking about types of teleportation based on relativity or quantum effects. That’s fine, but the information is available in numerous other sources including popular science books. Worse, Davis spends over ten pages talking about teleportation using psychic powers, which he treats as a scientifically demonstrated phenomenon! The paper is so bad that it received a Pigasus Award from James Randi the professional debunker.
Eric W. Davis doesn’t really have the profile of a legitimate scientist. At the time he got the job to do the paper, he worked at company called Warp Drive Metrics in Las Vegas. (A Las Vegas address is never a good sign.) At present he works for the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin which is part of a company called EarthTech International, Inc. According to their website, “Our activities primarily center around investigations into various aspects of the Zero-Point Field” The zero-point field is a quantum-physics phenomenon that a distinct minority of physicist believes might be exploitable as an energy source. It has come to be the basis for a modern equivalent of the old perpetual-motion-machine scam.
The real story here is about why the Clinton-era military selected such a dubious figure as Eric Davis to write such a paper, why the paper took so long and cost so much and why nobody has lost his job over this piece of crap. Davidson chucks this real story, and instead concocts a fantasy of “research” directed by a military so desperate about its failure to catch one terrorist that it will pursue any technology, no matter how outlandish, all the while egged on by the clueless Bush administration.
This is the kind of story you get when the writer and editor are political activists first, and journalists second if at all.