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  • Journalists

    Posted by David Foster on October 20th, 2019 (All posts by )

    Financial Times recently had an article about a projected luxury dirigible.  Being an airship fan, I wish the venture success. I was struck, though, by a paragraph in the article contrasting the planned aircraft, called the Airlander, with the airships of the 1930s with their “flammable hydrogen fuels.”

    Uh…no.  None of the airships of the 1930s used hydrogen as a fuel.  Some of them used hydrogen as a lifting gas, which is a totally different thing from the fuel consumed to power the craft forward. And most American airships didn’t use hydrogen for any purpose…the American airships that came to bad ends mostly did so as a result of weather-related structural failure…which point, one would have thought, might have been relevant to someone writing about the possible future of airships.

    But airships are a pretty esoteric subject, after all, so maybe it’s unreasonable to expect a journalist to spend (or get his assistant to spend) half an hour actually learning something about whatever he is writing about.  So let’s talk about something that isn’t esoteric at all, but rather about as timely and important as it gets.  Energy.

    I’ve noticed that in articles about energy storage…of which there have been a lot…the writer rarely seems to grasp that kilowatts are not the same thing as kilowatt-hours, and you can’t express the storage capacity of a battery or other storage system in kilowatts. It would be like stating the capacity of your car’s gas tank in horsepower.  (The same principle applies to megawatts and megawatt-hours, or gigawatts and gigawatt-hours)  Yet all the time, I see articles…not just in the general media but also in the business media…talking about the wonderfulness of a battery or whatever that can store 4 megawatts.

    For example, here’s a Barrons article referring to a town which has installed batteries “that can hold two megawatts of power.”  Actually, the batteries at this facility can hold 3.9 megawatt-hours of energy…the 2 megawatts of power is about the rate at which energy can be added to or drawn from the system, and has nothing to say about the amount stored.  So if you withdraw power at 2 megawatts, you can do so for a little under 2 hours before the battery storage is exhausted. You need the megawatt-hour number to know that; “2 megawatts” tells you nothing about the storage capacity.

    Turning now to television journalism:  I think Tucker Carlson is far superior to most TV commentators in terms of focusing on issues in some depth, rather than just obsessively circling in on whatever is hottest at the moment.  But when recently introducing a guest who was going to talk about a highly-questionable sale to China that was made during the Clinton administration, he said that sale had been of “machine parts.”  Actually, it was of machine tools, as the guest correctly explained.

    Machine tools are one of the essential cornerstones of industry, and have been for a long time.  Shouldn’t a person who frequently writes and/or speaks about economic issues know what a machine tool is and why it matters?  Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I think Tucker’s “machine parts” phrasing indicates that he has no such awareness.

    Ben Rhodes, an Obama operative, said of the current generation of reporters:  “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

    No doubt true of a large number of those younger reporters who Rhodes manipulated while feeling contempt for. But there are journalists–older and younger–who do have a pretty good grasp of history, geography, and comparative political systems…some of them even have some education or reading in political philosophy.  But even among these, knowledge of technology–and by “technology” I do not mean just “computer stuff”–is pretty close to nonexistent.

    And with the vastly increased influence of government over all aspects of the economy–and the even greater (much greater!) influence being sought by the current Democratic Party–such knowledge is pretty important.

     

    26 Responses to “Journalists”

    1. Jay Guevara Says:

      I’ve noticed that in articles about energy storage…of which there have been a lot…the writer rarely seems to grasp that kilowatts are not the same thing as kilowatt-hours

      And these are our soi-disant betters, who’ve obviously never darkened the door of a physics or chemistry lecture theater.

      As a scientist one of the crosses to bear is listening to pig ignorant laymen pontificate about things they know precisely zero about, such as the difference between power and energy. Also their proposals for schemes that ignore the Second Law of Thermodynamics, usually by omitting part of the cycle. One favorite is the notion that there’s something magical about electric cars, which are powered by electrical outlets apparently unconnected to anything else.

      And I won’t get started on health, diet, and nutrition nonsense, much of which would make a witch doctor with a bone through his nose roll his eyes.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Jay…”And these are our soi-disant betters, who’ve obviously never darkened the door of a physics or chemistry lecture theater.”

      Understanding this point about power and energy doesn’t even require darkening the door of a science class….I bet there are a few million people in America with only high school diplomas who understand this point.

    3. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      “… so maybe it’s unreasonable to expect a journalist to spend (or get his assistant to spend) half an hour actually learning something about whatever he is writing about.”

      But they’ve heard about the Hindenberg Disaster, and EVEN SEEN THE VIDEO. Don’t you understand that means they pretty much understand the whole topic anyway?

    4. Mike K Says:

      I bet there are a few million people in America with only high school diplomas who understand this point.

      Probably a much higher percentage of people with “only” high school diplomas. I can imagine that electricians and contractors among them.

      Journalism schools are deserts in the subject of science. Or mechanics of any sort. My older son is a trial lawyer who does construction defect litigation. He has many times wished he had taken some classes in soil engineering and civil sorts of things.

      Look at reports on guns to see how ignorant the “Credentialed classes “are.

    5. Jay Guevara Says:

      Understanding this point about power and energy doesn’t even require darkening the door of a science class….I bet there are a few million people in America with only high school diplomas who understand this point.

      Fair point. I didn’t intend to imply that that sort of thing is college-level material. I should have said “classroom” instead of “lecture theater.”

    6. Brian Says:

      Complaining that journalists get scientific facts wrong is like complaining that LeBron James doesn’t score enough touchdowns–it’s just fundamentally misunderstanding the game that’s being played. A couple years ago Popular Mechanics put Joe Biden and his idiot crooked son on the cover for no reason having anything to do with their alleged purpose. Similarly one would never know from looking at fashion magazines that there is a legit model First Lady right now (and if one wanted to claim that these magazines are apolitical, the years from 2008 to 2016 are awfully hard to understand). The US mainstream media exists to promote the left in general and the Democrat party, and whining about anything else is a waste of breath.

    7. PenGun Says:

      A journalist is writing his or her opinion of the news. Hence the inclusion of the word journal. A news reporter does not do this, but they are all gone. A great pity but we are all at war now. Armageddon is in progress in the middle east right now and you idiots started the whole thing, well this phase anyway. ;)

      Expecting people writing popular content to get science right is foolish. We have so many resources to give us actual scientists, explaining their own work, that paying attention to these people is only useful for amusement.

    8. Roy Kerns Says:

      Socialists continue to astonish me. Their entire system relies upon absolutely absurd misunderstandings of multiple fields ranging from human nature to physics. As the originating link focuses on technology, I’ll restrict my comment to the latter field. And note that socialists assert that there is such a thing as a free lunch, that government can have resources without cost (as if taking the resources from some to give to others does not change how the some will operate). In short, they either cannot comprehend the First Law of Thermodynamics or they deny it…or both.

    9. Roy Kerns Says:

      Nor did I have to wait long before I ran across a beautiful example of that foolish denial. Look at the time stamps of this comment and my prior comment. After the first comment I moved on to other sites of interest. Only a few moments, without actually attempting to find and example, and “Bingo!” or maybe “Tally Ho!” (I wonder what the Canadian expression is….)
      https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/economy/sanders-plan-would-have-billionaires-taxed-more-than-they-earn

    10. PubliusII Says:

      The more you know about a subject, (1) the more rank errors you see in journalism about that subject, and (2) the more conservative you probably are.

      Journalists used to be people who entered the buiness through an apprenticeship under a chain-smoking, hard-drinking newspaperman who swore and drank too much, but knew the importance of presenting the who, what, where, when, and why of any story.

      Those guys are all dead now (liver cirrhosis, lung cancer, enraged spouses with revolvers, whatever).

      Now we have 27-year-olds who know squat about anything. But they are very full of feelings, atttitudes, and political correctness.

      What do you expect when you elevate credentials over experience?

    11. MCS Says:

      The journalists I can simply ignore. It’s the equally ignorant but oh-so-sure politicians that are the problem.

    12. john henry Says:

      Amen to that. Whenever I see an article talking about power and they don’t know the differences between KW and KWH, I stop reading. If they are that stupid, they can’t know anything worth knowing.

      I also get annoyed when they talk about batteries as if a relatively small battery would store enough energy to do anything useful like run a house from sundown to sunup. Here is what popped up when I DDGd Megawatthour battery

      The 2MW, 8MWh battery system may seem like a small installation compared to recent projects in Southern California and Hawaii, but it’s quite a step for the nascent flow battery industry. In fact, this installation is currently the largest capacity containerized flow battery system in the world. It’s housed in 20 connected shipping containers and will be used by the Snohomis

      https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/04/washington-states-new-8-megawatt-hour-flow-battery-is-the-largest-of-its-kind/

      The shipping containers appear to be 20 footers. But 20 of them and all you get is 8MWH? 2MW for 4 hours? That assumes that they can be fully cycled. I believe most batteries can’t be cycled below about 20% which means these 20 containers are really 6mwh.

      And don’t get me started on solar. 1MW of solar panels requires 5 acres or more of land. And only generates power about 4-5 hours per day in most of the US. Assuming the skies are clear. To get the equivalent of a 1MW fossil plant, you would need at least 5 MW of solar panels (about 25 acres) plus several more acres of land for batteries and it still would not be as usable as a diesel that will fit on the back of a truck.

      I HATE!!! with a white hot passion most of the reporting I see on energy.

      John Henry

    13. John Henry Says:

      Since I’ve gotten started on solar, here is a Google Earth photo of a power plant. On the right is a 454MW fossil fuel plant. Probably about 90% availability with quite a bit of discretion in when the 10% downtime occurs.

      To the left, same photo, same site, so no magic with scaling, is a 20MW (nominal) @5MW effective, solar plant.

      https://darkislandpr.blogspot.com/2018/01/80-square-miles-of-solar.html

      I did draw in some white lines to show the extent of each. In reality, the fossil plant itself is the small white building near the corner of the “L”. Most of the rest is grass and coal piles for a 2 month supply.

      John Henry

    14. Mike K Says:

      Only a few moments, without actually attempting to find and example, and “Bingo!” or maybe “Tally Ho!” (I wonder what the Canadian expression is….)

      The example of a 100% tax has actually been tried. Back when Sweden was trying really hard to be Socialist, they had a tax rate on doctors that went to 100% (actually about 105%) above a certain annual income. The effect was that when a doctor, usually a professor or highly specialized practitioner, reached the level of income at 100% tax rate, they took the rest of the year off. This was usually around October 1, so the patients had no access to those doctors until January. Now, there were lesser salaried doctors available but, if you needed open heart surgery for example, you waited until next year. Most of those who hit the ceiling tax rate spent those months in the Mediterranean.

    15. CapitalistRoader Says:

      Leaving he “rate” part out of power bugs me too. Back 20 years ago when I started riding my bike several times/week I was curious about how much horsepower a human could generate: 1/10th to 1/4hp for a healthy adult male. But only for an hour or so. Regular humans can generate 1hp for much shorter periods, only a second or two, while professional weightlifters can generate as much as three or four hp over the same period.

      Same for wind & solar energy vs. nat gas/coal/nuclear. Yeah, a wind farm might generate multiple mWh’s for a few hours but a petroleum or nuclear power plant can generate that power “forever”.

      Scotland sets renewable energy record as wind power provides equivalent of 118% of nation’s electricity

      Wow! We don’t need no stinkin’ coal no more. Except for six months out of the year when wind supplies <50% of the required energy. The solution is obviously continent-sized batteries.

    16. Mike K Says:

      A nice discussion of “renewable energy” and incentives for utilities.

      There is simply no credible way Xcel can argue that building wind, solar, and natural gas for prices that exceed the cost of electricity at Sherco will save consumers money.

      Remember, Xcel says electricity bills for their Minnesota customers are 22 percent below the national average, but that’s only because they use 41 percent less electricity!. No sane person would brag to his neighbor that his bill for tomatoes at the grocery store is 22 percent lower than his neighbor’s when he bought 41 percent fewer tomatoes.

    17. tomw Says:

      Maybe we can harvest the mush contained in the heads of the baffled ‘reporters’ who believe electricity comes out of the wall sockets – with nothing else necessary.
      Kinda like the airheads(less harvestable energy there) who want ‘equal pay’, but cannot understand the concept that if female employees could be paid less than males of equivalent skills/talent, then men would never be hired.

    18. Kirk Says:

      The thing that cracks me up about it all is that everyone’s on and on about “electric cars” being the wave of the future, when all that they really accomplish is transfer the burning carbon a bit higher up in the chain, whilst wasting tons of energy with all the transfers between production, transmission, and battery charging.

      They’d really be a hell of a lot smarter to be making tailored liquid hydrocarbon fuels that limit pollutants to the maximum feasible level, and then having all that energy used to make them instead of charging batteries. Liquid fuels already have the infrastructure, and even when you factor in ICE inefficiencies, there’s more “there” there in terms of power density and range…

    19. CapitalistRoader Says:

      …even when you factor in ICE inefficiencies

      Over 60% of electricity in the US is generated in ICE power plants which are somewhat more efficient than a car’s ICE but not much. Another 20% of US electricity is generated by nuclear fission.

    20. CapitalistRoader Says:

      Sorry: Coal power plants use ECE’s.

    21. David Foster Says:

      I don’t really think most of the electric car fanatics think electricity just comes out of the wall socket…if you press them, they will say that it can come from wind and solar, as soon as the evil fossil fuel companies stop dominating the political system.

    22. Dan from Madison Says:

      I run an industrial distribution business and for over three decades have obsessed over my inventory levels, sales force, balance sheet, p and l statements, etc. etc. So I cringe the most when I read something put out by a journalist on any basic business topic. Where someone can probably watch the Hindenburg video and come to the conclusion that “hydrogen fuel blows up blimps”, there is literally nothing that any journalist can read or watch that can even give them that poor base of knowledge when writing about business.

      I recently discovered the Gell-Mann amnesia effect and I had to laugh because I am guilty of participating.

      I will say, that when you start with a base of “journalists pretty much know squat”, you can take most of the “reporting” with a grain of salt, wonder to yourself what the real facts are (and if they are worth pursuing), and move on with your day.

    23. Roy Kerns Says:

      Coyote’s accurate description discerns that more than mistakes of the unaware shape the discussion. See also in the comments section of the link below a link to a U.N. official’s essay.

      http://coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2019/10/illustrating-the-corruption-in-climate-science.html#disqus_thread

      “You can fool some people all of the time, all the people some of the time. But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Hmmm. fify: However, you can fool enough of them enough of the time to do the job.

    24. Gringo Says:

      Dan From Madison:

      I will say, that when you start with a base of “journalists pretty much know squat”, you can take most of the “reporting” with a grain of salt, wonder to yourself what the real facts are (and if they are worth pursuing), and move on with your day.

      Part of the problem is that journalists suffer little to no negative consequences for ignorant or false statements. Speed is apparently more important than accuracy in the journalism biz. As a result, journalists will publish material they have not thoroughly investigated, as is is more important to be fast than it is to be accurate.

      Compare this with attorneys. Both journalists and attorneys deal with stories. In the case of attorneys, they deal with clients’ stories. If an attorney doesn’t find out what the facts are, and base his case on the facts, the attorney will soon lose clients. Yes, persuasiveness goes a long way towards attorney success, but if that persuasiveness is not anchored by a thorough knowledge of the facts of the case, a persuasive attorney will founder.

      Good attorneys do not bullshit their clients, because they know that will eventually result in clients not knocking on their doors. Journalists know from experience that that their bullshitting often or usually has little or no consequences.

    25. MCS Says:

      “Part of the problem is that journalists suffer little to no negative consequences for ignorant or false statements.”

      I think we may be seeing the consequences in the never ending lay offs at “news” organizations. Nobody’s willing to pay for their product. I’m sure not.

    26. Brian Says:

      The story of a lifetime has been covered in the last 3 years by internet randos, because “journalists” at the mainstream media aren’t interested in reporting facts. Their job is to provide legitimacy for publishing whatever Democrat party politicians (Schiff, et al) and apparatchiks (Brennan, Clapper, etc.) tell them. But this is basically the end of the game, because they’ve thrown away their credibility. No one cares about them anymore. Except for the likes of Mitt Romney, hahaha, what a pitiful idiot he is.

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