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Quick Hits: Scientific Journalism

In the vein of Jon Henke’s “The Ultimate Metablog” with the satire of a good Monty Python skit (is there any other kind?), Martin Robbins lays out the definitive article for how scientific journalism is constructed. Here’s the heading:

This is a news website article about a scientific paper

In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?

My favorite bits:

In this paragraph I will state in which journal the research will be published. I won’t provide a link because either a) the concept of adding links to web pages is alien to the editors, b) I can’t be bothered, or c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published.

[...]

This fragment will be put on its own line for no obvious reason.

[...]

This paragraph contained useful information or context, but was removed by the sub-editor to keep the article within an arbitrary word limit in case the internet runs out of space.

Be sure to read the comments as well, where most everyone plays along with the theme. But beware of the related links … you may be taken to a place you never, ever want to be.


A phone call to Barbara Lisa Murkowski

“Hello, Barbara Lisa Murkowski here.”

“Yo, Babs. I hear you lookin for some DC smack.”

“What? How did you get this number?”

“Oh, a friend of yours gave it to me. He says you ain’t feelin too good. Had your usual fix taken away a couple of weeks ago. Got the monkey on your back, he says.”

“Hey, I’m fine. I’m just trying to find a way to serve the people of Alaska through one more term.”

“Heh, heh. Sure. Look, you want to hear what I got or not?”

“Well, it won’t hurt to listen, I suppose.”

“Well, the LPers are open to reason. I think I can get you a ballot spot.”

“Those guys? First, they don’t seem to want to talk to me. Second, it’s a long shot that I can win by running under their ticket.”

“Well, sure, it ain’t as high quality as what you’re used to. But it’ll keep the withdrawal pangs away for a few months. I bet right now you’re feelin like that’s enough. Eh?”

“Look, I can stand it if I have too. I have dignity, you know. I could always take a job as a lobbyist.”

“Sure you can, sure you can. I’m just sayin, I think I can arrange a deal to get you that fix, uh, I mean nomination. I mean, I’d hate to see you walkin K Street.”

“How much will it cost me?”

“No more than you got. Hey, I want to help. I hate to see a lady suffer. And from what I hear, you got the DC habit pretty bad.”

“Well, it would certainly be hard to turn my back on the people of Alaska. I’ve done so much to bring home the bacon for them. It just feels so good to get the goodies for them, you know?”

“Sure, sure, you and me in the same business, giving people stuff that makes em feel good.”

“Well, seeing as how we’re both so public-spirited, I think we can definitely work together.”


A phone call to Republican Air Conditioner Service Company

“Hello, Republican Air Conditioner Service. How can I help you?”

“Hey, my air conditioner is almost completely gone. It uses ridiculous amounts of electricity, hardly cools at all, has long pipes running through the yard to neighbor’s houses, and it sounds like it’s about to blow up. I need you to fix it.”

“Do you have a current repair company you’ve been working with?”

“Yeah. The incompetent boobs at Democratic Air Conditioner Repair. I called them two years ago and they promised to fix it. It was pretty bad off then because it’s been getting progressively worse for a long time. After paying them to fix it, and watching them scramble around doing stuff for two years, it’s worse.”

“Fine, just accept us as your repair company, and we’ll get right on it.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve heard that before. What exactly are you going to do to fix it?”

“Well, we’ll clean it up. It will be nice and shiny.”

“I don’t care about that. I want it to work.”

“Ah, but we are specialists in cleaning out a Culture of Corrosion. We think a nice, shiny air conditioner makes everyone feel better about how it’s working.”

“Listen, I don’t care. What are you going to do to make it work?”

“We’ll replace the other guys. You’ll see all new trucks in your driveway.”

“You’re not getting the point. What are you going to do to fix my air conditioner?”

“Well, that will take a lot of study. We might have to increase the power consumption so it works better.”

“What?!? The power consumption is already more than I can afford! And I don’t see how more power is going to keep it from blowing up. In fact, I think feeding in more power is more likely to make it blow up!”

“Yes, well, you are simply not acquainted with the rules of Keynesian electrical power consumption. Trust me, we’ve been doing this for decades.”

“Yeah, I know. My air conditioner has been getting worse the whole time. Why can’t you just work off the basic laws of electrical physics?”

“That’s way too complex to discuss. Besides, all the best people in the air conditioner industry have agreed that Keynesian electrical power consumption principles really work, so you don’t need to bother your head about it. The real issue is that you need to switch to us to take care of your air conditioner. After all, you certainly don’t want those other guys, after what you’ve been through, do you?”

“No. But I want somebody who’s going to fix my air conditioner. And there are no other repair companies in the whole state.”

“Of course not. Why would you need more than two? That gives you a choice. Isn’t that enough?”

“Not when neither choice can get the job done!”

“Oh, trust us. We should definitely be your air conditioner company. Are you ready to switch to us?”

“Will be you be sending the same people that came the last time I used your company?”

“Sure. They’re trained air conditioner repair people. You want experienced people, don’t you?”

“No! I want competent people! I want people who will fix the problem!”

“Well, that’s us!”

“You didn’t fix it the last time I called you. I gave you years to do it, and you just made it worse. You didn’t fix anything, but you did add on more pipes to neighbors’ houses and an air-filter thingy I didn’t want and don’t need. That’s why I switched to the other guys, hoping they could do something about the stuff you messed up.”

“And see what that got you! Those guys are just awful. They’re out of touch, and they’ll never be able to fix anything. Why, I hear they added a stereo and a set of speakers to your air conditioner. Don’t they deserve to be thrown out in favor of us?”

“Wait, I thought you guys were good pals. Don’t you play golf with them all the time?”

“Sure. They’re our colleagues. Plus, we often take over repair jobs from them, and we even use them for subcontracting sometimes. So we have to stay on good terms with them. Besides, we’ve known them a long time. We went to air conditioner school with them. Of course, they chose to go with the company that distributes Left of Left of Center Air Conditioners, while we distribute Right of Left of Center Air Conditioners.”

“Yeah, well what exactly did you learn in air conditioner school?”

“Oh, the usual. Telephone sales techniques, like I’m using with you right now. How to select the best polish to make the air conditioner shiny. Fundamentals of Keynesian electrical power. How to drive the truck that we use to get to your house.”

“But did you take any courses on HOW TO FIX AIR CONDITIONERS?!?”

“We took courses on how to WORK ON air conditioners. And how to keep working on them forever. Because they need constant tinkering you know.”

“No, they don’t! They just need to work!”

“You clearly don’t understand the purpose of air conditioners.”

“I though they were to keep my house cool.”

“Well, nominally, yes, but that’s a small part of their purpose. They’re supposed to do lots of other things too, such as pump cool air through long, uninsulated pipes to neighbors who can’t afford the electricity to cool their houses.”

“That’s going to be me soon! Assuming this thing doesn’t blow up before then and kill me in the process!”


Stupidest Thing I Heard Today

Henceforth to be titled “STIHT”.

Almost every day I’m confronted with beyond-ridiculous statements that turn me sideways. I literally cringe when I hear/read them. A little monologue automatically goes off in my head (OK, and out loud once in awhile as well) that serves — for my purposes — to make the bad thing stop. Because the stupidity has become relentless, I feel the need to rant publicly. Hence STIHT.

So, as I’m finishing my day, leisurely pondering the conclusion of the TV show I was watching, that nasally, self-indulgent voice of Sex In The City’s primary protagonist wistfully bleats “Someone once said that two halves make a whole.” Let me tell you: the sinews, tendons and synapses controlling my fingers’ hasty dispatch of power to the source of such inanity were so swift as to make Mercury look like Kurt Rambis. My sanity was saved with a flick of the wrist.

Why? Well, allow me to rant.

No one, in the history of all intellectual life, has ever said “two halves make a whole”. Sure, someone has actually said those words. But I can assure you that, apart from the confines of the writer’s room for Sex In The City, no one who said them was met with anything less than a Potsie-perfect “Duh.”

Because the profound thing about the statement, to the extent there is anything, is not that two halves make a whole, but instead that a “whole” can be split into two halves. That wisdom has been known since at least the time of Ur, and probably for quite a bit before that.

Put simply, there is nothing remotely profound in the statement that “two halves make a whole” since the only revelatory thing of the entire statement is the complete converse — i.e. that a whole can be split into two equal parts called “halves.” That “someone once said” such an unenlightening statement may in fact be true, but it doesn’t prove anything apart from the utter vacuity of the person proposing such statement to have meaning at all.

Now for the anticipated FAQ’s:

“So what’s the point of your rant?”

Stupid things piss me off. Writing about their stupidity seems better than punching holes in walls (yeah, you’ve been there).

“But why do I care?”

Why would I know? Or care?

“I mean, why should I bother reading your rants?”

Don’t bother. I write them to keep down on my drywall and putty expenses (OK, and for entertainment purposes). Consider it like a reality show — public therapy.

“But would Snooki approve?”

No. Punching walls is mandatory in her world.

“Are there midgets involved?”

Oh, just wait until my next rant. I mean, they’re not even real people.

“Is Daniel Tosh funnier than you?” (See last link)

Who are you! Tell me your name! Who sent you! I have RIGHT to know who you are!


And now for something completely different

Looking for the perfect gift for the beer drinking PETA member you know. Not to worry, Scotland’s BrewDog brewery has just the gift.

Well, not this year as they’ve already sold out of the 12 bottles they made. And it’s a healthy brew – an ale they call "The End of History" – a little Francis Fukuyama joke.

At 55% alcohol and $765 it isn’t cheap nor is it for the faint of heart. As the company says, it should be treated “more like a whiskey” than a beer.

As for what would appeal to the PETA member?

Well, the recycling of roadkill as a cover for the bottle, of course.

100723-brewdog-beer-hmed-140a.grid-6x2

~McQ

[tweetmeme only_single="false"]


Michael Gerson Is Better Than You

Oh, and you’re ugly too:

My political friendships and sympathies are increasingly determined not by ideology but by methodology. One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

[...]

The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy — a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered … Unlike Weigel, most members of the Ugly Party — liberal and conservative — have little interest in keeping their views private.

[...]

The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party — less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent. The Grown-Up Party, in my experience, is more like a seminar at the Aspen Institute — presentation by David Broder, responses from E.J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks — on the electoral implications of the energy debate. I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.

Well, not in public anyway.

If I had a nickel for every time some hand-wringing, garment-wrenching, media “elite” rides to the rescue of one of their liberal brethren being caught slurring the political opposition, I could buy the entire archives of JournoList.

I’d even have enough money left over for some popcorn and a comfy chair. Then I could release those archives and watch the stampede of “Grown-Up Party” snobs falling all over themselves to explain how sophisticated they all are for only “urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases” in the privacy of their own chatrooms. It will be uproariously entertaining to hear how talking behind people’s backs is the epitome of class, while publicly challenging opponents is so lowly and juvenile.

You know, Mr. Gerson, being a “Grown-Up” douchebag isn’t much of an accomplishment.


What would we do without activist entertainers?

I always love it when entertainers suddenly awaken and decide they must get involved in saving the planet.

This time it is Jeremy Irons.  He’s decided there are just too many people on our little blue globe.  Our lot’s numbers are “unsustainable”, although he’s pretty convinced some “big outbreak of something” will most likely happen because, you know, “the world always takes care of itself”.  Of course, because Mother Gaia is a living breathing thinking world.

What he wants to do is make a film (naturally) which will be like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”.  A “documentary about sustainability and waste disposal in the vein of Michael Moore – but “not as silly”.  Of course.

Irons describes himself as “deeply socialist” and is also concerned about world hunger.  In a stirring and deeply touching (/sarc) call to action, Irons says on the website 1billionhungry.org:

“People around the world suffer hunger — 1 billion. Now that’s bad, worse than bad, that’s crazy! We’ve got to get mad. I want you to get mad. I want you to get up right now, stick your head out of the window and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell’.”

Original, edgy, a real difference maker.  Of course it remains to be seen if Irons understands that the reason 1 billion are hungry has little to do with resources and much to do with politics.

Irons announced his new endeavor from one of his 7 houses:

The ultimate solution, he says, is for us all to live less decadently — growing our own food and recycling instead of replacing goods: “People must drop their standard of living [so] the wealth can be spread about. There’s a long way to go.”

James Delingpole shakes his head at the usual hypocrisy:

And just as soon as you show us the way by flogging at least six of your houses, foregoing air travel, subsisting on berries, wild garlic and road kill, and dressing in polyester cast offs from your local charity shop, we’ll take you more seriously still.

Exactly.   Delingpole wonders:

Could it be that “sustainability” is a concept one only truly understands when one has grown so incredibly rich that one is able to shelter from the consequences of one’s eco-fanaticism in the seclusion and comfort of one’s many agreeable homes?

Apparently.  Delingpole points out that the UK’s new enviroment minister, Chris Huhne has that number of homes.  And we know that Al Gore, the Pince of Wales and Zac Goldsmith aren’t far behind.  And how knows how many Michael Moore has.

~McQ


When are sanctions not sanctions?

When enforcement is an option, I suppose.  Tell me how brilliant this is:

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in “cooperating countries,” a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran.

[...]

The “cooperating countries” language that the White House is pressing would allow the executive branch to designate countries as cooperating with the overall strategy to pressure Iran economically.

According to three congressional staffers familiar with the White House proposal, once a country is on that list, the administration wouldn’t even have to identify companies from that country as selling gasoline or aiding Iran’s refinement industry.

Even if, as current law allows, the administration can waive the penalties on named companies for various reasons, the “cooperating countries” language would deprive the sanctions of their “name-and-shame” power, the staffers said.

The bill in committee now doesn’t have this provision.  Essentially what this amounts to is the administration saying “if you’ll sign on to the sanctions (against the importation of gasoline), we won’t enforce them” to “cooperating countries”.  Pure symbolism over substance.

“We’re pushing for a ‘cooperating-countries’ exemption,” the White House official said. “It is not targeted to any country in particular, but would be based on objective criteria and made in full consultation with the Congress.”

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said the exemption “is aimed at China and Russia specifically.”

“The administration wants to give a pass to countries for merely supporting a watered-down, almost do-nothing U.N. resolution,” she said.

This isn’t coherent foreign policy – this is pure politics mostly designed for domestic consumption.  This is about the ability to claim to have made progress against Iran by rallying the rest of the world to our side and imposing “tough new sanctions” via the UN when the intent is to never enforce them.

Of course Iran hasn’t been idle either.  They’re not doing “in-kind” bartering with regional neighbors which circumvents any sanction regime.  Swap oil for refined petroleum products and they’re not liable to such sanctions.  And of course Hugo Chavez and others in the socialist South American cabal have also said they’d ignore such sanctions anyway.

Last, but certainly not least, a gasoline sanction hits those that can’t afford it the most the hardest in Iran.  The regime?  It will always have plenty of gasoline.  The poor Iranian trying to feed his family – not so much.

Instead of playing these sorts of games, which are clearly doomed to failure (or irrelevance), maybe it’s time to reconsider putting back on the table some of the options the administration unilaterally took off the table last year.

~McQ



 

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