Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Quote of the Day: (Media) Meltdown edition

Sonic Charmer looks at the reaction by the media to the earthquake damaged reactors in Japan, and is unimpressed:
We already knew that nuclear accidents could happen. That is not new information. Nuclear accidents happening once-in-a-whatever is a totally-expected phenomenon and should have and would have already been factored into the calculations of anyone advocating nuclear power use. So, now we have come across that once-in-a-whatever event we already knew would come along from time to time. There may be and probably are things we can learn about nuclear plant safety from it, but the idea that it forces us to rethink all nuclear power in general is daft. For how many safe operating-hours has the collection (all nuclear power plants in the world) been running before this? Is the post-Japan observed frequency of accidents (once you put in appropriate error bars) even out of line with what we already thought about nuclear safety? Must we now statistically reject the null hypothesis that nuclear power plants are no-more-and-no-less-safe-than-we-already-thought? You have to at least try to do that calculation before sounding off about it, I would have thought.

There is something annoyingly innumerate about the tendency to greet events such as these with claims that they must change all our thinking. It’s like being surprised that there’s a lottery winner, or thinking it was a bad idea to buy insurance if you don’t get sick, or thinking we need to throw all of society’s efforts behind building a planetary lightning defense system if someone gets struck by lightning. There is no sense of proportionality or statistics behind any of the commentary I’m seeing, it’s all dumbly, robotically reactionary.
Robotically, it's dialing up the alarm to 11 in order to sell newspapers.  Should the alarm be dialed up to 11?  I don't know, but don't expect that I'll figure out the answer by listening to the press ...


russell1200 said...

Well the problem is we keep having these once in a hundred (or 1000, or 50, etc) year events every ten years.

I would say the meltdown of spent fuel sitting in a pond is newsworthy.

That press hyperventilation causes a noise problem is true: but probably not on point here.

bluesun said...

My issue with the whole thing is that these were OLD reactors--modern designs are much safer, don't rely on pumps to circulate the fluid, and (I don't want to say "never," here, but) are statistically unlikely to ever get this far along towards a meltdown. So anyone using the situation in Japan as evidence to not build any more nuclear reactors is saying "My Windows DOS computer broke, even though they now have this shiny new Windows 7 available, we should only use an abacus from now on."

ASM826 said...

If the alarm volume is at 11, Pr. Obama has hit the snooze bar. It's March Madness, time to pick your teams, and then take a weekend trip to Rio.

Dave H said...

You have to at least try to do that calculation before sounding off about it, I would have thought.

All you need in order to sound off is a microphone. No intelligence required.

My cynical old self doesn't fret much over hyperventilating news media. They're not qualified to analyze most news anyway. It's when someone in Congress (actually the Senate - Chuck Schumer is one of my senators) gets worked up over a single event and declares "we must do something!" that I get annoyed.

Keith said...

Tam made an analogy between the safety features on a 1960s Chevy compared to the current models.

This brings us back to the 1980s satire of a FIAT ad:

"Built by robots; driven by Italians"

You can have the best engineering, but when it is being driven by a dysfunctional organization, heaven help us.

Years ago, I heard a radio interviewer asking Terry Pratchett how he could have such a serious day job as press officer for nuclear powerstations, and yet think up such weirdness for his books.

Pratchett's reply is telling:

"If you think nuclear power has any connection to reality; think again".

NotClauswitz said...

Media malfeasance again and again. If they just put one tenth of their energy into reporting on the unfolding economic tsunami and the fission of financial matters taking place we'd be better off and better informed - but instead we get scary inert glow-in-the-dark creepy-crawlers.
They have stuck themselves in a hamster-cage narrative and can't get out.

SiGraybeard said...

Innumeracy is a good word, and I'm sure I'm not the only reader here that's annoyed by innumerate people not only as reporters, but as our ruling class.

You can always expect the media to maintain the State of Fear (excellent book, BTW) to strive for ratings. But our rulers taking advantage of carefully crafted innumeracy to manipulate people into seizing more power is really troubling.