Tag Archives: blackouts

Sunspots and the danger of crying wolf

It’s that time of year again, buckos. Every June, like clockwork, stories and op-eds like these start to flood the media:

Not surprisingly, these stories always happen about the same time our federal bureaucracy puts together a one day June propaganda event called the Space Weather Enterprise Forum, designed to sell to journalists the idea that we are all gonna die if we don’t spend gazillions of dollars building satellites for tracking the sun’s behavior. Along with this conference come numerous press releases, written by the conference’s backers. Here for example is a quote from a press release emailed to me and many journalists:

Recent activity on the Sun, captured in stunning imagery from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and the resulting threat of significant radiation storms and radio blackouts here on Earth are vivid reminders of our need to better understand the science, improve our forecasts and warnings, and better prepare ourselves for severe space weather storms as the next solar maximum approaches.

The problem for these fear-mongers, however, is that shortly before their forum the scientists who actually study the sun held another press conference, where they laid out in exquisite detail the sun’s astonishing recent decline in activity, and how the next solar maximum will likely be the weakest in centuries and might very well be the last maximum we will see for decades to come.

In other words, the annual effort by government bureaucrats to drum up funding for more space weather facilities has collided head on with the facts.

That there are science journalists from so many major news organization so easily conned into buying this fear-mongering is pitiful enough. More significant, however, is the fact that this annual effort at crying wolf has not been very successful. For years Congress has not funded any new space weather satellites, and doesn’t appear ready to do so in the future, especially with the present budget crisis.
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