Journalistic spin for the sake of disaster

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

The headline from this National Geographic story reads “Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells,” while the first sentence is designed to send chills up your spine:

Yellowstone National Park’s supervolcano just took a deep “breath,” causing miles of ground to rise dramatically, scientists report.

From here, the next few paragraphs go on to talk about the wild rise of the giant caldara under Yellowstone National Park in recent years, and how past eruptions there were were among the most powerful volcanic explosions ever to occur. Obviously, from this introduction, the thing is about to blow and we better run for cover!

This story is unfortunately typical for much of today’s modern media: find a story with a hint of disaster in it and play up that disaster as much as possible, regardless of the facts. For example, the opening of this article completely misreports the substance of the Yellowstone geology research. Back on December 4, I read the paper and headlined its results as follows: “Yellowstone caldara rise has slowed.” What the scientists had actually found was that after a period of significant growth beginning in 2004, the rise of Yellowstone’s giant volcanic caldara had slowed significantly since 2006, and since 2008 had actually subsided somewhat.

While the significant rise from 2004 to 2006 was then news, suggesting the worrisome possibility that an eruption was imminent, the story now, revealed by this scientific research, was how that rise has stopped, and why.

Now, if you spend the time to read the rest of the National Geographic article above, you will find that the reporter does dig a bit deeper, and notes these facts in better detail. The trouble is that a quick scan of the headline and opening paragraphs will instead leave you with an entirely incorrect impression of the facts.

That this kind of fear-mongering by modern reporters is not unusual, especially when it comes to climate research and extreme weather events, illustrates the vital importance of maintaining as skeptical an eye to what we read as possible. Don’t assume what you read is true. Read it as carefully as possible. Try to check its sources. And compare every article’s conclusions with other reports to see if you can get a feel for the truth, hidden behind the different reports.

And that, by the way, applies as much to what you read here at behindtheblack as anywhere else!


Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


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One comment

  • Stu Harris

    “The pornography of pessimism” is a sobriquet that was invented for Gerald Celente, whose schtick is prophecy of economic doom. It might apply equally to those finger-licking write-ups of Yellowstone et al.

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