Science! Headline

From Gothamist: 

A Sandy-Type Hurricane Won’t Hit For Another 700 Years, Hubristic Scientists Swear

Two questions leap to mind: Is ‘hubrisitic’ even a word? And what the heck is a Gothamist?

The first: Hubristic is a logical form, even if infelicitous and obscure and unrecognized by WordPress’s spell-checker. Its use might push the readability index past 6th grade level, which I thought was a no-no for newspapers. Plus, doesn’t ‘hubris-drenched’ sound more disdainful and dismissive? And easier to appreciate at first glance?  I’d have definitely gone with ‘hubris-drenched’, especially in a post about hurricanes. It’s the little things.

The second: Gothamist just turned up in the Google news feed, which, if that’s the criteria for a news source, means it is one. Here’s what they say about themselves:

Gothamist is the first site in the Gothamist LLC network of blogs and is the most popular local blog in New York. Founded in early 2003, Gothamist has been described by The New York Times as a “marvelous, not-to-be-missed Web site” that “reflects everything worth knowing about this city.” Forbes described Gothamist as a “sophisticated, deliciously urbane city blog”.

So, urbane and sophisticated. If New Yorkers need yet another source to tell them how wonderful they are, here ya go. But it’s a blog. Kind of like this here blog. Why Google, or maybe Google’s news-feed algorithms, think Gothamist  is a news source remains a mystery that only deepens upon reading the posting.

As for the actual ‘news’, it would appear that mentioning that Sandy was the result of the confluence of a series of unlikely events constitutes hubris, because it is suggested that another Sandy is unlikely any time soon.  The exact quote is not given;  nor it it to be believed that a scientist with a scintilla of integrity would slap a number like 700 years on what would at best be a probability.  What they might say is that Sandy represents a once-every-700-year event, on average, given current conditions. How hard would it have been to give the exact quote for the claim, so we, the urbane and sophisticated Gothamist readers, could see for ourselves? Especially since the hubristic scientists are willing to swear on it…

Note the near-total disconnect between the headline and the ‘news’ part of the article, the first 4 paragraphs.  That section contains the usual hedged and conditioned statements typical of small ‘s’ science. We then proceed to the ‘untethered speculation’ section, wherein heresy is exposed and burned at the stake. Or something. The emotional context is clear; the intellectual context is not, if there is one at all.

To Gothamist’s credit, there are some links. However, one comboxer mentions that no claim is made in the attached document that another Sandy won’t hit for several hundred years. That’s just the kind of narrow thinking, insisting on petty facts, that would cruelly deflate a guy just as he’s on a roll up there on the soapbox. How mean spirited.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Science! Headline”

  1. I’m thinking the return period is about 100 years, since there was a similarly devastating storm in the 1930s that almost killed Kathryn Hepburn and another in 1814 that put out the Washington fires that the British had sent and changed redcoat minds about sticking around. Does anyone analyze these things using reliability mathematics?

    1. If the point were to properly prepare for the next bad hurricane, perhaps reliable mathematics would be called for. But since the point seems to be merely to slime anyone who fails to attribute Sandy to climate change and sing in the ‘we’re so doomed!’ Greek chorus, I’m pretty sure math doesn’t figure into it.

      Out here in CA, we’re still waiting for the next big earthquake, which hasn’t been attributed to climate change. Yet. Or has it?

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