James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Might map of knowledge prove useful for journalists, politicians?

Posted by James McPherson on March 16, 2009

Research scientists have developed a visual “map of knowledge” (shown below) that apparently shows how researchers consider the findings of others as they do their own work. I’m not actually sure that it has much practical value, but then the same could be said of much of scientific research that provided unforeseen benefits. In this case, in the words of the researchers:

Maps constructed from clickstream data can serve numerous functions. Like citation maps they provide a means to visually assess the relationships between various domains and journals. However, clickstream maps of science can offer an immediate perspective on what is taking place in science and can thus aid the detection of emerging trends, inform funding agencies, and aid researchers in exploring the interdisciplinary relationships between various scientific disciplines. Clickstream maps can furthermore be used as the basis for exploration and recommendation services that rank journals according to the various parameters of network topology, so that researchers can identify influential journals in any particular domain of interest.

Those may seem like a dull sentences to those of us who tend to be a bit science-phobic. But politicians and  journalists–who tend to be as wary of science and math as astronauts are of space junk–might want to investigate the issue further, especially now that we have a presidential administration that seems determined to use science in making decisions.

Science is expensive, and sometimes controversial. And though my brother is the scientist in the family while I lean toward the humanities (we do agree that social science is neither social nor science) it seems to me that anything we can use to help determine where limited funds might be of the most use might be potentially useful.


Posted in Education, Journalism, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Asteroid nearly wipes out Earth, international space station threatened, San Diego nearly destroyed in nuclear meltdown

Posted by James McPherson on March 12, 2009

In a “rare close call,” the crew of the international space station was forced to take cover today because space junk “about the size of a bullet” passed within three miles of the station.

Three miles? Excuse me, but if a tiny object three miles away forces astronauts to hide out in their spaceship, those folks better avoid driving in Los Angeles where real bullets might be flying within three miles at any time of day or night.

Assuming Los Angeles is still there when they get back, of course: Another story recently ominously warned about a helicopter that crashed near a California nuclear plant, leaving us to conclude that perhaps the state narrowly avoided being wiped out in a catastrophic crash-caused meltdown (not to mention the possible energy ramifications, since the plant apparently provides power for 1.5 million homes).

Both cases illustrate that “close” is a relative thing, but that the extra emotion inherent in a supposed “near miss” provides more drama and therefore makes something more “newsworthy.” Another example came just over a week ago, when an asteroid passed “close to Earth.” Close in that case meant 38,000 miles, “less than twice the height of the geostationary satellites we depend on for communications.”

With “communications” like these stories, perhaps it wouldn’t be entirely a bad thing if a meteor wiped out a satellite or two. In yet another example, a year ago, other space junk “narrowly missed–by five miles–an airliner flying over the Pacific. Maybe that’s how the people on “Lost” ended up on that island.

Note: I’ve updated my post of a couple of days ago, adding a video.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Science | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Posted by James McPherson on March 10, 2009

Another sign that I may pay too much attention to politics and media: CNN this morning carries the headline, “Hot air linked to heachaches, but how?” and I immediately think of the pain in my temples caused by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Lou Dobbs.

Still, with what’s going on with housing, jobs, the stock market, the rest of the economy,  Iraq, Afghanistan and, face it,  the whole rest of the world, perhaps the wonder is that we don’t all have headaches all the time.

Of course one in seven women in England may have them more often than most of us, since that’s the number of people there who apparently think it’s OK to hit a woman who nags too much or dresses inappropriately. (Note to Ann Coulter: You may want to stay out of Great Britain.)

Greeted with the results of the survey, Rihanna and women in Saudi Arabia probably thought immediately, “Only one in seven?”

Thursday Rihanna update: Apparently she and her abuser, Chris Brown, have recorded a song together since getting back together. No details are available yet on the song title, though one logical remix possibility would include Ike and Tina Turner’s  “I’m Jealous” or “I’ve Been Loving You too Long” (with the final words, “Sock it to me”), which you can see below. When/if Rihanna gets her act together, she might look to this site for other possibilities.

Posted in Journalism, Music, Politics, Science, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Raging apes, octopuses and Foxes; when animals attack the stock market

Posted by James McPherson on March 7, 2009

Forget simple bears and bulls: CNN reports that “animal spirits” are guiding the stock market. After careful study of media reports, I now think I’ve figured out exactly what animal it is that’s wreaking havoc–not a killer chimpanzee or other smart simian, but a creature that sinks even lower than the American economy has gone: the octopus.

I’m not talking about Octomom. In fact, if I’ll digress for a moment to plead with the media to please, please, please forget Octomom. Especially you sleazebags at Fox News, who start a story with the line, “You may want to take a shower after reading this,” then go on to give us the rest of a pointless, porn-promoting piece about something that will never happen (much like everything else Glenn Beck has been talking about lately).

Back to the non-Fox terror: “Octopuses are highly intelligent, probably more intelligent than any other form of invertebrates (apparently including spineless Congressional Democrats),” according to the all-knowing Wikipedia. Putting aside the questionable veracity of Wikipedia, this item must be true: The animals are so intelligent that British scientists are even giving them Rubik’s Cubes “to ease their stress levels.”

Incidentally, “octopuses” apparently is the plural of octopus preferred by most dictionaries, and some–I’m not kidding about this–consider octopi to be linguistically objectionable and perhaps even sexist. Little did I know that if the James Bond folks wanted to make a truly objectionable villainess, they’d have named her “Octopi” instead of “Octopussy.”

Apparently no one has informed either octopus.com or “Enter the Octopus” of that, since they still uses “octopi.” But also demonstrating that the cephalopods are more socially enlightened than we are, octopuses apparently also do not see color (though some can change their own color, apparently to deal with less-enlightened creatures).

At any rate, the mainstream news media have been keeping us informed of a rash of octopus-related incidents (including a CBS report about their inky cousins, the squid, “invading” California). The other day news organizations around the world reported that an octopus “got inside a lunchbox” in a Boston aquarium. (The fact that the creature was inside his own lunchbox, not making an escape bid, wasn’t newsworthy enough to make the headline so that readers might avoid clicking on a tease for an essentially meaningless story.)

Still, less than two weeks ago, another octopus made national news when it managed to pull a plug and flood the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, perhaps in an attempt to help other sea creatures escape. Or perhaps it was just watching to see how humans might react, and has something more sinister in mind for the future.

“The tiny octopus, which is about the size of a human forearm when its appendages are extended, floated lazily in the water that remained in its tank,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “It watched intently through glass walls and portholes as workers struggled to dry the place out in time for the day’s first busload of schoolchildren to arrive on a 9:30 a.m. field trip.” (emphasis added)

The Times reminds us (and thank God we have the news media to keep us abreast of terrifying trends) that this was not the first “cephaloplug” incident. More than a decade ago–before scientists thought of the Rubik’s Cube trick–a giant octopus commited suicide (as Fox News tells us Octomom also has apparently threatened to do) by sabotaging its own tank.

And if you want to see more frightening octopus news (and really, isn’t it better than watching Fox News or CNBC or checking out your 401K?), check out “Enter the Octopus” for links to numerous stories about octopus deeds and misdeeds, including a report from Slate that states:

Aristotle didn’t have a high opinion of the octopus. “The octopus is a stupid creature,” he wrote, “for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water.” Twenty-four centuries later, this “stupid” creature is enjoying a much better reputation. YouTube is loaded with evidence of what some might call octopus intelligence. One does an uncanny impression of a flounder. Another mimics coral before darting away from a pushy camera. A third slips its arms around a jar, unscrews it, and dines on the crab inside. Scientific journals publish research papers on octopus learning, octopus personality, octopus memory. Now the octopus has even made it into the pages of the journal Consciousness and Cognition (along with its fellow cephalopods the squid and the cuttlefish).

Other YouTube videos show an octopus squeezing through a tiny hole, and others that are practicing learning to walk. No wonder scientists are developing faster submarines and searching for “other earths“–preferable earths without octopuses. Or Octopussy. Or Octomoms.

Posted in Journalism, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Economic health and inhuman services: Thanks to money woes, death may take a holiday

Posted by James McPherson on March 2, 2009

Mixed with all the bad economic news, a bit of good: the expense of killing someone may actually force states to put the death penalty on hold. As with much else in America, the decision to take capital punishment off the books comes down to money rather than any of the factors that should have ended it long ago, such as:

  • the fact that revenge killing is a barbaric practice that has been eliminated by the rest of the civilized world (why liberals might oppose it);
  •  the fact that it puts the power to decide life and death in the hands of state employees (why conservatives, who don’t trust government to handle even their money, should oppose it);
  • and the fact that we KNOW that bad eyewitness testimony and other factors have put innocent people (virtually always men of color) on death row (why everyone should oppose it).

Yet we still execute people here, even justifying it under religious pretexts. I’d be willing to be that many of the “pro-life” folks gearing up to oppose the appointment of Kathleen Sebelius as new secretary of Health and Services are all in favor of ending the lives of those who most scare them. And by the way, I do get it–I agree that there are people who deserve to die, even people that I might be willing to kill myself. That doesn’t mean that you should be willing to grant me the right to bump them off, and I’m certainly not willing to grant that right to you.

Another economic side note, which might irritate those who are suffering the losses or potential losses of jobs and homes, or those heavily invested in the stock market: CNN reports that  gadget-hungry folks are among those forced to change their habits because of the economy. Wah and boo-hoo. Still, as the story also points out, that the new buying habits affect the ability of gadget makers and sellers to stay in business, potentially putting more people on the street.

On the other hand, one bit of good news about having to postpose the buying of a new big-screen TV: If things continue at the current rate, you may soon be able to pick up a new one while looting after everything collapses–assuming you have the gas to get it home and the electricity to operate it.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

Posted by James McPherson on December 28, 2008

The second-most popular CNN story right now is actually a series of photos taken of the Earth by NASA. They include photos of a hurricane, damaged Gulf Coast wetlands, disintegration of a massive ice shelf, flooding in the Midwest, wildfires in California, clearcutting of forests in Bolivia, and irrigated fields in Sudan.

The most-popular story? “Santa shooter carried secret guilt, attorney says.” Not guilt about dressing up as Santa and killing nine people on Christmas Eve, but over how his ineptitude as a parent left his son (a son that until recently he kept secret from his now-murdered ex-wife) a paraplegic.

In the meantime, Israel continues to celebrate the Christmas season by defying the United Nations–keeping with its long tradition of ignoring the UN and recognizing that sanctions only matter when those sanctions are violated by countries the United States want to invade–and waging war against Palestinians.

Israel knew, of course, that it would have the full support of the U.S., even as Bush Administration continues to contribute to a potential polar ice cap-like meltdown of the Middle East.

The New York Times leads with a story about the Israeli bombings entering their second day, but its lead sidebar is headlined, “Israeli Foreign Minister Says Hamas Is to Blame.” Now there’s a shock. The next story is more important, in the long run: “Across Mideast, Thousands Protest Israeli Assault.”

As a more positive offering marking the end of the Christmas season and the hopes for a better New Year,  I’ll end today’s post with a Christmas version of “From a Distance”:

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Science, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments »

As Bush people approach endangered species status, scientists find other rats, vipers and creepie crawlers

Posted by James McPherson on December 17, 2008

Now here’s an intriguing lead:  “A rat believed to be extinct for 11 million years, a spider with a foot-long legspan, and a hot pink cyanide-producing ‘dragon millipede’ are among the thousand newly discovered species in the largely unexplored Mekong Delta region.”

That’s the first sentence of a CNN story today. Apparently Agent Orange, war-ravaged and starving natives and other Vietnam War-associated horrors failed to kill off the rat. Come to think of it, judging by 1950s films such as “Tarantula,” “Earth vs. the Spider,” The Deadly Mantis,” “The Black Scorpion,” “Them” (giant ants), and “Beginning of the End” (giant grasshoppers), Agent Orange may even have created the spider and the millipede.

Based on a World Wildlife Fund report, the  story later states: “Perhaps a more startling discovery than the rat was a bright green pit viper scientists spotted slithering through the rafters of a restaurant in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.” Maybe it was searching for an 11-million-year-old rat. Regardless, Southeast Asia just slipped a notch or two on my list of desired travel locations.

The WWF offers a list of endangered species to watch, and uses government science to point out the increased danger to species from global warming. Unfortunately, as with other areas of public policy, when it comes to global warming and endangered species the Bush administration has a perhaps-criminal disregard for science.

In a typical Friday move, at the end of last week the administration announced a plan that will let bureaucrats instead of scientists determine the fate of some endangered species. Three days later, in what has become a regular occurrence, a government report revealed wrongdoing on the part of Bush officials involved with at least 15 endangered species cases.

And no, those aren’t cases regarding retirement funds, the Big Three auto makers, or the endangered folks who were tortured by the Bush war team captained by Dick Cheney or and its allies.

Though it’s probably coincidental, perhaps the latest actions by the outgoing Liar in Chief explain why Barack Obama introduced key members of his own “environmental team,” including Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, this week.

On the other hand, to be fair, maybe Bush has a good reason for ignoring scientists: Maybe he saw those same 1950s horror movies. For something considerably less scary than the Bush administration, see almost eight minutes of “Them” below:

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Science, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

The science of cross burning for Christ

Posted by James McPherson on June 28, 2008

An Ohio “science teacher” has been fired for promoting his Christian faith by, among other things, telling students that the theory of evolution is wrong because the Bible does not support it (something I suspect the science teachers at the Christian university where I teach would dispute), and by using an electronic device to burn crosses into the arms of students. The teacher claimed that the mark was an “X”: I’ve included a photo below so you can judge for yourself.

In my favorite quote from the original story, a friend (who brings to mind the phrase, “With friends like these…”) apparently told the Columbus Dispatch: “With the exception of the cross-burning episode. … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district.” Might that be termed the Ku Klux Klan defense?

After the firing, the Dispatch noted that Freshwater “had declared himself a free-speech martyr.” Funny, I thought the Christian martyr was the man who died on the cross, not the guy who physically abused kids that he was supposed to be teaching about how God’s world really works.

Now I’m taking off to camp, fish and commune with nature–three of the best reasons to live in the Pacific Northwest in the summer. Assuming I can find and afford gas to get back home, I’ll pick up the blogging again in a few days. If you’re new to the site, perhaps you’d like to catch up with what I’ve written previously. Regardless, there are some great resources linked at your right for news, opinion and education about media and politics.  And if I’m not back before then, Happy Fourth!

Posted in Education, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »