October 24, 2012

The Sweet Science of Suing

As I've pointed out countless times on this blog over the years, I'm a journalist. And, because I'm a journalist, I wield certain journalistic powers. For example, I can write something and generally assume I'm right, because nothing journalists write can ever possibly be wrong.

How powerful are journalists? Well, we can actually shape public opinion to the point that admittedly imprecise sciences can eventually be held up as unimpeachable sources of authority.

And, no, I'm not talking about climate scientists here, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that's what I was leading up to. No, I'm talking about the science of seismology--the study of earthquakes. Unfortunately for seismologists, however, at some point they went from simply studying earthquakes to biting off more than they could chew and trying to actually predict earthquakes, and that's when they really stepped in it, so to speak.

This week, PBS science news reported that "Seven people -- six Italian seismologists and a government official -- were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison on Monday for failing to warn people of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 300 people."

Now, most reasonable people would correctly surmise such a conviction is a bit excessive, if not downright ridiculous, considering specific earthquake predictions have a success rate of about nothing percent. Sure, seismologists can point to the San Andreas Fault and say something like "An earthquake will probably happen around a 500 mile radius from there, or thereabouts, maybe next week, maybe the week after, but maybe not, we're not really sure," but getting much more specific than that is about as successful as reading pigeon entrails while balancing a Ouija board on your head.

So, convicting seven people for not getting earthquake fainting vapors and inciting panic about an earthquake that may or may not have been impending is a bit questionable, to say the least.

But, I'm a journalist! So, I'm going to write, right here, that ALL imprecise sciences should be held up to the same litigious scrutiny.

Specifically, I'm talking about meteorology.

I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of meteorologists getting to hide behind terms like "partly cloudy" and "partly sunny," and allowing the collective national weather discourse to morph from "blizzard" to "snow event." We need to start holding these so-called "professionals" accountable for their imprecise prognostications! They have the audacity to stand in front of their green screens and tell us via the medium of television that there's a 30 percent chance of rain. What kind of percentage is 30 percent? I'll tell you what kind! That's a COP OUT PERCENTAGE!


We need to start marching meteorologists into court on a daily basis and convicting them each and every time they can't precisely tell us when to expect very specific weather. It's time to do away with tornado or thunderstorm "watches" and "warnings." If they can't perfectly tell me how much to expect in my water gauge the morning after a hard rain, they need to be clapped into stocks in the city square, with their heads locked and turned to us in shame, their faces pelted with eggs and rotten fruit, while being taunted by schoolchildren.

Thankfully, I'm a journalist, so I'm always right and can never be sued for anything, ever--unlike those meteorology charlatans.

That's a relief.

Posted by Ryan at October 24, 2012 11:00 AM | TrackBack
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