Tag: Metro Area

Shallow impact: when crackpot conspiracy theories are touted as news, we all lose

Humans are fascinated by potential disasters, legends or prophecies that promise the end of the world. There is even a word for the study of such things: eschatology, from the Greek eschatos for “last” and -ology “to speak” or “to study”.

There is also something about the grandeur of such claims that makes them magnets for conspiracy theorists and religious fanatics.

But just because this fascination exists, it doesn’t mean it’s desirable to pander to it. Not when it’s without reason, and especially not in the name of science.

Alt-journalism

Recently the UK’s The Sun newspaper demonstrated a spectacular jettisoning of journalistic rigour to report that Earth was about to be struck by a giant rock and that the results of this collision would be catastrophic.

Now, this is disturbing for three reasons, none of which are do with the possible consequences of such an impact.

Leaving aside appeals to alternative facts, the first reason this is disturbing is that this claim was published at all.

While there is indeed an object meandering in our general direction, it will pass us at a distance that is further than the closest approach of the planet Venus.

If you manage to sleep well with Venus in such proximity, this new body need not disturb you either. This bit of information is so easily found that ignoring it in the article speaks volumes about the intent of the piece.

And that’s leaving aside nonsensical sentences such as “it’s so huge you’ll be able to see it from Britain”, because seeing something from Britain seems more of an issue of positioning than size.

The second reason is that this tenuous thread of hysteria was linked to wider conspiracy theories, an act one can only assume was intended to give it more popular appeal, if not actual credibility.

One of those theories is that the object is a segment of the fabled planet Nibiru, long held to be the doom of humanity by an impressive array of crackpots.

Why such theories are so popular is an interesting question, but that they proliferate is beyond doubt.

A NASA scientist talks about the mythical planet Nibiru.

An unethical appeal to science

The third disturbing reason is that the heading ended with the tag “according to this scientist” (update: after the publication of this article, The Sun changed the title from “according to this scientist” to “according to wild online rumors). Except there is no evidence for the existence of the “scientist” mentioned in the article, neither in academic literature or in university records.

Google seems to find no trace of his name prior to it appearing in a “news” story on a conspiracy theory website. And, of course, on the many Murdoch media outlets that picked up the The Sun’s story.

The phrasing of this headline implies this is a scientific claim, or at least a claim made by someone accepted into the community of scientists. As such, it seeks a justification in the rationality of science and taps into the public respect for scientists as agents of this collective rationality.

To make matters worse, The Sun is lending what residual respect it has as a newspaper to this supposed link. One can only imagine that in future articles it will be scientists, not The Sun, that will suffer the eye-rolling and tutting once this farcical prediction fails to materialize.

The intent of the article, therefore, is to produce unease at best, and panic at worst, by buttressing the claims of a clutch of hysterical conspiracy theorists through an appeal to the credibility of science and scientists and to deliberately conflate an actual event with an apocalyptic prediction.

This is as questionable a use of science as a doctor claiming that vaccines cause autism, or using scientific-sounding piffle to sell health products. The unethical use of science is not restricted to scientists.

It is true that the article calls this a belief held by “crackpot theorists”, but a lot of space is spent outlining this theory and weaving in some factual data. And this and an earlier article work up some dire consequences and a “warning” from NASA (not to mention some lovely graphics).

Credibility in freefall

By reporting unsubstantiated claims, by promoting potential narratives linking these claims to conspiracy theories and by suggesting that any or all of these have scientific credibility, The Sun shows its value, or lack thereof, as a source of news (though perhaps it sees a new market emerging in fake news).

It, along with the other media outlets who publish this dross, is the Ancient Aliens of the History Channel in print.

What else could it be?

The Sun is crossing the line that divides the reporting of conspiracy theories and the promotion of them. As the piece in question shows, it’s certainly not in the business of debunking them. As a news article, it represents the sloppiest of standards. In its willingness to degrade the credibility of science in an attempt to induce profitable hysteria, it is lamentable.

I can only imagine that, given the attitude of The Sun to climate scientists, diminishing public faith in science is to their advantage. Now there’s a conspiracy theory to get behind.

The Conversation

Peter Ellerton-Lecturer in Critical Thinking, The University of Queensland

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Minneapolis Weekly Wages | A Steady Increase

Data Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis - Graph Constructed by Urban Dynamics

Despite the Great Recession a few years ago, wages in Minneapolis have been steadily rising. As Figure 1 shows, the average weekly wages for Minneapolis increased from about $1100 per week in the fourth quarter of 2006 to just over $1300 in the fourth quarter of 2014.

An additional observation illustrates that the average weekly wages for Minneapolis were higher than both the metro area and Minnesota. And this makes sense. Wages should be higher in urban environments because of the potential for interactions between businesses, and workers and businesses. For example, Minneapolis’ six Forbes companies reside in the 3rd Ward, which is downtown Minneapolis; and they are all within a couple blocks of each other. And this does not count all the other businesses both small and large that benefit from the success of these six highly competitive firms.

Furthermore, the economic heart of Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities for that matter, is connected with Downtown St. Paul by way of the Green-Line (Light-rail) and the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport by way of the Blue-Line (Light-rail). This is not a direct cause of steadily increasing average weekly wages, but rather a possible correlation.

Finally, compared to the rest of the nation over this same time period, Minneapolis has been playing well above the average. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics,

From 2005 to 2014, [the] average weekly wages for all private industries increased from $779 to $986, or 27 percent.

It is clear from this data that the average weekly wages for Minneapolis workers were better during the middle of the last decade and is still better today. As a comparison for that same time period, Minneapolis average weekly wages grew from $1104 to $1329.

In the next article, we will compare the industry with the highest weekly wages of Minneapolis to the industry with the lowest weekly wages of Minneapolis during the 2006 to 2014 time period. Then we will compare those wages against the national average weekly wages to provide a more in-depth picture of how the workers of Minneapolis have been doing over the past ten years.

 

Matt Johnson is a writer for The Systems Scientist, and a mathematical scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, and follow him on Twitter or on Facebook

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