Monday, October 14, 2013

Uh, not exactly. Not at all, actually

As the Reuters tale to which you're directed from the Drudge Report makes clear: No, not really. Not at all.

A mass evacuation saved thousands of people from India's fiercest cyclone in 14 years, but aid workers warned a million would need help after their homes and livelihoods were destroyed.

Some tropical cyclones "fizzle": Karen*, for example. This one, though, hit the Indian coast as more or less what we'd call a Category 3 hurricane, disrupting and destroying a lot of stuff but killing comparatively few people, in light of what storms of that scale can do. As someone who keeps up with how communication works in disasters (and as a human being in my spare time), I think that's a pretty reasonable outcome.

So: Is Drudge just too stupid to understand the distinction here, or is he making stuff up for some other reason? Much as I hate to bet against stupid when humankind is involved, I expect it's the latter. There's a reason for that.

Stories are "about" lots of stuff at the same time. They're about things that happened, but they're also about what writers like to call "universal truth," as outlined in one journalism textbook: 

The story about a mother who stays beside her sick child’s bedside isn’t about health care; it’s a story about devotion.

Uh, maybe -- unless she's staying there because she doesn't have access to primary health coverage, in which case it's sort of blinking obvious that the story is "about health care." But the point is that "universal truth" is the sort of thing that transcends mere evidence, and that seems to be where Drudge is going. This storm could have killed thousands of people but didn't, so what sort of universal truth makes the alleged fizzle** worth our attention? Two possible reasons:

One, the free market didn't save any lives. The GUBMINT stepped in and, making good use of technology and forecasting, told people to get out of the way ("sometimes forcibly," as the BBC puts it). Much better had the storm never been a threat in the first place, you'll agree.

Two, if a storm "fizzles," those pesky climate scientists and warmists were wrong! Everything's fine. We're all fine here now. How are you?

News-reading humans are "cognitive misers" for a reason. They have busy lives, there's a lot going on out there that needs attention, and cues -- headlines, for example -- that help them navigate the clutter and get on to other stuff are welcome. If your universal truth holds that gubmint can't be a solution because it's always the problem, why bother building up a schema to account for cases in which the panic button is pushed at exactly the right time?

* Sorry, Ridge.
** No, I don't think a tropical cyclone that killed 22 white people and left half a million homeless would be a "fizzle" in the Drudge lexicon. Perhaps I'm wrong.. 

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

That's okay, I had to go back to work :-)

11:54 AM, October 14, 2013  
Blogger fev said...

The Gulf Coast and I are glad to hear it.

9:39 AM, October 16, 2013  

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