Rush job

My July article for “The Local” is now out. This month on the Rankin Park Hospital in New Lambton Heights. This building was erected in just 10 weeks in early 1942 in response to the entry of Japan into World War 2, and the urgent need for an inland hospital out of range of seaborne attacks.

Rankin Park Centre of Hunter New England Health, 2018.

Newcastle Herald Butchery

Letter writers to the Newcastle Herald beware – they will without notice or care, edit and butcher your words when they publish your correspondence.

I’ve had four letters to the Herald published recently. Each time they have altered my words in some way, and in no case told me beforehand they were doing so. Up to now the changes they made ranged from inconsequential to mildly annoying, but this last time really got up my nose. On 6 June 2018 Brad Hill wrote:

FOOD for thought: a wind turbine will never produce as much energy in its lifetime as was used in building it. The mind boggles doesn’t it.

Now this might be true for a little wind turbine you buy from a hobbyist store to put up in your garden to power your electric gnomes, but for industrial scale electricity generation this is just mythical nonsense. (See for example a 2014 US life cycle study that shows that for a 2MW generator, the payback period is just 5 to 7 months.) Not wanting to just let this error go unchallenged, I wrote a carefully crafted, short 36 word letter to the Herald in which I wanted to make three points:

  1. The claim was outlandish.
  2. The claim was unsubstantiated.
  3. The Herald bore some responsibility for allowing this untruth to be published.

I submitted the following letter …

Brad Hill is right. My mind definitely boggles when I see published in the newspaper outlandish and unsubstantiated claims such as a wind turbine consumes more energy in its manufacture than it generates in its lifetime.

… but in spite of my brevity, the Herald saw fit to strip out two of my main points and on 8 June 2018 print this instead …

BRAD Hill is right. My mind definitely boggles when I see outlandish claims on the letters page, such as that a wind turbine consumes more energy in its manufacture than it generates in its lifetime.

I wrote to the Herald expressing my disappointment in how they had edited my letter and significantly altered my meaning, but they haven’t even bothered to reply.  It seems patently clear that the letters’ editor has no interest in truth, only in controversy.

Fake views

Facebook and Donald Trump brought fake news to the world, but I’m increasingly seeing fake views in the the newspapers, particularly in the letters to the editor.

I quite understand and support the idea that the letters page is a place where readers can express their opinions and argue their case, and that often those opinions will vary from my own views. But I find it quite depressing how regularly these views veer from opinion, to the expression of demonstrable factual errors and untruths.

Take for example a letter to the Newcastle Herald this week entering into the debate about cyclists on roads. I won’t name the writer, for my beef is not with them in particular but with the practice in general, which the Newcastle Herald editors tolerate if not encourage.

“The intersection at Ridge and Mitchell St Merewether has a four-way intersection with four stop signs, close proximity to a school bus stop and shops”.

FACT

The cyclists appear to think these signs are only for cars, but not for them. Red lights are also a special, blatant disrespect for the law.

OPINION

If an accident were to occur, I bet it wouldn’t be their fault.

FACTUAL ERROR

Note the progression from fact, to opinion, to absurd nonsense. If a road user (motorist or cyclist) breaks the road rules and causes an accident, they are clearly at fault, and the law clearly states so. Is the writer seriously suggesting that if a cyclist ignores the road rules and causes an accident the police or the courts will just let them off because they are a cyclist?

It’s not only the letters where fake views appear but the opinion articles also, where the writers seem to think that ‘opinion’ means a licence to state untruths. A particularly egregious example is Robert Montheath’s article on electricity and renewable energy on 29 September 2017 where he says that because …

” … we average only 12 hours of sunshine a day …”

… we will never be able to rely on renewables to generate the thousand of megawatts we need every hour of every day”

This would only be true if there was no such thing as stored energy. But battery storage or pumped hydro schemes means that it is absolutely possible for solar energy to provide all our electricity needs. It is a matter of opinion whether it is desirable, or how cost effective it would be, or how soon it could be achieved, but it is a matter of fact that it is possible.

People, please don’t poison your opinions by mixing them with untruths.

Survey madness again

Can Kathmandu do mad? Yes they Kan-mad-du.

For years retailers have been engaging in the annoying  practice of asking customers to fill in a meaningless surveys to rate their performance. They are meaningless because the respondents are not a genuine random sample, the questions asked are often ambiguous and sometimes downright leading in the responses they are trying to elicit, and because the results of the survey probably just end up in some inscrutable graph in a PowerPoint presentation of a middle manager in the quarterly sales meeting.

On Friday I experienced a new extremity of survey madness when I made a purchase at Kathmandu. When I went to pay for the purchase with a credit card, the staff member asked me to key in ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to answer the question on the screen which was something like “Did you find us upbeat and friendly today?” Yeah, so asking customers to answer that while the staff member watches on is going to elicit reliable data. Not.

The December quarter saw a 37.4% improvement in upbeatedness!