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Professional Journalism

From The Telegraph

Last week an amateur astronomer spotted that a comet or asteroid the size of the Earth had crashed into Jupiter, leaving a large crater.

…because only professional journalists can ensure high quality, reliable, fact checked news.

(I don’t need to explain what’s wrong with the quote to anyone, do I?)


  1. CountingCats says:

    Well, it may have left a crater.

    We’ll never know.

    Although, two cockups in one sentence is pretty good going.

  2. RAB says:


    Well Ian you are conflating two different things there.
    The fact that an amateur astronomer spotted the comet and the professionals with Joderal Bank size telescopes missed it, until he rang them up and told them about it, and journalism.

    But I think I know what you are getting at here.

    The amateur got lucky because his telescope was pointed in the right direction and the profs were not. Well the profs have budgets and search patterns and programmes to run through (see Nick M for details I’m sure) so being a big ‘ol universe they cant be everywhere at once.

    But that is what the MSM pretends that they are.Everywhere at once(oh and impartial too, tee hee!)
    Is this a Dan Rather thing by the way? How he has been whining that the MSM needs subsidising because of nobody reading them anymore, and if they go out of business , the world will descend into a dark age of uninformedness because of ….
    Shudder ! the internet and Blogs!

    Well, let me propose this.

    We can do what the BBC, NBC Fox and any amount of alphabet soups can do, for damn near no cost at all.
    This site is global.
    If something happens, the nearest of us to the happening gets off his or her ass and reports it, with digital pics and everything.
    They then email it back and distribute it.
    No need for press creditisation, just get the copy in the best you can, from wherever you are.
    If we are right, and the facts check out, we will gain a reputation for accuracy(well I think we already have that, hehheh!)
    There may even be money in it in the end who knows?
    But as we do this shit for free already, and as we all earn our livings in whatever way we can irrespective…
    Why not give it a punt?

  3. CountingCats says:



    Amateurs commit astronomy all the time, that isn’t the point.

    Comet/asteroid the size of the Earth? Seriously?

    Some comet, some asteroid.

    A crater? Where? Can I see it?

    A big, and temporary, hole in the atmosphere replaced in quick order with one almighty fireball is more likely. Jupiter, quite possibly, has no surface capable of maintaining a crater.

  4. CountingCats says:

    As to your proposal:

    Knock yourself out.

    Want an account? What you other guys think? Nick? Ian? Daphne? Give RAB access?

  5. Pa Annoyed says:


    I thing what he was getting at was first:
    “a comet or asteroid the size of the Earth” – that would be, like, a planet. I think we might have noticed if we were missing one.
    and second:
    “Jupiter, leaving a crater” – as Jupiter is a gas giant, made of gas, which is why it’s called a gas giant, like, because it’s gaseous to a great depth. You can’t make a crater in gas. Craters are not a gas ‘thing’.

    You get so used to this sort of thing from journalists that you stop noticing it any more. You think, “Oh, another victory for amateur astronomy” without even registering what the journalist has done. It’s like a sort of verbal scotoma.

    Sometimes I play a game of trying to find a science article on a subject I know that is totally accurate. It makes you wonder about all the subjects you don’t know that well.

  6. Rob Farrington says:

    Does this mean that we’re all going to DIIIIEEE(!!!) as a result of Earth-sized comets (or meteors or asteroids or Vorlon Planet Killers – hey, who gives a shit – they’re all space-related thingies, right?) crashing into Jupiter and causing a planetary alignment which will lead to Armageddon?

    Not that I’m really worried about myself. I’m just worried about the penguins and the polar bear cubs. And about the wind generator that might fall off my roof and knock off the TV aerial.

  7. RAB says:

    Damn this site is fun!

    Ok, as a bloody wimpy sodding “Arts” graduate, I know diddly about science.
    Well I have an O level in biology, so I missed the “size” aspect of what hit Jupiter.
    But other stuff has hit it before, though hitting a “Gas” planet seemed a bit of a misnomer to start with(Iwas reasonably good at science before I gave it up for more profitable subjects ;-) ) so I did wonder what damage it could possibly do.

    There is probably a proto amoeba called Monbiot up there, railing about the catastrophe this will lead to…

    But the other bit I was deadly serious about.

    I am a journalist and I know how that works.
    Ian has often said that he would like to see a mainstream Libertarian outlet for our ideas in opposition to the unthinking shit we get fed from the centre left and beyond.
    If a network of people could be set up, and we got the facts straight(which would make a change for the MSM) then who knows, we could, just could, take them on.

    The MSM is on it’s last legs and they know it.
    But like Communism, which is still here in diguised form, they wont roll over without a fight!
    Um, especially if dumbos like me dont notice that a Planet has just passed through a Planet when it hasn’t.
    Just a big piece of rock and ice then?
    No damage to the wicket and the Test match continues after tea

  8. I also noticed the same, but then in Swedish papers that, of course, only translate their news directly from English or American counterparts.

    I also do have some education in the field of journalism, even if I’m mainly an economist by heart and trade. Anyhow, I have been thinking for a long while now to start an entire webbased newspaper. I know there are a couple of those already around, but few (no one?) is totally based on normal people reporting. What I mean is that instead of hiring journalists or stealing news from this and that, there can be an open news-portal for every average Joe in the world to comment or find current events without middle-men, without governments and without the news going through ten or so refusal- and censorship bureaus on the way to the local paper or radio station.

    The possibilities for such a project are many and it would also be a way of circle around our enemies’ attempts to stop alternative media i.e. blogs and such. Not until true dictatorship arrives (or just beforehand) will they block out the mainstream media.

    If you or anyone else would be interested in such a project please let me know. It is still in the planning stages and I’m not sure it will really work or take off yet.

  9. NickM says:

    This is just drivel… The size of the earth… Maybe but that depends on how you measure it. The mass of the Earth… Now that is a different issue entirely and utter bollocks. John Herschel would have noticed that bugger.

    But this is standard MSM crapola… I used to read (note “read”, not “buy”) the Sun and apart from the fact it had a fairly fit bird on page 3 and the football coverage was good it was shite. In 2001 when the Yanks were giving the ‘stan the pounding of it’s life they had a piccie. They said it was from satellite which was arrant bollocks because it was clearly from a plane. Anyway it was titled something like, “Four B-52s ready for action”. Except it wasn’t. It was 3 KC-135s and a KC-10. What I really objected to was not the cock-up per se. The vast majority of the human race know less about warplanes than I do because I am a sad git who has Bill Gunston on speed dial. No. Not that. You need to know nothing about aeroplanes to tell that a KC-10 is not the same type as a KC-135. There are tell-tales like the fact the KC-10 only has three engines.

    More to the point the KC-135 will be recognisable to older readers because it is a Boeing 707 in military uniform. The KC-10 will be recognisible to a wider audience because it’s a converted DC-10. I have flown on a DC-10 and it was frigging ghastly. They had to jump start the bugger at Gatwick and then jam an inflight mag between two overhead baggage lockers to stop them rattling. And I was on it all the way to Atlanta on a middle seat between two Lilt ladies. And the film was abysmal. It was “That Thing You Do” by Tom Hanks or it might have been that cunt Williams in “Jack” but it was the only movie in my entire puff I have really wanted to walk out of excerpt there is a hell of a difference between walking out into the car park and walking out eight miles (vertically) from Iceland.

    British fucking Airways. The only cunts worse than those are KLM and those fuckers at Delta. Is it just me or do Delta pilots have to take sake and make a solemn oath to the emperor whilst donning a scarf round their heads. The deranged bastards who had to emergency zoom-climb an MD-80 with me in it (after illegally consolidating all passengers which left me in the wonderland of La Guardia for sodding hours on end) because they nearly pannelled a 757 coming into Hartsfield.

    Oh, I shouldn’t complain. I frankly never knew an MD-80 had it in it to climb like that. It was an experience. They must have fucking floored it. I felt like Buzz Aldrin for a few minutes.

  10. Angry Exile says:

    Written by the medical correspondent? WTF? The Tele still not got a proper science correspondent by the looks of things. Not just science either. I was looking through the F1 reporting after the Massa incident and found a fair bit of sensationalist bollocks better suited to red tops. I half expected every paragraph to contain at least three words in bold. It won’t be long before there’s enough sloppy journalism and unchecked impossibilities casually reported as fact to make a book suitable for anyone’s toilet library.

  11. RAB says:

    Sure Apocalypse Nowish, I am up for it.
    I am one of the laziest bastards you will ever meet, but I have never missed a deadline. I had to rewrite my entire Glastonbury copy in an hour and a half once and phone it in, to include the last day that the guy who was contracted to do it couldn’t manage because he had got so smashed he didn’t even make it out of the car park! without notes.
    Ian B has been thinking about this for a while now, so have we all.
    It takes a lot of thought as to how it would work, but I firmly believe it can.
    So get in touch with the Management, and we will see what we all can come up with.

    I am not the management by the way,NIck, Cats Ian B and Daphne are. I am just a friendly commentator.

  12. Ian B says:

    He claims to be friendly, but bear in mind he’s Welsh.

  13. RAB says:

    Welsh jokes, always wid da Welsh jokes.

    Listen pal, I do the Welsh jokes round here!

    How good are you at archery?

    Meet me in Shrewsbury, or is it Hereford? on saturday morning, where it is still legal to kill one of us poor benighted dispossesed Cymri with a bow and arrow between the hours of sunrise and sunset, would you believe.

    I am pretty good, and have been practicing lately.

    If it was a level playing field, your ass would be toast! :-)

  14. El Draque says:

    In one of the 2001:Space Odyssey sequels, it turns out that the centre of Jupiter was solid carbon – a diamond the size of the earth.
    Maybe this event cracked it open – though I doubt it.
    Doesn’t Jupiter have much of the angular momentum of the solar system? Because it spins so fast.
    Not relevant, just something I thought to throw in, from a mere economics graduate.

  15. CountingCats says:

    I think that Jupiter has pretty much everything of the Solar System. In fact, I have heard the solar system described as comprising the Sun, Jupiter and assorted scrap.

  16. Pa Annoyed says:

    El Draque,

    Pretty good for an economics graduate!

    Angular momentum is of two sorts – orbital angular momentum, which is due to the planet rotating in orbit around the sun, and intrinsic angular momentum, which is due to the planet spinning on it’s own axis.

    Jupiter has a massive orbital angular momentum, because it is a heavy object a long way from the centre of rotation (the sun). But it’s intrinsic angular momentum is only about a thousandth of that of the sun, which although it spins slower is a lot, lot heavier.

    Jupiter’s orbital angular momentum is a 44-digit number, but if I drop 40 of those digits to make the comparison comprehensible, then Jupiter’s orbital angular momentum is 1,900 units, that of Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus 780 units, 250 units, and 170 units respectively. The sun’s intrinsic angular momentum is 110 units, and Jupiter’s intrinsic angular momentum is 0.069 units. Everything else is small change – the Earth’s orbital angular momentum is about 2.7 units on this scale for example.

    It’s an obscure fact, and a bit of a mystery too, as to how the division came about. Jupiter has the AM it has to for such a heavy object in its orbit, but one might have supposed the sun ought to be spinning a lot faster if it was formed from the same cloud of gas and dust. Some have suggested it has lost it along the way – perhaps via its magnetic field affecting the solar wind somehow – others that it never had it to begin with. It’s not a subject I know very much about.

    And you’re right about 2001 and the diamond. It’s one theory, and physically possible, but we don’t know. I suspect rock, metal, wrapped in a layer of metallic hydrogen are more likely. But that’s a guess.

    I wouldn’t normally bore people with a load of off-topic astrophysics, but you did ask. :-)

  17. El Draque says:

    I also recently read a book about the 11-year orbit of Jupiter and the link with sun-spot frequency, which also has a rough 11-year cycle. It claimed that the link had been suggested, but never proved.
    He claimed to have discovered a possible explanation: the centre of gravity of the solary system being inside the sun, but not at the centre of the sun.
    So the irregular (but not unpredictable) movement of the C-o-G is dominated by the mass of Jupiter and at the same time influences sun spots.
    Which, he said, explained stuff like the Maunder Minimum and the little Ice Age.
    And that it isn’t carbon-dioxide that drives global temperature.
    He hates Al Gore, too. Thinks he should be shot.

    Trouble with books like that, I have to take the maths for granted – it might be rubbish for all I know.

  18. CountingCats says:

    I wouldn’t normally bore people with a load of off-topic astrophysics,

    Feel free, bore away.

    I’m not bored and I don’t give a toss about anyone else’s state of mind.

  19. Fred Z says:

    Seems that a piece of the rock splashed as far as the telly’s web server and changed ‘crater’ to ‘scar’.

  20. NickM says:

    Jupiter is massively important. It “shepards” the asteroid belt (Greeks and Trojans and Lagrange points and all that) and it majorly perturbs comets (I have a vague memory of the Tisserand relationship).

    Oh and I was tortured by Prof Carl Murray at QMC over spin-orbit couplings and resonances and the like.

    Now here’s the tricky bit. There’s lots of stuff we don’t know about the solar system but we know vastly more than we do about any other planetary system. So it’s all very mysterious because we have one thing we know so much better than all it’s “equivalents”. This is not like doing research into cockroach physiology because there are billions of those and they are all equally examined so it’s easy to get a nice data set.

    I am not BTW saying entemology is easier than solar system dynamics but that the problems are different.

  21. Ian B says:

    Hmm, seems the Tele have entirely expurgated the bumfoolery in the quoted sentence. I wonder if they can detect incoming blog links..?

  22. Pa Annoyed says:

    El Draque,

    Yes, I’ve heard the theory too. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s got a lot too many problems to be betting on it yet. Maybe with a decade or two’s more work.

    The main problem is the physics. Yes, it’s perfectly true that Jupiter swings the sun around the CoG every 11 years, but the sun doesn’t feel it, because the inertial effects are exactly cancelled by the gravity. The sun is in freefall around the CoG – like the space shuttle in orbit around the Earth, so the inertial effect of being spun in a circle cancels out the Earth’s gravity, and an astronaut inside is ‘weightless’.

    The cancellation is perfect at the CoG of each object, but close to it there is a slight residual that isn’t quite cancelled. This is the tidal force, and it’s a lot, lot smaller that the direct gravitational effect. It’s not impossible for this to have an effect on the sun’s oscillations, but saying it does is definitely in the category of extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. It would, in any case, have to be the interaction of the tides of several planets. This is because the outer layer of the sun spins every 25 days at the equator to every 36 days at its poles. (The sun’s differential rotation is very significant in the theory of the sun’s magnetic field and sunspot cycles.) So someone on the surface of the sun sees Jupiter rise and set every month, and the gradual 11 year shift doesn’t figure. The tides on Earth are twice a day, even though the moon goes round once a month. However, there arguably would be a difference in the size and regularity of the tides when the planets were all lined up, compared to times when they were all over the place. It’s like the spring tides on Earth when sun and moon are in a line with the Earth, versus neap tides when they’re at right angles. That, of course, is an even smaller effect.

    There is also a possibility that it is mediated by something other than gravity, or perhaps by a combination of influences that can line up or not as Jupiter orbits. Jupiter has a massive magnetic and radio presence in the solar system. But I’m not aware that anyone has proposed even the most tentative mechanism for how it could happen.

    There is a serious risk when playing with noisy data of ‘overfitting’, which means that if you give yourself enough freedom with enough different potential influences, you can get a model to ‘predict’ anything. This is a tricky idea, but very important. I shall try to explain.

    [- Warning! Maths ahead! -]

    Think of the general shape of a curve as represented by just a handful of numbers, say it’s smoothed values at steps of a few decades. Now a mathematician would think of these numbers as the coordinates of a point in space. (They’re weird!) If you’ve got more than three numbers, the space has more than 3 dimensions, but 3-dimensional intuition is fine for this argument.

    Now we’ve got one point representing the shape of our target curve, and several randomly scattered points each representing a curve for one of the potential influencing factors. Can we find some combination of the influences to explain our target curve?

    In fact, if we have enough inputs, we always can. If you imagine drawing a line through any of the input points, you get differently weighted versions of that curve. So if you think of these as drawing a new set of coordinates axes in the space, the position of any other point can be reached by adding up displacements along each coordinate axis – these are the coordinates of the target in this new coordinate system. In other words, the target point is a weighted sum of the inputs. If you use these same weights, the target curve can be made up by adding together a combination of the input curves.

    If you have enough input curves, and they’re of sufficiently different shapes that the points representing them don’t all line up in the same direction, you can make any shape you want. The trick is to do it with a lot fewer inputs than you have dimensions describing the target curve’s shape – otherwise it proves nothing.

    The problem is that there are an awful lot of possible inputs from the orbits of the various planets, and quite frankly we have very little historic data to construct the target curve. I am awfully suspicious that something like this might have happened here. Correlation does not prove causation.

    But I found the idea interesting and imaginative, and I’ll be watching to see how it develops.

  23. El Draque says:

    Thanks, Pa, for taking the time to explain it.
    I followed it up to the maths, then only intermittently. But broadly – is it the Sherlock Holmes “capital error, of a hypothesis on too little information”?
    The bit of information on the different movements of the sun’s layers is interesting – I had thought of the sun as a single object.
    But still – an hypothesis that is not yet disproved. It had a ring of truth for me, because I haven’t understood why CO2 – one-third of one percent of the atmosphere, isn’t it? – should be the driving force of climate. A cause linked to sunshine made sense.

    My study of economic history showed me that climate change is entirely natural, and follows long cycles – like the Milankowitch cycles – as well as shorter ones. The image of the greenhouse is pernicious – greenhouses don’t get warm by the same mechanism.

    But then, our government just isn’t scientifically trained. They wage war without military training, and decide science without a BSc between them. Sorry, I may be insulting them. But it looks that way.

  24. Pa Annoyed says:

    El Draque,

    Well, this is just my opinion, mind, but if I was looking for alternative causes, I’d be looking in the direction of the major climate oscillations – the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), and a variety of others (NAO, AO, NPI, ALPI, ENSO, etc.). When the PDO is in its warm phase, the temperature goes up, when it’s in its cool phase, it goes down.

    We’re still not totally sure what causes them – particularly since the climate models often don’t reproduce them – but they appear to be something in the nature of a “sloshing” of heat from one area to another. They might be something to do with the sun, they might not.

    Basically, the CO2 does cause some heating of the surface (by an entirely different mechanism to the one usually given by warmists) but it’s too small to explain either the observed rise or to support predictions of disaster. There is a theory that water vapour, which is by far the most important greenhouse gas, will also increase as a result of the CO2 increase, but what evidence there is on the question suggests it isn’t doing so, at the moment, and there’s a big question mark over clouds, which have a major effect but nobody knows in which direction. Again, what empirical evidence there is seems to suggest a negative feedback which will shrink the temperature rise, but I don’t think it’s fair to say we have the faintest clue yet on clouds. The warmists say the feedback is massive and positive, but I’ve never been able to determine on what basis, exactly.

    The simple percentage has little to do with it, in general. Small percentages can have big effects. But it is true that CO2 has a relatively small effect compared to H2O, and there are many other influences that have a bigger effect still. It’s more likely to be something to do with either clouds, or movements in the oceans, or both. A small change in the percentage of cloud cover would have a big effect on average temperature, however it might be caused.

    Both history and geology indicate that significant changes in climate of the sort of magnitude seen are common, and there’s no reason to think it’s at all unusual. I would definitely recommend extreme caution before pinning your colours to the mast of any particular alternative explanation. While I find the evidence to support the CO2 hypothesis to be lacking, I consider the rivals to be be even more undeveloped. (Virtually nobody is funding research into them.) It would be a shame to go all out for the Svensmark solar hypothesis, for example, and then to find the ground cut from underneath you should it turn out to be untenable. It doesn’t make the CO2 hypothesis right. Science is not in a position to commit itself, just yet.

    You’re right that the “greenhouse” word is pernicious. Not only does it not work like a greenhouse, it doesn’t even work like they say it does. It’s not about infra red being “trapped”, although the absorption/emission does play a role. It’s actually about air pressure, but you’ll never see a mainstream presentation telling you about that. I find it shocking, after 20 years of it being the “greatest threat to mankind in the 21st century”. Insert standard mutter about the state of science education.

    The government, I’m pretty sure, don’t believe in it either. That’s why nobody has actually done anything on it besides raise a few taxes and rent-seeker-favouring regulations. They could have, and they haven’t.

    Their hope seems to be to get other people to do it, and thereby gain a competitive advantage. They’re all stood around the door politely saying “No, you first. I insist”, even while they talk up the urgency. Well, even Barack isn’t going for it, so there doesn’t seem much hope any more. It’ll die within a couple of years, I reckon. Trouble is, it’ll just be replaced by something else – like it was last time.

    If you would like to be more specific about what you didn’t follow in the explanation, I can try to fill in the gaps. But it’s hard to do without being able to draw diagrams. The hardest bit is undoubtedly the conceptual leap between a curve of plotted data, and its representation as a point in a multi-dimensional space. Everything else is just geometry.

  25. El Draque says:

    Pa – thanks for the offer, but I doubt I can grasp a conceptual leap involving multi-dimensional space.
    I am trying to keep an open mind on the AGW thing – and just hope that we don’t do too much damage to the economy while the politicians go down the rabbit-hole of controlling CO2.
    Final comment on Jupiter. About 25 years ago all the planets were in line, and someone claimed that the effect would be earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and stuff. (I think there was actually a book on it “The Jupiter Effect”). I knew a lot of Christians (in Israel, where I lived) who were positively eager for this to happen, as it might be the start of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, return of the Lord, destruction of godless communism, etc..
    I gently pointed out that Jupiter by itself should be doing something every year or so, and that nothing is noticeable.
    They were quite disappointed. The time came and went, and they forgot the subject.

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