Un-Hyping Current Science News Items
Webmaster: Bruce L. Gary, Hereford, AZ; USA

We are surrounded by hype. Marketers have always hyped their products, but the "hyping disease" has been caught by television news directors, web bloggers, newspapers and magazines. This web page was inspired by my annoyance with the growing problem of over-hyped science reporting. I blame the internet, partly, because it shortens the "news cycle" and rewards quick and sloppy reporting. Because of my experience with the Comet ISON fiasco (briefly described near the bottom of this web page), I am familiar with how easily an honest report of something scientific can be distorted and hyped for selling purposes by freelance writers simply trying to earn a living. It is unhelpful when a news organization buys the "story" without fact-checking, and reports it as true. My plan is to add an item to this web page several times per week. Occasionally I'll describe an article that deserves plaudits.

News Stories Needing Un-Hyping (or Plaudits)

2014.04.09.  Today there are articles about a light on the horizon of a Mars Curiosity image (e.g., link). One blogger (UFO Daily Sightings) suggested that it's evidence for intelligent (Martian) life living below the ground. Baloney! As every amateur astronomer who uses scientific grade CCD cameras knows cosmic ray hits to the CCD silicon surface produce tiny white spots in images at random times and random locations. I deal with them on a daily basis. These are routinely edited out before presentation anywhere. Why didn't the JPL person edit out this cosmic ray artifact? Could be that he was playing a joke on the gullible public, and had a bet with a colleague about there being someone sufficiently lacking in ethics to hype the Martian life theory. As the JPL contact noted, other images taken seconds later don't show this artifact. Don't believe anything you read (even this web page).

2014.02.18. Here's an old un-hype complaint that helped motivate me to start this web site: Asteroid "2000 MN26" is over-publicized, in my opinion. No one knows where it's located in the sky at any given time during its close passage past Earth because it hasn't been observed in 14 years, and then for only a short span of 14 days. I was going to try to observe it ("recover" it, actually) but I noticed that the JPL and MPC ephemerides for it (for tonight, for example, February 18, UT) differ by 6 degrees, and the uncertainties in position for each is of the order 25 to 50 degrees. In other words, we really don't know where to look for it until it's recovered by a large field-of-view asteroid survey camera system. I'm puzzled why the SLOOH people  publicized their attempted streaming video coverage of it. The upcoming live streaming video was promoted on the NBC Nightly News as well as on many web news sites. The SLOOH people are smart, so they had to have known that none of their observers would be able to recover it in "real time." I'm left with the suspicion that they couldn't pass up the opportunity for getting publicity. I watched the 1-hour streaming broadcast, and it was lame: all they did is talk about how important SLOOH is, and related programs. This is the kind of hype that annoys me!

What Prompted me to Create This Web Site?

My awareness of the problem was dramatically illustrated by flawed reporting of my Comet ISON observations following my recovery image on August 12, 2013. An amateur beating NASA to obtain a recovery image of this so-called "Comet of the Century" caused some to ask why, given NASA's budget. But when I showed that the comet was much fainter than NASA models had predicted, additional questions arose about the possibility that NASA was hyping the comet for their own purposes. I defended NASA, but had to also acknowledge that NASA could have done a better job of discouraging reporters from hyping the comet. Months after Comet ISON broke apart and reporting on it abruptly stopped, I continued to see over-hyped news stories. Near-Earth objects, NEOs, seemed to be getting undue attention and misleading news reports. For example, last February the national TV news reported on a NEO whose close passage to Earth could be seen on streaming video. I knew that this NEO wouldn't be seen, streaming or any other way, because its orbit wasn't known well enough for anyone to know where to their telescope. It annoyed me that the streaming video astronomers had to have known this also, but they persisted in promoting their upcoming program. I wanted to warn people to not bother watching, but I had no way to do this. With this web page I hope to provide some overdue feedback on science stories that are too fantastic to be true, because their not. 

Who Am I

I'm a 74-year old retiree with 34 years of work at JPL (Jet proplsion Laboratory, employment by Caltech). According to Google Scholar I have 153 publications. Most of my published work is in the atmospheric sciences (ozone hole and others stratosphere-related), the rest are in astronomy, aviation safety and lower atmosphere remote sensing. I have 4 patents (aviation related), and have published 6 books (most on sale at Amazon.com). I have consulted for five institutions (Rockwell International, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, JPL, Caltech and Vanderbilt University). I am currently active with various astronomy photometry projects (contributing to the discovery of 7 exoplanets, variable white dwarfs, Kepler follow-up ground based observations, asteroid rotation properties, etc). Although my employment has been confined to the physical sciences I consider myself advanced in the understanding of sociobiology (also called evolutionary psychology), which is the subject of one of my books. I subscribe to the following magazines: Nature, Science, Scientific American, New Scientist, Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, etc. In summary, I consider myself to be a "quick study" of work done in several fields, and this is why I feel competent to have an opinion about some scientific news
items. A complete resume is at: http://brucegary.net/resume.html


This site opened:  2014.03.14 by Bruce L. Gary (B L G A R Y at u m i c h dot e d u).