Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's Called the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect...

...writes Ted after we talked about how this on vacation:
“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”
Michael Crichton
I recalled that when I read this article on acid rain and alkalinization in streams..,

Acid Rain Threatens Chemistry Of Rivers And Streams By Changing Alkalinity; 'Legacy Effect' From 5 Decades Of Pollution May Be Bad News For Aquatic Life

Warning: incredibly annoying autostart video ad on this page
...Alkalinity is a measurement of how well the water neutralizes invading acid. A higher alkalinity can lead to toxic ammonia and algae blooms, which are a big threat to wildlife..
The first is true, of course, and is the mechanism by which soils neutralize acids from rain and runoff.  However, alkalinity in and of itself does not lead to ammonia toxicity, higher pH does.  Increasing alkalinity is the process by which waters incompletely resist the effect of acids lowering the pH of water.

Acid rain and agricultural runoff are mostly to blame for this phenomenon, the harsh substances eat away at limestone and even cement, which "infects" the water with alkaline particles.
The word infects should never be used in such chemical discussions.  Infects applies a microorganism such as a bacteria or virus invading a larger organism and replicating itself.  This is quite the reverse of the neutralization reactions are self limiting.

It's too bad when journalists do not understand the science they are reporting, and then use hyper-emotive language to convey a false impression.  Unfortunately, it's all too common

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