Friday, 4 April 2008

Classic BBC headlines of our time

Don't take this as an extended commentary on "global warming", but here's a classic example of something we all do all the time: interpret the facts in line with our pre-existing beliefs. In these cases though, to absurd lengths. The power of self-delusion can be very great!

The "free thought" and "skeptic" crowd would, of course, have it that they alone are able to overcome their in-built preconceptions and deal with every case on its merit. 2 minutes debating with a member of that crowd and watching them process some actual evidence that doesn't fit with their world-view will persuade most sane people otherwise.

Doing this in general isn't bad; if we didn't do it, life would be absolutely impossible. I hear a sound like a door-bell; shall I study my physics text books and the layout diagrams of my house to ascertain that this is likely to be the door-bell's noise, travelling through the air to my ears - or shall I go an open the jolly door? Switching off all your previous preconceptions is as impossible as it is silly. You read the last sentence on the assumption that it was in English, and not another language that just happens to share certain words and in fact meant something completely different.

Sometimes, though, this reading goes way beyond its legitimate boundaries, and the kind of evidence that ought to make you say "wait a minute!" instead just gets routinely folded in. If I started responded to every noise I heard by going to the door, soon my wife would tell me I needed to start interpreting the sounds in a new way because I was sending her crazy. Or more crazy than I already did. You get the idea. Anyway, where was I?

Ah yes. This BBC story was served up to me under the glorious headline "Global warming 'dips this year'". If you read the story, what it actually says is something different. It doesn't say that there will be less "global warming" this year; it says that there will be none. Well, not quite. It actually says that there'll be global cooling this year. As in, the opposite of global warming. Temperatures going down. Hang on a minute, though; if you read the story with both eyes open and whilst standing the right way up, it actually says something more. It says that there hasn't actually been any global warming since 1998. As in, no global warming for 10 years.

If you were a BBC editor who had lived for the last decade with the prior belief that the planet was presently enduring global cooling, you might have run exactly the same story, with the headline "Global cooling speeds up this year", and added in all kinds of alarmist speculations to boot about how we'll soon all be walking snowmen. Same facts; same story; different headline and different spin: because of the control beliefs that were driving the whole thing. Ho hum. You do read the news with a critical eye as to what the over-riding themes and implicit messages are, don't you?

Here's another one: "Pregnant US man hails 'miracle'". My goodness, you say - a man has become pregnant; that really is a miracle! Hang on though - let's read the story. After we've done that, another head-line becomes possible: "Man bites dog" "Pregnant US woman gets confused". Because, dear reader, in this case all we have is an American woman, who ten years ago had surgery to remove some fat from her body, took some hormones so that she started growing facial hair and got a deep voice, started dressing as a man and took a man's name, and has now inseminated herself with sperm from a donor and become pregnant.

The BBC's editor, though, had bought into the present popular, peculiarly post-modern and gnostic way of looking at the world. This set of ideas says that your physical body may be female, you may have female chromosomes in every single cell of your body, but if you decide that you're a man then hey - you're a man! You exert the force of your will, speak a little bit of pyscho-babble about "having a male brain" (every physical cell in it excepted!) and bingo - maleness is yours. And woe betide the intolerant bigots who point out that the emperor's clothes don't look as substantive as they once used to. As I said - you do read those news articles with a critical eye, don't you?

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