Tuesday, June 22, 2010

News You Can't Use

This is the entire article, minus the closing sentence:
Planes flying low over Oregon and Washington for USGS survey

The flights are part of USGS research to measure and map rock types and formations.

The U.S. Geological Survey says people in northern Oregon and southern Washington may notice low-flying aircraft through July.

The flights are part of USGS research to measure and map rock types and formations.
Alright... I suppose the purpose of this "news" is to allay worries among people who worry about low-flying aircraft. But it says nothing about what kind of aircraft are being used. Are we talking about two-seat, single prop planes with some bolted-on equipment, or are we talking 747's loaded to the gills with instrumentation and flying at tree-top level? I dunno. I doubt the kind of people who would worry about low-flying small planes are the kind of people who would be reading these kinds of stories; they're too busy calling 911 and complaining about how they're being harassed by UFO's. And I doubt the latter possibility is really a possibility. Hard to say.

Then there's the science angle... penetrating radar was just being implemented as a remote compositional analytic technique when I was finishing up my BS degree, and I imagine it's become more sensitive and much higher resolution. Magnetic surveys? Gravity surveys? Aerial photos? LIDAR surveys? Some new technique? Dunno.

Golly, wouldn't it be cool if we had an industry where people got paid to go and find out interesting things that are happening in the world, then explain those things to the public? I think that would be super. Funny no one ever thought of it before.

In the original article, there was a link to USGS.gov, which I tidied out during copy and paste. Now I'm sure the reason the AP writer didn't just link to the USGS release wasn't because the source was clearer, or because the writer worried that it might look as if he/she might have been a little lazy in their transcription interpretation. No, I'm sure it's because they lost the original link. So in the interest of being helpful, it took me over almost 30 seconds to find the agency's press release- though you do have to think a moment to figure out which button the report would have to be filed under. (Hint: click Oregon on the US map)

Oh wow! Looky there!
Editor: In the public interest and in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the USGS is announcing this low-level airborne project. Your assistance in publicizing this information is appreciated.
It is intended first and foremost as a public alert! I wonder why the writer didn't include that part? And looky! There's a contact. Like for more information! Wowsers!
Dear Ms. Lubeck,

I write a blog from Corvallis, Oregon, that deals with geology and other science, as well as a wide variety of other topics. I sometimes disparagingly describe my posts as "shiny things that get my attention for a few minutes," though I'd like to think I have a little more follow though than that. I just came across this article at OregonLive, which I found frustratingly vague, and was able to track down the original press release at the USGS website. That piece clarified the purpose of the news item, but I find myself quite curious about the nature of the survey itself. My bachelors degree is in geology, 1988, and a masters in science education, 1991, so while I'm quite science literate, I frequently find my geology is a bit out of date. I have posted a piece (one of many) complaining about the laziness of science reporting, and in a teasing way, intend to show that it really isn't all that hard to do better. Much of the time, I think it would be difficult to do worse. So my request is this: are there any posted documents on what exactly is being surveyed, what techniques and instruments are being used on the reported fights, and when and how are the results expected to be reported? If not, could you send me a brief description of that information? Please don't put too much work into it- as I mentioned, I'm literate, and can track down information or terms with which I'm not familiar- but I am curious for my own sake, and between RSS subscriptions, "followers," and actual site visits, I estimate I get about 400 to 500 readers a day, so I expect it will help disseminate the message. Plus, I'm disgusted with the state of science journalism, and poke fun at the genre often. I'd hate to miss an opportunity.

Thanks in advance for your help,

Lockwood DeWitt
Gee! Just think! People might actually do this for income... I think I'll call it... "journalism." Watch for a followup.

Update, Wednesday June 23: Followup here.

1 comment:

SkinnyDennis said...

Piper Navajo

Which also took about 30 seconds to find.