‘Could Spider-Man become a reality?’ asks Mail Online

For some reason the Mail Online editor has filed this article under ‘Science’: ‘Could Spider-Man become a reality? Bizarre white cobweb found on nuclear waste that could have come from a ‘mutant’ spider’.

The article – remember Dacre today telling the Leveson inquiry that the Mail employs some of the finest journalists around – reports that:

In a freakish echo of the Spider-Man comic strip, workers at a U.S nuclear waste facility discovered the growth on uranium last month.

In what way is that ‘a freakish echo of the Spider-Man comic strip’? Sadly, it gets worse. First of all, the Mail explains what has been discovered:

Experts from Savannah River National Laboratory collected a small sample of the mystery material to run tests.

A report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board – a federal oversight panel – concluded: ‘The growth, which resembles a spider web, has yet to be characterised, but may be biological in nature.’

The report said the initial sample of the growth was too small to characterise, and that ‘further evaluation still needs to be completed’.

Then the Mail steps back into childish fantasy:

he bizarre growth will stoke fears that nuclear fuel can cause Frankenstein-style mutations.

It echoes the plot of Spider-Man, where Peter Parker becomes a superhero after being bitten by a mutant spider at a nuclear waste laboratory.

Whilst a image caption claims:

Web of intrigue: The discovery means mutant spiders, like the one that bit Peter Parker, could become a reality.

And to think that Paul Dacre genuinely believes his newspaper group does serious, decent journalism and is prepared to argue his case under oath.

The New Journalist

Just a short message to let you all know that I’m not sure how much longer this blog will be continued.

As you know I have started The New Journalist and it is taking up quite a lot of my time and I’m not sure whether I should post new content to that site or this one.

In the meantime do please visit The New Journalist website, follow the project on Twitter and do consider contributing to the project – whether it be as a writer or reader – and please feel free to post comments on articles as writers should engage with you.

Many thanks.

PS. New posts will still be appearing below this one.

Met Office responds to Mail on Sunday article

Following on from my last blog post about David Rose from the Mail on Sunday telling us to forget about global warming I will provide the full statement from the Met Office that was given to Rose before the article was published (he just chose to ignore it):

A spokesman for the Met Office said: “The ten year projection remains groundbreaking science. The complete period for the original projection is not over yet and these projections are regularly updated to take account of the most recent data.

“The projections are probabilistic in nature, and no individual forecast should be taken in isolation. Instead, several decades of data will be needed to assess the robustness of the projections.

“However, what is absolutely clear is that we have continued to see a trend of warming, with the decade of 2000-2009 being clearly the warmest in the instrumental record going back to 1850. Depending on which temperature records you use, 2010 was the warmest year on record for NOAA NCDC and NASA GISS, and the second warmest on record in HadCRUT3.”

Furthermore, the Met Office were able to confirm that:

Despite the Met Office having spoken to David Rose ahead of the publication of the story, he has chosen to not fully include the answers we gave him to questions around decadal projections produced by the Met Office or his belief that we have seen no warming since 1997.

As well as clarifying Rose’s assertions about the possible impact of the Sun on global temperatures (Rose suggested reduced Sun activity was about to drag us into an ice age):

Furthermore despite criticism of a paper published by the Met Office he chose not to ask us to respond to his misconceptions. The study in question, supported by many others, provides an insight into the sensitivity of our climate to changes in the output of the sun.

It confirmed that although solar output is likely to reduce over the next 90 years this will not substantially delay expected increases in global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases. The study found that the expected decrease in solar activity would only most likely cause a reduction in global temperatures of 0.08 °C. This compares to an expected warming of about 2.5 °C over the same period due to greenhouse gases (according to the IPCC’s B2 scenario for greenhouse gas emissions that does not involve efforts to mitigate emissions).

Just another example of a journalist having the facts to hands, but choosing to ignore them in order to pursue an editorial agenda.

Mail on Sunday encourages us to ‘forget global warming’

Apparently the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit have released some figures that will prove ‘an inconvenient challenge’ for the ‘supposed “consensus” on man-made global warming’. Naturally, the Mail on Sunday online article provides not one link to what it is they are actually talking about (seriously, the busiest ‘news’ website in the world cannot even use simple Internet etiquette) but the writer – David Rose – seems convinced that this data completely changes every piece of evidence ever collated to support the greenhouse model of global warming.

Those of you with a good memory might remember that the Daily Mail have covered the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit before when hackers targeted the unit and released internal emails supposedly showing that the unit had been massaging figures to maintain the illusion that global warming was real. Now it seems that their figures are to be trusted because they happen to coincide with the newspaper’s editorial belief that global warming is not real.

However, before this can be established we need to know exactly what data has been released by the CRU and how the Mail on Sunday has arrived at its conclusions. Sadly, thanks to the newspaper’s complete lack of transparency we can only hazard a guess because no MailOnline / Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday writer seems to have permission (or the decency) to link to any external website (unless they are cut and pasting PR copy, of course).

Visiting the CRU website shows that the most recently updated information sheet was updated back in January 2011 and states that:

The period 2001-2010 (0.44°C above 1961-90 mean) was 0.20°C warmer than the 1991-2000 decade (0.24°C above 1961-90 mean). The warmest year of the entire series has been 1998, with a temperature of 0.55°C above the 1961-90 mean. After 1998, the next nine warmest years in the series are all in the decade 2001-2010. During this decade, only 2008 is not in the ten warmest years. Even though 2008 was the coldest year of the 21st century it was still the 12th warmest year of the whole record.

This time series is compiled jointly by the Climatic Research Unit and the UK Met. Office Hadley Centre. Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities are most likely the underlying cause of warming in the 20th century.

Presumably, the figures that the Daily Mail has got hold of must completely contradict the figures that they have released previously; or that newspaper must have arrived at a very different conclusion to the report’s authors.

The latest press release issued by the CRU (October 2011)- at least the latest one that I could find on their website – seems pretty equivocal:

The University of East Anglia notes the provisional findings of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group (BEST) that any doubts about the previous peer-reviewed, published research showing that the world has been warming are unfounded.

If the BEST studies are confirmed by independent peer review, they will further strengthen the scientific consensus built over the last 30 years by groups around the world, including our Climatic Research Unit (CRU). They will also vindicate – once more – those in CRU unfairly accused of scientific fraud following the theft of their personal emails in November 2009. The university has stood by the science and stood by CRU throughout.

Prof Phil Jones, research director of CRU, said: “I look forward to reading the finalised papers once they have been reviewed and published. These provisional findings seem encouraging and echo our own results, particularly our conclusion that the impact of urban heat islands on the overall trend of global temperature is minimal.”

If the figures David Rose has found are that groundbreaking then the least he could do is point us in the direction of them. Instead he describes any climate change skeptic as a ‘leading climate scientist’, or ‘solar expert’ or ‘one of America’s most eminent climate experts’ whilst relegating the Met Office’s statement (‘But yesterday a Met Office spokesman insisted its models were still valid’) to one throwaway line without any fancy introduction.

You see it’s simple really, all of the graphs put together over the years by scientists who have demonstrated beyond question that global temperatures have risen in the last 30 years have now been disproved by those same scientists releasing another graph. The sole reason for believing this latest graph and disbelieving all the others seems to be that it roughly corresponds to the prejudices of the author and the newspaper that they write for.

And it’s even more simple than that. Everyone who agrees with David Rose’s view is ‘the very best leading expert in the whole wide world’ whilst anyone with any different viewpoint is not even worth mentioning.

This is ‘journalism’ at its very worst and the longer publications are allowed to publish propaganda rather than at the very least flirt with established scientific fact, the longer such manufactured controversies will be allowed to flourish.


Incidentally, The New Journalist has now been launched so if someone more scientifically-minded and patient than I wants to track down this Met Office report and cover it for The New Journalist that would really be good.

More on The New Journalist

This is just a quick message to all those taking an interest in The New Journalist project. Things are progressing well, a good range of writers have been in touch and the website coding has been completed. The project is now waiting for the following:

  • Completion of the website – mainly installing widgets, setting up profiles for writers and so forth
  • Completion of the various codes of conduct covering the website
  • Collation of enough content to launch – and enough content to keep the website updated for a few days at least whilst it gets settled.

If you can please spread the word, follow The New Journalist on Twitter and obviously get in touch if you would like to be involved. Click here for full details.

The MailOnline’s spinning moral compass

The MailOnline has become an increasing flesh-fest of celebrities, reality TV stars and anyone else vaguely worthy of a bikini-shot mention. However, at the same time the Daily Mail website retains the hypocrisy that has been a long-time feature of the print edition; as ever it is a case as do as we preach, not as we do when it comes to MailOnline judging the actions of other media organisations.

The Daily Mail kicked off the new year with an attack on the BBC’s much-talked-about and successful take on Sherlock Holmes daring to feature some women-back-flesh before the nudity claiming that the BBC was under-fire from viewers who thought that it had ‘gone too far with the raunchy scenes’. The MailOnline naturally took the opportunity to post the key screengrabs – on a 24-hour-no-possible-watershed-website and also decided to stick a large photo on page 9 of the print edition.

The Daily Mail has a special distaste for the Internet and the fact the entire spectrum of human depravity is available at the click of a button (providing you have entered the right key words into the search engine of course). The Internet – according to the gospel of the Daily Mail – corrupts us, keeps teenage boys locked in bedrooms with boxes of tissues, whilst teenage girls chat to pensioners in anonymous chat forums. Middle-aged people seek out suicide partners and meet in deserted industrial estates possessing nothing more than a desire to end it all with a stranger and a length of hosepipe.

But the thing is parents can install Internet filters onto their children’s laptops, middle-aged people have the free will to search instead for dinner-party inspiration and everyone makes the active choice whether to seek out the darker side of the Internet – we all know that if you wanted to watch a video of a hostage being beheaded you’d find a million websites hosting the video and so on.

What we can’t prevent is the young and innocent logging on to one of the largest news websites in the world and being able to watch a 7 minute video of an alleged rape that took place on Brazilian Big Brother. Or indeed, a video showing ‘Moment base jumper plummets 200ft and breaks both legs after botched wingsuit leap off Table Mountain’.

The rather obvious and indeed laboured point is that the Daily Mail likes to lecture us on morality and decency yet they will publish anything to gain a few extra hits, to draw in a few more curious rubber-neckers who just can’t resist a click on something illicit. The Internet has a million websites dedicated to people who want to watch dubious videos, but the point is that you have to actively seek them out and most filtering software can block them from younger viewers.

What shouldn’t happen is one of the world’s largest ‘news’ sites publishing them in amongst content that is supposed to be suitable for all.

MailOnline and children, again

This week saw Daily Mail picture editor Paul Silva face the Leveson inquiry. During the questioning he was asked about the privacy of children, here is a summary from the free speech blog:

Silva agreed with a celebrity asking for privacy for their children, and that he “would go along with whatever they ask”. He said it was the paper’s policy that images of children would be pixellated, and when asked by Lord Justice Leveson whether it was questionable that photographers should be taking such pictures in the first place, he responded, “possibly, yes.”

When the inquiry came to talk about MailOnline Silva made it clear that he only deals with pictures for the print edition of the newspaper, not the website. Which begs the questions: who is responsible for the pictures used on the Mail website, and why are they also not appearing in front of the inquiry?

The trouble with the Mail website is that children aren’t merely shown in pictures without any attempt to remove them or pixellate their faces, it is that they often are the story. Take this, for example:

This is just one example of a story that appears daily on the Mail website. The MailOnline business model is based around photo-led (the article contains 5 pictures) ‘stories’ in which photographers stick their long lenses into the private public life of a celebrity. We have a media model that thinks it is perfectly normal to photograph children, babies and families whilst they play in the park, walk down the street, get in a car, eat in a restaurant, play on a beach or perform even the most mundane task. How is profiting from the constant harassment of young children and families acceptable?

Just because we live in a society that provides a willing and paying audience for this invasive drivel, doesn’t mean we have to allow amoral websites like the MailOnline to provide it.

New Journalism project

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will probably know that I have created a new website called ‘The New Journalist’ and that I’m looking for writers and contributors.

The basic idea is this: I have blogged about the terrible state of the UK media for a few years now and whilst I do believe that this is a worthwhile pursuit, I also acknowledge that it is also never really going to make any real difference in the way that the mainstream media functions. I have therefore decided rather than just criticise the current state of a lot of media output, I would actually create a platform for young or aspiring writers to get their views into the public sphere to counter the increasingly dishonest and irrational content currently inflicted upon us by large swathes of the media.

Whilst many individuals may have a blog or want to start one, few people can properly afford the time and effort to build up a readership and many good writers often fall by the wayside because of this. What The New Journalist aims to do is offer them a well publicised shared platform to which they can make the occasional contribution, allowing them more time to research the topic that interests them and put together an article that they can be proud of [avoiding the late-night rushed blogging that so many of us suffer from].

I want to give a platform to younger writers in particular because so often they bear the brunt of negative media portrayals or indeed political decisions without necessarily having any real right of reply.

I have built the site on a spare domain somewhere ready for activation, I now just need writers to provide the site with some content. You can write about anything really because this is never going to attempt to be a news site [impossible given the constraints], but rather more considered articles on contemporary matters – or articles on topics of interest that are not covered by our throwaway news industry. General categories will be:

  • Arts & Culture
  • Education
  • Science
  • Environment
  • Business
  • Politics
  • Life
  • Technology
  • Human rights
  • Technology
  • Health
  • Essays

Here is what I expect from contributors [some of these adapted from NUJ code of conduct for journalists]:

  1. All contributions should be as accurate as possible. This includes hyper-linking to all online sources used and referencing all other offline sources of information using endnotes.
  2. All information disseminated should be honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.
  3. Opinion pieces should clearly be marked as such, and should not contain any confusion between fact and opinion when creating an argument.
  4. Any information within the article must be obtained by honest, straightforward and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means.
  5. Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
  6. Avoids plagiarism.

Furthermore, contributors should notify the editor as soon as possible if they spot any mistakes in their article/s or would like to add any form of clarification.

The editor reserves the right to publish only the articles that meet this criteria.

If you are interested in becoming a regular contributor, please email editor AT thenewjournalist.co.uk with details on yourself, what you are interested in writing about and preferably an article. All articles will be edited if needed before publication and for the time being no payment can be offered. What I do hope to offer budding writers is the chance for their work to receive a decent amount of readers from day one.

thenewjournalist.co.uk does exist but is currently just a holding page. The website will be launched as soon as a team of writers are in place. I made a resolution that in 2012 I would get my projects going, and this is the main one, but it cannot succeed without your help. Please spread the word, follow The New Journalist on Twitter and visit the new site when it is launched.

MailOnline fakes Austrian snowstorm picture

MailOnline have an article on heavy snow in Austria, and have decided to claim that a photograph taken in a famously snowy region of Japan is actually of one of the locations in Austria that they describe in the article. Here is the photograph from the MailOnline homepage (note a pretty dire headline fail as well):

In the article itself the photograph is accompanied by the following caption:

Tunnel vision: The road into Ischgi was briefly open before being closed because of avalanche fears

If you do a search for the image using TinEye you get 142 results clearly showing the Japanese origins of the photo. Here is a link to one blog that not only contains the picture from the Daily Mail article, but also lots more lovely snow pictures to look at to take your mind off of the mild, grey winter we’re experiencing this year. Also, check out the date of that blogpost: 29 December 2010. The Mail is claiming a picture that is over a year old has just been taken in Austria. Not to mention that the cars in the picture are driving on the wrong side of the road for Austria.

What baffles me is how the Mail ever thought they could get away with this obvious deception – a deception that has been pointed out numerous times in the unmoderated comments under the article. You would have thought everyone would be on their best behaviour whilst the Leveson inquiry was ongoing. Obviously not.

UPDATE:

Whilst is appears that the Mail website has now removed this image, they did not have time to remove it from the print edition of the Daily Mail:

The photo includes the same caption as the original online version of the article, claiming the photo is from the recent snowstorm in Austria. This is embarrassing considering the Daily Mail’s photo editor – Paul Silva – is currently appearing in front of the Leveson inquiry.

Daily Mail still not exactly racially sensitive

In the week that Paul Dacre tried to claim credit for bringing two racist murderers to justice the Daily Mail website is quickly returning to form with some standard comment moderation in which racially abusive comments are happily let through, even though the comments section clearly states that all comments are being moderated. The story is the police investigation into alledged racism that supposedly took place during the Liverpool – Oldham game last night and which resulted in a young black player breaking down in tears.

Considering what has happened in the last week, and considering the way in which Paul Dacre lorded his newspaper’s moral superiority over us all you would think that the comments would be closely moderated – even more so given the reputation MailOnline has for not letting through many a sensible, non-abusive comment if it doesn’t agree with the editorial line. But, sadly this is not the case:

Way to take the high ground, Daily Mail. Still, what most of these comments are saying – ‘grow up you baby, people have heard worse’ – only echoes what Steve Doughty wrote a couple of months back:

So, Mr Evra and Mr Ferdinand, I know you feel insulted. But perhaps in this case you could just put up with it and get on with the game.

The Daily Mail: institutionally racist even after the Stephen Lawrence case.