This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

If you have comments on this blog posting, please email me .

The Opinion Blog is organised by threads, so each post is identified by a thread number ("Major" index) and a post number ("Minor" index). If you want to view the index of blogs, click here to download it as an Excel spreadsheet.

Click here to see the whole Opinion Blog.

To view, save, share or refer to a particular blog post, use the link in that post (below/right, where it says "Show only this post").

Punctuate Your Headlines!

Posted on 17th August 2022

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

Why can't people put punctuation in headlines? It is as if they think that there is some unwritten rule for headlines that punctuation is not allowed.

This article on the BBC carries the headline "Ukraine war round-up: Strike on Wagner HQ and Russia to increase ties with North Korea." It leaves the reader wondering why attacks on the HQ in Ukraine of the Wagner group of Russian mercenaries, and also on Russia, would increase ties with North Korea. It just needs a comma to say what was intended: "... Strike on Wagner HQ, and Russia to increase ties with North Korea."

Spiders Are Not Insects!

Posted on 21st July 2022

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

This article on USA Today claims that it will tell you the what is the deadliest spider in the world. The answer seems to be the funnel web spider, although this is not explicitly stated.

What puts the veracity of the article into question is the description, in the first paragraph, of spiders as "many-legged insects". Spiders are most definitely not insects; insects are a totally different class of species; insects have 6 legs, and spiders have 8.

Why do these journalists try to pass themselves off as experts, when they clearly know nothing about the topics they write about?

Salmon Are Not The Only Fish Which Migrate To Breed!

Posted on 3rd July 2022

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

This article on the BBC bemoans the dreadful state of salmon in Ireland's rivers.

Things are indeed very bad, especially for a country which used to market itself (possibly still does) as clean and pollution free, with a vibrant wildlife. Sadly, pollution and overfishing have decimated wild salmon populations.

About one third of the way down the article is a paragraph which starts with "As the only fish whose lifecycle demands a transition from salt to fresh water, ..." As any reasonably well informed reader will know, there are actually quite a few species which migrate from salt-water to fresh water to breed, and a few which migrate from fresh water to salt-water to breed. Here are some examples:

  • salmon (of which there are several distinct species),
  • sea trout,
  • striped bass,
  • sea lamprey,
  • Allis shad,
  • Twait shad
  • freshwater els,
  • sturgeon (the source of real caviar).

Kate Ryan, the journalist who wrote this article, is not a good advertisement for Irish education.

Bad Geography Or Inability To Count?

Posted on 15th October 2021

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

The BBC does it again, in this article.

The journalist (unnamed) reports that the USA is planning to expand offshore wind energy on "on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico".

The last time that I checked, the USA had not two but three coasts: east, west and south. I believe that these words are actually quoting the Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland. There are several journalistic methods for showing that the stupidity or ignorance was that of the source, not the journalist: by putting the words in quotation marks, or inserting "[sic]" after the offending statement, for example. No such attempt was made, meaning that the BBC has decided to own the mistake.

Not a Jet!

Posted on 4th October 2021

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).
Pilatus PC-12

Someone else has obviously already complained about this report on the BBC.

The headline originally read "Milan plane crash: Eight dead as private jet hits building", but has now been changed to "Milan plane crash: Eight dead as private plane hits building".

Well good! Although most readers might not know anything about the model of aircraft which crashed (a Pilatus PC-12), anyone can see from the photo to the right that it is not a jet.

This is not the first time that a BBC journalist has been unable to tell the difference between a jet and a propeller plane, and that the editor has let the mistake slip by.

Still No Chemists At The BBC!

Posted on 26th June 2021

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

This article on the BBC about recovering century-old beer from a shipwreck was interesting and amusing.

It does, however, prove that journalists who have basic chemistry knowledge are in short supply at the BBC.

The report describes how the ship which sank in 1895, "was packed with various kinds of cargo, including large containers of a chemical called tin chloride".

The is a reason why it is "called" tin chloride; because that it what it is. The use of the word "called" here suggests that it is called tin chloride, but is actually something else.

Why does it seem to be so hard for the BBC?

No Chemists At The BBC?

Posted on 6th June 2021

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

This report on the BBC is merely one example of a growing trend in journalism. It is not only an issue with the BBC, but with very many news publishers.

The report is about how the contribution of nitrous oxide to global warming is being overlooked.

Nitrous oxide comprises two atoms of nitrogen bound to one atom of oxygen, and the formula is N2O, not N20 as the BBC report states.

There are many examples of this kind of sloppiness published every day: CO2 instead of CO2, H2O instead of H2O.

Is it really so hard to use subscripts for the numbers in chemical formulae? Anyone who studied some chemistry at school knows how chemical formulae should be written.

Bad Journalism about Solar Power Generation in the Sahara.

Posted on 5th March 2021

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

Another piece of bad science journalism appeared on "The Next Web" recently (here).

The report describes how massive solar energy farms in the Sahara would cause less energy to be reflected back into space, and thus cause local heating, adding significantly to global warming (although it would have a positive effect on the local climate in the Sahara, with the local heating increasing rainfall).

Tunisia Planned Solar Energy Farm

The article talks clearly about large farms of photoelectric panels, which do indeed reflect less energy than the sand of the desert. Sadly for the journalist, although luckily for the planet, the solar energy farms currently planned for the Sahara are not huge arrays of photoelectric cells, but are based on arrays of mirrors (which track the position of the sun in the sky) which focus sunlight on centrally positioned boilers to generate electricity, as in the artist's impression to the right, which is of the planned installation in Tunisia. The albedo (reflectivity) of such a solar energy farm is very similar to natural desert sand, and maybe even a little higher. There would therefore be little or no local heating from such a facility.

That is not to say that there shouldn't be thorough environmental impact studies for such solar energy farms in the desert, but there seems no cause for panic.

Numbers about new Tesla battery technology don't add up.

Posted on 27th September 2020

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread (Bad Journalism).

Journalists bemoan the poor understanding of science by the general public, and then have the hypocrisy to publish articles like this report on th BBC.

The piece is about the much anticipated presentation by Elon Musk, about Tesla's new battery technology.

It repeats figures from the presentation about the performance improvements that the new battery tech. offers. In short, the new batteries will have:

  1. 5 times more energy storage,
  2. 6 times more power,
  3. 16% more vehicle range.

Item #1 should translate directly into 5 times more range. The only reasons that it wouldn't are:

  • If the batteries are hugely heavier than the current batteries (normal matter is simply not dense enough to cause this - only neutron stars are dense enough);
  • Or if Tesla are going to significantly reduce the number of batteries in each car, to take advantage of the increased energy density, but there is no mention of such a reduction in the report;

Either the journalists at the presentation were so mesmerized by it all that they didn't challenge this inconsistency, or they did, but the author of the BBC article (James Clayton) understands so little about basic science that he ignored this glaring issue.

I expect such poor journalism from some publications, but I had higher hopes of the BBC.

Time Machines?

Posted on 4th January 2019

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

I was totally caught out, when I first read this article on the BBC.

The piece is about Isaac Asimov's predictions, made in 1983, about what the world would be like in 2019. Some of his future gazing was amazingly accurate.

In the 10th paragraph, however, is the statement "In 30 years time machines will know what each student knows and what he or she needs to learn next." Time machines? On rereading, I realised that the writer, Mr. Asimov himself, I assume, meant "In 30 years time, machines will know ...", rather than "In 30 years, time machines will know ..."

It seems that no-one knows how to properly use punctuation anymore.

Power versus Energy

Posted on 6th November 2018

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

I was very disappointed by this article, on the BBC. The issue of saving our planet by using technology is an important topic, but the journalist has made a complete dog's dinner of it.

The article refers to several means of recovering "surplus energy", using techniques to capture energy from the wind created by passing vehicles, and by people walking on power generating pavements. This is not actually surplus energy: energy that would otherwise be wasted. The technology in question creates more drag for passing vehicles,and makes it harder to walk (because the surface is soft, rather than hard). Although I agree that there could be health benefits for some pedestrians using more energy while walking, this is not true for all users of footpaths, There is, however, absolutely no environmental benefit from creating more drag for vehicles, which are mostly powered by fossil fuels, and generating electricity from it; the only worse solution is to generate electricity from coal.

What really shows the poor quality of the journalism, however, is the statement that a battery made from power station waste can store 500 Watts of energy (the report has now been updated to remove this piece of nonsense - I assume that someone else complained). 500 Watts is a measure of power (i.e. how fast a battery can be charged); energy (a battery's capacity) is typically measured in Joules (or Kilowatt hours).

It is such a shame that Tim Bowler (the writer of this article) couldn't do this vital topic justice.

Bad-Science Week?

Posted on 25th June 2018

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

Last week, apparently, was bad-science week. I must have missed the announcement.

This promotional video on LinkedIn (if the link doesn't work for you, simply visit https://www.linkedin.com, search for "turbine traffic" and click the "Content" button) is about a wind turbine which creates electricity from passing traffic.

The idea that the video authors seem to be pushing is that the electricity thus generated is free. This is, of course, total nonsense. What is actually happening is that the turbines create extra drag for the passing vehicles, meaning that they consume more fuel. In effect, the turbines are stealing energy from the vehicles.

The video states a figure, obviously intended as the power output of a turbine: "One turbine can create 1 Kilowatt of electricity per hour". This is gibberish. A Kilowatt is a measure of power (like a 1 Kilowatt electrical heater), but 1 Kilowatt per hour is a rate of change of power output, and is meaningless in this context.

No wonder so many of the public do not understand science, when it is misreported like this.

North America Part Of Europe?

Posted on 24th May 2018

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

The BBC has done it again!

In a report, here, about how Deutsche Bank will shed at least 7,000 staff, the anonymous author wrote "Deutsche Bank employs about 66,000 people in Europe - including 42,000 in Germany, 21,000 in Asia and about 10,000 in North America". Since when are Asia and North America in Europe?

I know that I would have lost marks if I had written this statement in my school geography homework. Maybe we should do as Elon Musk suggests, and mark the media on their performance (here, on Inverse).

The facts are totally wrong!

Posted on 15th May 2018

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

The second paragraph of this story begins with "But, truth be told, not a lot is definitively known about the weed industry... ", and that is most certainly true of Sean Williams the author of this piece in The Motley Fool. He states that "After all, marijuana is still illegal in every country around the world, save for Uruguay". This is simply not true. Marijuana is legal in The Netherlands, and also at the Federal level in Germany (German states have their own local legislation, so that marijuana is legal in some, and illegal in others). Canada is part-way through the process of leglising it, and the legislation should be finally passed in June 2018. Several other countries have moved marijuana into the legal grey zone by decriminalising possession of small amounts, or simply declining to prosecute such possession, or are currently considering doing so.

Most of the rest of the article is filled with fuzzy statistics because "not a lot is definitively known about" an industry which (in the USA) is legal in some states, but still illegal federally (meaning that assets can be seized by the FBI, and people in the industry cannot open bank accounts for their businesses). The usual answer to information being hard to get, is to do some journalistic research (not simply Googling for the answers).

Some journalists seem to make a living from such shoddy work. I hope I manage to remember this journalist‘s name, so that I can avoid future disappointment with his writing.

My girl and my dogs!

Posted on 3rd August 2017

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

I just had to laugh when I read this BBC story a few weeks ago, about Rapper ScHoolboy Q getting upset with United Airlines for losing his dog.

Whoever wrote the piece obviously doesn't understand rapper-speak. The article says 'Pets are clearly important to the artist. One of ScHoolboy Q's lyrics in the song Take the Pain Away reads: "Only thing I got is my girl and my dogs."' As far as I know, the phrase "my dogs" refers to his crew (his homies, his boys, his gang), not his 4 legged friends.

You apparently just can't get good journalists nowadays!

Birmingham Children's Hospital Brings Electrocuted Children Back To Life!

Posted on 2nd June 2017

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

The BBC has been at it again, with more bad journalism, here.

The word "Electrocution" means "death caused by electric shock". The report states that two boys were electrocuted, but they are still alive (although one is in critical condition) after receiving electric shocks on a railway line.

I know that electrocution is often misused to mean non-fatal electric shock, but this misuse occurs mostly in the USA. I expect better use of English by the BBC, especially since they are not a US news company, and the events described occurred in the UK. If even Wikipedia, a US based information resource, can get the meaning right, then the BBC should be able to do at least as well.

Punctuation Also Belongs In Headlines

Posted on 29th November 2016

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

I have noticed a growing tendency for the media to leave out or incorrectly use punctuation. This includes the BBC, which was once the bastion of proper English.

This story from the BBC is an excellent example. The headline of the story states "Gambia elections: Jammeh suspends campaign to mourn Castro". That prompted two questions: why did President Jammeh have a campaign to mourn Fidel Castro, and why did he cancel it? After a moment's reflection, I realised that the journalist meant to write "Gambia elections: Jammeh suspends campaign, to mourn Castro", although it would also have been fine to write "Gambia elections: to mourn Castro, Jammeh suspends campaign".

I have seen more than enough examples of this kind of error in recent news items.

Proper punctuation ensures clarity and ease of reading. Incorrect punctuation adds confusion and can alter or even completely invert the meaning of a phrase. Sometimes, altering word-order and adding more words can achieve the same result as punctuation, but journalism is often about transmitting a message with a few words as possible, most especially in headlines. Sadly, however, the media seems to hold the incompatible and contrary belief that certain kinds of punctuation do not belong in headlines (colons are OK, but commas are not).

Many newspapers, magazines and web-sites will argue that criticism of their punctuation is unfair, because they were quoting someone (a politician or business leader, for example), but sometimes this is no excuse. I have heard speeches and official statements where the correct punctuation was in the original text, and correctly and clearly enunciated by the speaker, but whoever at the newspaper transcribed it did not understand. Such cases are due to bad grammar education in the journalism industry.

To be fair, there are also cases where the speakers do not know how to express themselves. One notable example from recent press coverage is Donald Trump, who speaks as if his mental age is about 9 years. I recently saw a TV interview where the woman interviewer felt it necessary interpret each of his answers into normal and grown-up English.

A few years about I witnessed a telephone conversation between a colleague, Roger, and one of the company's documentation team based in Bangalore, India. The process was that a developer wrote not only code, but also a text file of updates to the documentation (add this paragraph, delete these paragraphs, change XXX to YYY); the documenter then made these changes to a PDF version of the document. Our developers were German, Russian, Hungarian and Romanian, but nevertheless wrote good and grammatically correct English (our documentation was all in English). Roger, a project manager for several projects, was upset that the correct English had been modified by the guy in Bangalore, and again after corrections were submitted by the developer. The documenter argued long and hard that he was improving the language by adding random additional punctuation, whereas in fact the meaning of one sentence had been reversed. Roger and I concluded that the documenter's attitude was that punctuation was like seasoning on food, and that, in general, the more the better. This attitude seems to be widespread in the modern world, but punctuation is not about prettifying language, but about making it clear and unambiguous.

US Declares Religious War On China?

Posted on 9th March 2016

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.
Crosier

This report on VOA news caused me some amusement.

In its original form, it stated that “The United States has deployed an aircraft carrier and two crosiers [see the photo to the right] … to the South China Sea”. That could only mean a religious war, although curious given the constitutional separation of church and state in the USA.

Sadly, the news report has now been updated, and the crosiers are now cruisers (and have been joined by two destroyers): more informative, but less amusing.

More BBC Errors and Typos

Posted on 27th April 2014

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

The Beeb has been at it again.

In this story, about a planned new British Icebreaker, the author talks about how an "early design concept for the new ship has been drawn up by naval architects, but this will need to be finessed. I have a feeling that they meant something other than finessed.

In this story, about nuclear fusion research, the author writes that "in 1997, scientists pushed 24MW of energy into Jet [Joint European Torus] and managed to get 16MW out". Whilst these numbers are indeed not bad, 24MW is a measure of power (rate of energy) not of energy; you cannot have 24MW of energy. This is about as scientifically stupid as the Star Wars statement (by Obi Wan Kenobi) "never underestimate the power of the force", and space ships in dodgy ScFi movies tavelling at speeds measured in lightyears (a lightyear is a measure of distance, not speed).

In this story about a Nigerian rapist who has been sentenced to death by stoning, there is a statement that he "admitted raping the girl but said he had incited by the Devil". I find that inserting the overlooked word "been" between "had" and "incited" greatly improves the sentence.

Bad Science on the BBC

Posted on 10th July 2014

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

I am really starting to wonder where the BBC finds their science writers.

This story about some recent research on malaria highlights the problem. In it is the statement "The study found that malaria-infected parasites could bury into bone marrow, where they escaped the immune system and caused disease." This is pure nonsense.

Malaria is a disease caused by parasitic protozoans (a type of unicellular micro-organism) of the genus Plasmodium. It is carried by certain species of mosquito (also a parasite - maybe that is why the author, Helen Briggs, is confused). There is no sense in which there can be "malaria-infected parasites" in a host (human) body, since the plasmodium parasites are the disease.

Is it any wonder that the general public is confused about science?

What has happened to the BBC?

Posted on 24th July 2013

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

What on earth has happened to the BBC News? The BBC were once the bastion of good English, but those days seem long past; they have gone the way of CNN and Fox News.

Nowadays the reports, whether online or on TV, are full of ungrammatical headlines (e.g. "Thousands attend Brazil youth Mass"), typos and spelling errors, American English and journalistic mistakes.

So-called private jet

I am not sure which category of error to file this under, but in this story By Emma Simpson (the story has now been corrected - about 12 hours after being posted) it was stated that the fraudsters spent their ill-gotten wealth on extravagances including a "private jet". A cursory examination of the photo from the story (left) shows a twin-engined plane with propellers!

The text description of the photo, provided by the City of London Police, is still "private jet", which also makes me worry about the quality of the UK police force.

I thought it was a little odd, as I was reading the story, that they paid so little for a jet (£350,000), which prompted me to look again at the photo.

Another annoying trend is that of talking down to the audience, especially on the TV News. I know that most TV channels have a target English comprehension level (like a "reading age"), and that they limit the complexity of the grammar and vocabulary to meet this target, but I am getting awfully tired of being talked to as if I am 12 years old (or even younger on some channels).

Does someone know of a TV news channel where grown-ups can go to get their news?