Entries tagged with “media”.

In order to vote on Tuesday, I stood in line for nearly 2 1/2 hours, mostly because the folks in charge of elections in Richland County, South Carolina cannot seem to figure out 1) how to allocate machines to precincts appropriately/according to the law and 2) how to fix the machines when they (inevitably) fail.  If Cheryl Goodwin, Richland County’s Election Systems Coordinator, is correct, there were the same number of voting machines at work Tuesday as there were in 2008.  Yet somehow my precinct went from five machines in 2008 to three in 2012.  There were, according to news accounts, 18 technicians in the field working on Tuesday.  Yet they could not address the breakdown of machines across the county, nor the breakdown of machines in my precinct.  Precinct workers told me they called for help around 8am as one of the machines broke down.  By the time I left, around 11:15, no technicians had shown up.  The debacle actually continues…it seems they still cannot get all of the absentee ballots counted, and several local/state races and ballot initiatives are still in play.

As I tweeted yesterday, there are two kinds of problems: there are the unforeseeable/very low probability problems. If a meteor hits a polling station, I’m willing to give people a pass on that one.  Then there are the problems related to being poorly prepared or just unprepared.  You know, like the problems caused by misallocating voting machines and then failing to respond to calls for help from precinct workers for over 3 hours.  THESE ARE NOT THE SAME. The first type of problem is understandable and excusable.  The second demands that someone be held to account.  Not that anyone is going to stand up and take the blame here, though…

OK, so Richland County was a debacle.  But it’s not like people were still voting at 11pm.  Oh, wait…

But the thing that infuriates me the most is the way in which so many in the media excused this debacle – several times I heard folks on TV say things like “person X had their voting card torn up in the 50s, so standing in line for a while is really a small sacrifice.”  This is complete garbage.  All of those people who sacrificed to ensure that women/minorities/non-white-male-property-owners could vote did not struggle just so that those who came later could be subjected to voting conditions that would be embarrassing in many precincts in GHANA.  The whole point of that struggle was to enable those who followed them to vote easily and freely.  The simple fact is that a five hour line…or a three hour line…or a two hour line can effectively disenfranchise someone who cannot afford to take half a day or more off from work, or who does not have childcare at home that enables them to stand in line until after 11pm to vote.

So media, let’s be clear: nobody suffered or struggled in the past so that you could give Richland County Election Commission a pass on this shambles of an election.  The ghosts of those people are shaking their fists in rage at your invocation of them to excuse the effective disenfranchisement of many in the electorate.  Someone had best be held to account for this debacle.  The cause of the problems has to be explained and resolved. Only then will we be honoring those whose struggles brought us the diverse electorate we have today.

As regular readers of this blog know, I find myself occasionally embroiled in discussions of how those of us working on climate change might best engage the media and the public.  It happened in the earliest days of this blog, and again more recently – and my thoughts on this have turned up on Dot Earth at the New York Times site here and here (h/t to Andrew Revkin).  In the end, I think we need to be very open and transparent in what we do, but we need to engage people who work on messaging as professionals – scientists are generally poorly trained in this area, and our universities are mired in the idea that press releases will be sufficient for disseminating important ideas to the public or the policy community (see a good post on this at Marc Bellemare’s blog).

So, I was mortified today when I saw that Tom Paulson, a journalist in Seattle, was more or less denied permission to ask a question of a panel at the Pacific Health Summit . . . even when he was willing to follow Chatham House Rules (where comments made in a session are not for external attribution unless the speaker explicitly gives permission – it allows people to speak more freely, and resolve/address difficult issues more directly).  It is one thing to protect people talking about a sensitive issue (in this case, vaccinations) so they can speak freely at an event aimed at specialists, but entirely another to actively prevent the press from asking questions, even when panelists are free to refuse to answer, or to answer as they please, without fear of identification.  This does nothing to enhance the dialogue within the sessions, nor does it help to foster productive relations with the media.

Now, I was not at the event, and Paulson notes that there were prohibitions against the press asking questions at the event, so to some extent he walked into this one . . . but that does not absolve the organizers of this Summit of blame.  The rules themselves make little sense, unless there is such remarkable mistrust of the media in this community (and I speak from a pretty media-averse community these days) that the organizers felt nobody could be trusted.

This is not a press/media relations plan designed by professionals.  We in the scientific and academic communities need to get over ourselves – our data is not truth/justification/validation to anyone but us.  To most of the rest of the world, our findings are just different viewpoints to be considered.  I’m not saying this is how it should be . . . but this is how the world works.  We can sit around and demand that everyone understand us on our terms, but we’ve seen how that has played out for climate science, for those who argue against the “vaccines are dangerous” crowd, etc. (For those unclear on this, it has played out very, very poorly).  This strikes me as completely pointless, and forever doomed to failure.  My life is too short for pointless – I’m a pragmatist.  This is yet another screaming argument for the need to engage the professional messaging community.  It doesn’t ruin science to engage – it will make what we do a lot more effective.

No, really.  Realclimate cracks me up sometimes – and they have got the media response more or less down in this post.

Oh, and to save you the time: yes, I am a huge dork.  As made clear by the fact I just used the word “dork”, which most people abandon in junior high.

Yeah, the level of discourse around climate-related topics is pretty low these days . . . not that it has been elevated for a very long time.  Still, the folks at RealClimate hacked a political cartoon and got it right: