Want to Know the Facts? Turn off the TV and Logon

Posted on May 5th, 2009 by Karl Beecher

I’m going off-topic slightly here, but, in a way, I still remain on it.

Swine flu is upon us. Members of the public who know nothing of epidemiology want to know the facts about the virus.  Meet Thunderf00t, a YouTube user and producer of some rather excellent videos, at their best when debunking the pseudo-scientific and countering with commentaries on the beauties of real science. Recently, he has been posting videos on swine flu, simply explaining the facts in front of a whiteboard like a lecturer.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/l8pSPfZFysg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/br80HSGGPek" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Now, I do not know about the quality of the TV news you receive locally, but if I contrast the way Thunderf00t here disseminates swine flu information to what I have seen on television news in the UK, then I am afraid the spontaneous voluntary effort by Thunderf00t wins hands down in veracity, relevance and comprehensiveness. A 10 minute piece from him is full of the most relevant preventative information, motivations behind what the WHO advocate,  and definitions of all those terms you might have heard being passed around. Conversely, a 10 minute piece on the BBC News channel is cluttered with useless footage like reporters interviewing nearby neighbours of a young couple in England diagnosed with the illness, and asking them what they feel about it, as if anybody cares. I do not watch much television news these days; I have not seen how Sky News or ITV News have handled the outbreak, but given how the BBC is relatively sedate and calm in its delivery, I would not expect them being any better in this respect.

Thunderf00t even slips in a rejoinder to an American politician, whose peculiar ideology of “government = bad”, dismisses any notion that public agencies should get involved in preventative measures.

But returning to topic, this reflects a wider problem with the delivery of TV news, something already observed upon superbly by people like Charlie Brooker and Adam Curtis. To be fair it is probably not the institutions themselves that are the problem; after all, if you go to the BBC News website (and hunt around a little bit), you will find a decent page with information about swine flu, which they still cannot resist peppering with bits of irrelevance, admittedly.

If I want the facts given with an objective delivery, it seems television news is far from the first place to go.

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