I used to love The Register. It stood up for digital rights, stuck the knife into governmental IT projects, shone the light on ID cards and gave due attention to the largely pointless and wasteful intrusions of technology in the form of CCTV or the database state. But for the past twelve months or so, it’s gradually been turning into a technology-themed version of The National Enquirer.
The the reportage and the accuracy of journalism have broadly gone the same way as the grammar, punctuation and English idiom, which were none of them particularly professional from the outset. Bizarrely, they’ve adopted a stance of geocaust denial, in defiance of the massive weight of climatological evidence against it: as usual, it’s probably for political, sociological and psychological, rather than scientific, motivations.
Recently they even went as far as to stoke up fear of a next ice age, and while the actual article points out that the author Gary Shaffer is talking about timescales of hundreds of thousands of years, that understanding clearly hasn’t permeated as far as the distinctly Have-Your-Say comments. The editorial quality certainly doesn’t reflect a basic policy of good journalism, where if there’s possibility of misconstruance or libellous inference then the bane and the antidote should be in similar magnitude and as close together as possible.
It’s worth mentioning, because the Register didn’t, that when the article came out the same Gary Shaffer had just published a paper on the effects on the world’s oceans of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, along with two other geoscientists. According to the abstract only (I don’t have access to the full text, which is an issue of transparency that Ben Goldacre has railed against in the past):
Ongoing global warming could persist far into the future, because natural processes require decades to hundreds of thousands of years to remove carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning from the atmosphere… [We] find severe, long-term ocean oxygen depletion, as well as a great expansion of ocean oxygen-minimum zones for scenarios with high emissions or high climate sensitivity. We find that climate feedbacks within the Earth system amplify the strength and duration of global warming, ocean heating and oxygen depletion.
The New Scientist’s report on the article goes further:
Under the worst-case scenario, average ocean oxygen levels will fall by up to 40%, and there will be a 20-fold expansion in the area of “dead zones”, like those already discovered in the eastern Pacific and northern Indian Ocean, where there is too little oxygen for fish to survive. Even in the mid-range scenario, dead zones would expand by a factor of 3 or 4.
Climate feedback amplification? Dead zones? Mass extinction? How, apart from by cherry-picking Shaffer’s academic output, has the Register convinced itself that an ice age is the biggest worry arising from his research?
Anyway, the Register, in short, has been getting steadily worse. Eventually, I only ever dipped into it once every few days; on those occasions I’d try to pick round the scandal, gossip and hyperbole and then leave as soon as possible, feeling disappointed but still in some odd way loyal. It’s hard to accept that your once genial, friendly companion has become a slavering beast, flecked with foamy spittle and no longer making a great deal of sense. So it’s a relief to find that finally, mercifully, someone has given its reputation both barrels.
Back on February 12, almost 200 cities across the world were united in what was whimsically called the Twestival. The name came from its use of Twitter, the cult-turned-mainstream technology which is ideal for snappy, real-time blogging and for enabling things like distributed events. It was planned via Twitter, advertised via Twitter, and used the technology extensively on the night. So far it has raised around $250,000. Given also that Oxtwestival (which to my chagrin I couldn’t make) had around forty or fifty people and hardly advertised outside the medium it was, broadly speaking, a modest success.
Unless you’re the Register: if you’re fundamentally outraged at the continued existence social media—just as if you’re fundamentally outraged at the continued existence of climate change—then you’ll pick and choose your evidence to support it.
All went well for the Register and its wee echo chamber of comments, until self-styled social-media whore Paul Carr began an initially chirpy but ultimately ill-advised conversation with Register Village’s resident idiot, Andrew Orlowski. The latter quickly escalated the argument to such a personal level that Carr demanded a public apology from Orlowski and John Lettice in an open letter, for implying Carr had some sort of ulterior motive, in a Carr-themed “Flame of the Week” which, among other things, quoted the entire correspondence. Carr quoted it too—the timeline isn’t clear—so the following broadsides at Orlowski are a matter of public record:
A group of unpaid volunteers used social media to create a global event that has already – before anything like the final total has been counted – raised a six figure amount to provide clean water to some of the world’s poorest people. Your response to that was sneering and deliberately skewed to prove your point.
What the fuck is wrong with you? You still can’t bring yourself to acknowledge that you were wrong to do a hatchet job of a charity event and instead you’re flailing around like a loon and taking the Register’s credibility down with you… you still owe Twestival an apology…. You owe journalism an apology. And when that’s coming from me, you know… you’ve reached rock bottom.
For all of Orlowski and co’s snide allusions to the “Nathan Barleys” who use Twitter, what they fail to realise is that it’s actually they who are the Nathans – the pathetic self-parodies who take great pains to hate things, just because the masses like them.
Carr got his apology, which I’ve never seen either on a FotW before. Journalism is still waiting for the same, though. Some time in the future, academic courses—if they even think it worth discussing—will pick this particular exchange and say “this is when the Register’s true trustworthiness was made clear.” Personally, I’ve been accommodating el Reg’s failures for far too long.