Fanzines, fantasies, and facts

we should trust nothing we read
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor
Every time I read something in mass media newspapers or magazines I'm struck by the utter felicity with which they go along with fads and spin while routinely confusing description with explanation. It's not just that they over simplify everything, it's that they interpret what they don't understand in terms of social certainties that have no factual basis whatsoever.

"Science", as Richard Feynman said, "is what we have learned about how not to fool ourselves" -and that description puts big media firmly in the anti-science camp because they spend most of their time fooling themselves first and us afterward.

I don't need to talk about global warming - a cataclysmic crisis with no supporting evidence - or the sheer hypocrisy of the relative volume of coverage accorded the largely imaginary Valerie Plume leak versus the real damage done by leaks like those Mary McCarthy is accused of, for you to get the picture, but we're in IT and it doesn't happen there, right?

IT is about science, about technology, about progress and our little chunk of the media machine reflects that, right?

Well, No. Yesterday's major restructuring (and off-shoring) announcements out of Intel illustrate the problem. You want the whole long list of IT bloggers, journalists, and analysts who jumped up and down and yelled "STOP" when Apple jumped on this particular sinking ship? Right, there weren't any of consequence and I find that disturbing because the apparently complete moral bankruptcy of the Apple press not just in uncritically accepting the change, but in actively applauded obvious setbacks, suggests we should trust nothing we read.

Broad strokes are one thing, but let me give you two picayune, but deeply telling, examples.

First, the Mactel decision left Apple's product designers with a crippling price/performance problem and so early products cut frills like multiple firewire ports and high end DVD capabilities. These are critical hardware functions people buy Macs for, but the Mac fanzines unanimously applauded: happily trumpeting USB and slow but cheap as the future. Now Apple's premium price product, the 17" MacBook (v)Pro is coming out with firewire 800 - and magically the same people who first praised firewire, then decried it as history, are now pretending it was never meant to go away.

Second, Apple just released -three months after it started shipping the products!- its laptop battery capacities. Every Mac site I checked is reporting the numbers -60 watt/hours on the 15" and 68 on the 17" - but not a single one is telling its readers how this compares to either Dell's 85 watt/hours on virtually identical hardware, or to the 58 Watt/hours default on the far less power hungry G4s.

Bottom line: the reality distortion you see in the daily press, applies in IT too. I'm picking on the Mac people here, but it's everywhere - if the PC press did its job Microsoft would be either out of business or pushing Unix with one hand and open standards with the other.

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