Thursday, December 25, 2008

Media proves that units matter

The first principle of consuming media is this: If something seems wildly crazy, it probably is. Remember this the next time you hear something outlandish about Barack Obama.

This woman's body temperature was not 30° Fahrenheit, as CNN claims, which would equal dead. It was 30° Celsius, which for you metric-challenged Americans is 86° F. That's still incredibly low, the sort of scenario that usually means there was alcohol involved in copious amounts.

Bloomberg gets the units right and puts her body temp 7° C cooler than normal.

I'm guessing that CNN reporter Ashley Fantz, her editor, and their caption-writer (do caption-writers still exist?) took as little science and math as possible in high school and college.

Still and all, a very merry Christmas for Molnar and her family, at least compared to the more likely outcome. Best not try to put the conventional miracle narrative on this either, though, since the stories don't add up. Her family says the blizzard forced her off the road, yet when rescued, she alibied, "I just wanted to take a walk."

The media definitely won't report to us the dark side of events such as this, especially not in a season that's supposed to be miraculous. If you want to know what's true, rather than what you wish to be true (and there really aren't that many of us who do), you're on your own with big media. (By the way, I don't want reporters to dig into this poor woman's life, just to refrain from using her to sell a happy-talk narrative that doesn't fit.)

In any case, I hope that Molnar can find her way through the pain to healing. That would be a Christmas blessing.

Update: CNN has fixed the units. The general lesson about outlandish so-called facts still stands.

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