Is it just me, or is the television getting less capable of dealing with facts?
I only ask because I saw an item on the early evening news a few days ago about carbon sinks. Now this is an interesting topic, particularly as the British Antarctic Survey has just discovered record-breaking levels of carbon in the atmosphere, which is a Bad Thing. The news item, which was made by the BBC, acknowledged this discovery, before going on to explain how the forests and oceans absorb much of the carbon we produce; well, not so much explaining the process as stating that it happens. The rather earnest and somewhat condescending reporter then said that Scientists are concerned that the oceans may soon be saturated with carbon, which again would be a Bad Thing.
And that was it. The report drifted away, leaving all the important questions unanswered. What I would like to have been told is what happens when the oceans become saturated with carbon. Would they become thicker, more like treacle? Does carbon poison fish? Would it wash up on our beaches? These and other questions remained unasked and unsolved by the news item, I think because the producers had decided that the viewers had been told enough Science for one evening. Any more Science might confuse the viewers and make it difficult for them to take in the messages of the advertising.
Then there was the 60 Minutes report about young women and their binge drinking. Apparently, young women are drinking more than they once did. It was difficult to tell from the report whether this is a Bad Thing. On the one hand, excessive drinking can have some serious consequences, which the report did not have time to discuss; on the other hand, the drinking gave the producers an opportunity to show footage of lots of girls wearing next to nothing and behaving badly. I may be mistaken but I do not recall the report containing a single fact, but it had an awful lot of fluff.
Then there was the other 60 Minutes report from last week about the farmer who had discovered a miracle way to grow grass. Apparently, he found something that the Scientists never knew: grass has an electric current growing through it. What's more, he found you can reverse the current by spreading silica over the grass. This causes the grass to grow better than it ever did before.
Yes, really. The farmer markets a product based on his amazing discovery. This product was not described in detail, but presumably is a bag of silica (which is sort of another name for glass). The proof of this pudding is that lots of satisfied customers swear by it.
However, the Commerce Commission does not think the farmer has a miracle product. They think he is a crook. They took him to court, for deceiving the satisfied customers and for damaging the economy. The court agreed that the farmer is a crook and fined him a quarter of a million dollars.
Now, you might have thought that 60 Minutes would be interested in a story about a man who deceived his customers with a bogus product and a junk theory about electricity running through grass. How wrong you would be. You see, running such a story would involve Science, which is difficult. It is a much easier matter to run a story about an ordinary kiwi battler who made an amazing discovery which has led to him being silenced by faceless bureaucrats.
Here are the key arguments made by 60 Minutes: the Commerce Commission had only one scientific expert on this case (obviously, there are many other scientists who know that electric currents run through grass, but they were not called as witnesses); the scientific expert consulted colleagues who work for fertiliser companies (obviously, and this was stated quite explicitly, the scientific expert is in the pay of Big Business, which wants to stop the farmer marketing his miracle product); the man from the Commerce Commission refused to answer really stupid and nasty questions from the 60 Minutes reporter (obviously, a cover-up); the farmer's wife was really upset when the bailiffs came to take away the farmer's vehicles because he had refused to pay the fine (obviously, these are good people).
There is one other argument and this one is the clincher: one of the satisfied customers is an All Black legend. Readers from New Zealand, particularly those versed in the arts of rhetoric and logic, will realise the import of this fact. For the benefit of overseas readers I shall explain: an All Black trumps any argument. It does not matter that electric currents do not run through our grasslands and that pouring glass on the grass would probably be harmful to the environment; an All Black legend supports the farmer and that is enough. Truth is Black and Black truth.
So the farmer is not a crook; he is a kiwi battler. The commerce commission is a bully. Its scientific expert is corrupt. Electricity runs through grass. Changing the direction of the electricity by pouring glass on the grass makes the grass grow better.
And then there is the programme where psychics solve old murders; or rather, they don't solve them but they have some really strong feelings about them. Recently, there was one about a prostitute who had been murdered. The psychics received lots of messages from her, none of which were clear enough to reveal the identity of her murderer or the whereabouts of her body. One of the psychics was led by her to the Auckland Domain; she led the other psychic to the Jewish Cemetery. These are some distance apart. Although the psychics had strong feelings in different places, the programme concluded that they were both right. Of course they were; they had feelings.
It is, after all, feelings that count. Science is a loser's game: all those complicated facts and theories. Feelings are what television is about: sobbing farmers' wives, drunken totty, psychic investigators. Why think when you can feel?