Would you like green cheese with that bucket of water?

Posted on November 13, 2009

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Once again, science reminds us that many of our assumptions are completely wrong, even when we think we have evidence to support us.  NASA reports that its LCROSS probe has discovered, not a little bit, but a significant amount of water on the moon.  It amounts to about 24 gallons in the 20-meter-wide crater and immediate environs that the scientists explored.

Now we’ve been to the moon–four times, and eight men have spent many hours gathering samples of rock and dust that have been analyzed for 40 years, and nothing in those samples apparently led anyone to believe that more than a few molecules of water could be buried in the moon.  But, then, aliens probing our Pacific Ocean would have no basis on which to predict Las Vegas.  Our astronauts trod a relatively narrow belt around the moon’s middle, whereas the beds of water ice are most obvious at the moon’s south pole.

The lesson from all this is that communicators really need to explore their assumptions and not reach conclusions based on hard, fast–but scope-limited–evidence.  The justice system has discovered this fact–why are so many convicted “murderers” being released on DNA evidence?  Medical researchers have discovered this fact–why are so many opinions about so many diseases changing as the scope of medical research widens?  We communicators need to realize it too.  So good advise would be to:

  • Always obtain–and question–multiple sources for claims by businesses, government officials, scientists or others.
  • Report the scope of evidence on which a conclusion is based (was it tested with 25 males over the age of 80, or 5,000 women aged 22 to 63?)
  • Identify “who says so.”  My old newsroom boss used to toss copy back to me, declaring, “I’m not going to say that.”  He wanted me to attribute the information to its source.
  • Always try to gather opinions and/or quotes from those on the other side of an issue.  Don’t be hasty in considering those with seemingly outlandish opinions as nut cases.  They may be lunar rocket scientists.
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