Sunday, February 28, 2010

Anchorperson Science Stupidity Award ~ Rick Sanchez's Tsunami Coverage: A Nine Meter Drop? What Does That Mean

Photo source: The Daily Show

With the entertainment awards season in full throttle I thought it would be nice to create an award that would recognize science achievement by the cable news media since they get so little love during events that have scientific significance or causation.  However, after watching more than three hours of cable feeds this afternoon trying to see a tsunami (small as it may have been) roll ashore in Hawaii, I realized science achievement by an anchorperson was an unattainable dream. 

So back to the drawing board to create a more meaningful award.  My first incarnation, "Science Douche of the Week", had a good ring to it. But upon further review I was afraid folks like Glen Beck might steal the catchy name of this award and apply it to scientists who continue to "believe" in that confounded global warming stuff.  I couldn't stand the thought of good scientists being labeled as douches or the thought of the word "douche" being uttered on air.  So, back to the proverbial drawing board I went for the third time determined to create a great award.

After many seconds of deep, ponderous thought I had an epiphany...  I specifically needed to include "anchorperson" and "science" in the title of the award so as not to confuse anyone.   Thus I settled on the "Anchorperson Science Stupidity" award knowing it would be classy, specific, and the least likely award name to be ripped-off by news organizations.  With that in mind, please let me introduce the inaugural winner of the "Anchorperson Science Stupidity" award.

The first Anchorperson Science Stupidity award in history now belongs to CNN's Rick Sanchez who was briefly interviewing poor Dr. Kurt Frankel from Georgia Tech.  Thank god for online transcripts so that I can fully relay the exchange that made me want to jump through the TV and strangle the "Sensationalist Sanchez" and also cower in embarrassment all at the same time.

The scene of the award wining conversation: Meteorologist Ms. Jeras was using her fancy touchscreen to illustrate some recent readings of a 9m drop detected by buoys several hundred miles off the Hawaii Coast. An apparently confused Rick Sanchez then asked Jeras what a 9m drop meant?  Deciding she didn't quite know, Jeras deflected the question to poor Dr Frankel.  The intense interview that ensued is why Rick Sanchez wins the A.S.S. award... take a look.


JERAS: OK, so these are the detection which are out there in the Pacific Ocean. And you can see the flashing ones. These are active. These are the ones that we're watching. And there's Hawaii right from there. About 140 miles away from the Hawaiian island, we have a Bouie out there and this is what it is showing here. There you can see the line and notice this big drop down here. We have this big drop. This is about a nine-meter drop.

SANCHEZ: Nine meter drop. What does that mean?

JERAS: Well, it means that the ocean waves are doing something, that we're seeing some changes, it's been going down. And look at that, we've got a big rise. And so we're going to get our expert in here who's way smarter than you and me put together. Dr. Kurt Frankel.

And Dr. Frankel, tell us a little bit, you know, we talk about how the tsunami waves will come in or the water will pull back before we start to see. Is this a sign of that?

DR KURT FRANKEL, GEORGIA INST OF TECH: I think that's a sign of that. I don't think you can translate that nine meters into necessarily any specific wave height that will hit Hawaii, so we need to be careful about that. You know, doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be nine meters of run-up in Hawaii. But it's showing that the tsunami in fact...

SANCHEZ: Nine meters, by the way, nine meters in English is ...

FRANKEL: Oh, about 27 feet. SANCHEZ: Twenty-seven feet. So we're seeing a 27-foot drop in that area right there? Sorry about that.

FRANKEL: That's right, and so this is recorded by a pressure censor on the bottom of the ocean that is attached to a buoy. So that pressure sensor, the pressure of the ocean changes, as the wave comes through, it sends a signal to this buoy, which relays it to satellite and then down to NOAA.

SANCHEZ: Well, hold on a minute, wouldn't it follow that -- follow that if all of a sudden a part of the ocean just dropped 27 feet, the reaction to, you know, the yang is that yin is that it will also go up at some point?

FRANKEL: It will go up. But that does not mean, again, that there is not going to be 27 feet...

SANCHEZ: No, I'm not asking you to do 27 to 27. I'm just saying if there's a drop, will there be an increase?

FRANKEL: There should -- there should be an increase.

SANCHEZ: So there will be some kind of wave activity there. What you're saying is we can't exactly measure...

FRANKEL: You can't extrapolate that to what is going to happen in Hawaii. OK, it's the function of the coastline topography, of how the -- of the slope of the continental -- there's no continental shelf in Hawaii, but the slope of the land coming off the coast. And so, there is a whole other number of factors that play into this.

SANCHEZ: But what we can say is, tell me if I'm wrong, there is a tsunami there and it was just detected that it caused a 27-foot drop.

FRANKEL: Yeah, we recoded the tsunami passing that buoy, yes.

SANCHEZ: That's important. Sorry. Um, well, this is interesting. I mean, I have never seen something develop like this and science being used the way you guys use it to get all of your material

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