On the 13th of March, I posted an article called “Fukushima Nuclear Accident – A simple and accurate explanation“. This was early on in the Fukushima crisis when people were desperately hungry for understandable information, and yet there were scarce few good explanations available. The post had been written by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston. I’d stumbled across it when it had just been published on Jason Morgan’s new blog, and thought it was worth re-broadcasting, so I contacted Jason and got his and Josef’s permission to reprint.
The rest is history… Via my and Jason’s contacts and through Twitter and the blogs, it soon ‘went viral‘ , and later the Energy Collective reposted my version (with permission) and this amplified its audience even further. A group from MIT then took over management of the information, and did a few further updates, which I also mirrored. To me, it was an example of the internet at its best — exponential networking of key information.
However, the story doesn’t end there. It also created a huge amount of indignation, including a flood of vitriolic ad hominem comments on this blog that, if I’d let through the moderation queue, would have made your gentle eyes water! As the situation at Fukushima worsened, the MIT NSE group provided updates that improved upon the original information a little, and also toned down some of the stronger conclusions that had proven overly optimistic (I was also guilty of not fully appreciating the seriousness of the situation caused by the 14 m tsunami at Daiichi Plant). This updating of the information was, apparently, was the most heinous of crimes, and Josef himself was cast as the evil (and grossly unqualified) mastermind at the heart of an international conspiracy! (I was, alas, but a mere pawn in artful machinations…). The story was even taken up by New Scientist, although they got some of the detail (e.g., sequence of events) wrong.
So, what does the fiendish genius — with whom I’m since become firm internet buddies — have to say on this matter? Should people have listened to him, or should his article have been rightly consigned to ghastly the abyss of HTTP 404 errors? You decide, when you read this guest post…
Oh, and if you’d like to participate in a little 5 minute survey as part of the follow-up research that Josef is doing on this little drama, click here…
Would I have believed myself? On evaluating the quality of reports on topics that one does not know a whole lot about
Guest Post by Josef Oehmen. Josef is a research scientist in mechanical engineering and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
On Sunday, March 13, my cousin in Japan posted an email I had written to him on his blog in the early morning at 3am EST. The email explained the context of nuclear physics and engineering, as well as discussed the events at the Daiichi-1 reactor until that point. It also featured my very strong opinion that they are safe. By lunchtime, it was the second most twittered site on the internet (you can read the whole story at http://bit.ly/e1It0T). At the end of the day, it had been translated into more than 9 languages (often multiple times), and after 48 hours had been read by several million people. Two weeks into my unwanted and luckily rapidly cooling off Web 2.0 stardom, I have begun working through the trauma and reflecting. Thanks for sharing, you might think. But one question in particular came up that also has some general relevance:
Would I have believed myself if I came across that blog and had no prior knowledge of nuclear physics and engineering? Or asked another way: How do you judge the quality of TV, radio, print and internet news reporting on topics that you are only superficially familiar with?
Read the answer below. And like everything I write, it is rather lengthy!