A Brief Rant Against Irresponsible Misinformation

Bill Wambsganss makes an incredibly easy play in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series

I was watching baseball on television all day yesterday, and had to see more commercials than are good for me. It struck me that despite the advent of the so-called “Information Age,” commercials seem to be written by increasingly ignorant writers, and ads that contain blatantly incorrect facts make it to the air where they rot innocent young brains and delight badly-educated  old ones.

Since the average TV commercial must be seen by literally hundreds of writers, executives and technicians on its way to this carnage, what does this tell us? It tells us that the education system is just as bad as we feared, and that these irresponsible people don’t care enough about being accurate to do a 20 second Google Search so they won’t misinform people. Making such a search is called due diligence and responsible conduct. Not doing so is called lazy, negligent and unethical.

Two  examples will suffice. In a back-to-school retail commercial in which a perky grade school teacher waxes enthusiastically about the adventures in learning to be encountered in her classroom, she references “cold-blooded” dinosaurs. Almost all paleontologists agree that the dinosaurs, which were not reptiles, were warm-blooded, like birds. This discovery is at least 40 years old, and could be gleaned by a careful watching (or reading, heaven forbid) of “Jurassic Park.” The other is even more unforgivable, or seemed so yesterday while I was fully occupied with trying to keep the Red Sox from disaster. Again I’m not going to name the company, which deserves permanent obscurity. A family watching a TV quiz show hears the quizmaster ask, “What’s the most difficult play in baseball?” Mom, who is just passing through, stuns them all (because they, like the writers, are sexist and naturally assume that middle-aged women don’t comprehend sports—but I digress) by casually giving the “correct answer” before the TV announces it: “The unassisted triple play!”

Mom doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about, nor does the fictional quiz show host, nor do the commercial’s writers, and now, thanks to this ad, neither do the viewers who absorb this nonsense as fact. The unassisted triple play may be the rarest play in baseball, but it is also one of the easiest.

The play usually occurs, if one can say “usually” about something that has only occurred a handful of times since 1900, when the bases are loaded, there are no outs, and the baserunners begin running before the pitch is hit. The batter hits a hard line-drive directly at a middle infielder ( a second baseman or shortstop) who is positioned near second base. One out. He steps on second, because the runner who was there is already half-way to third. Two outs. And the runner from first, having gotten an early start, is already at second, so the fielder tags him. Three outs. Anyone could do it.  You could do it. Snoopy could do it. Not only isn’t unassisted triple play “the most difficult play in baseball,” it’s a piece of cake.

What baseball play is the most difficult? Probably stealing home.

Or, if it’s September 2011 and you’re a member of the Boston Red Sox, who nearly killed me yesterday, any of them!

9 thoughts on “A Brief Rant Against Irresponsible Misinformation

  1. I got totally sick of ALL television ads as a college student in the late 1950’s. Dancing cigarette packages, nubile maidens cavorting around the latest Detroit car model, like worshipping the golden calf, etc.

    Forced me to give up TV and go study my books for tomorrow’s classes, instead.

  2. That dinosaurs were “warm-blooded” is not as certain as you make it out to be. Up until recently, the body temperatures of dinosaurs could not be measured. A recent study has shown that some large dinosaurs had a relatively constant temperature, but this may not mean that dinosaurs were “warm-blooded” in the sense that humans are warm-blooded (i.e. we create our own internal body heat). It may be that some dinosaurs were just really big and thus changed temperature really slowly. Given an external temperature that is, on average, constant in dinosaur habitats, it would not be odd for dinosaurs to remain approximately the same temperature even if they did not produce their own body heat.

    Also, keep in mind that there were (and are) many different types of dinosaurs. The fact that some are warm-blooded (keep in mind that birds are dinosaurs) does not imply that all were warm-blooded.

    I found a website that discusses the controversy: http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/diapsids/endothermy.html.

    • Let’s put it this way. You can say that the dinosaurs were warm-blooded, and be within the range of controversy. You can say some of the dinosaurs may not have been warm-blooded. But it is unequivocally wrong to call the dinosaurs “cold-blooded.”

      • Of course. To say that all dinosaurs are cold-blooded is unequivocally wrong. One only needs to look outside to see many counterexamples (especially if one lives near lots of Canada geese). Did the advertisement say that all dinosaurs are “cold-blooded” (I haven’t seen the ad)? If it did, then the ad is promoting ignorance (or at least it is insinuating that teachers are ignorant, or that at least one fictional teacher is ignorant).

        • The ad, which I cannot find on line, sets up dichotomies between the things a student will encounter in school and described dinosaurs as “cold-blooded” topics. I think anyone listening to the ad would conclude that this teacher is saying that dinosaurs, by definition, are cold-blooded.

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