Last week as part of his New Rules segment on Real Time Bill Maher discussed the issue of CLOSURE. He brought up this topic while discussing the issue of CNN’s ongoing coverage of missing Malaysia flight 370. He joked that Wolf Blitzer was like a doctor who was trying to revive a patient long after it’s obvious the person is dead. But what CNN is doing, sadly, is no surprise to me. With the invention of 24 hour news networks having to fill time, terms like ‘news’ and ‘breaking news’ have lost their meaning.
When CNN began covering the saga of missing Malaysia flight 370 their ratings increased, dramatically. Now part of me gets it – CNN feels like they have found the goose that lays golden eggs and they feel that until that golden goose stops producing for them they may as well keep at it.
According to the New York Times in an article published on March 17th by Bill Carter titled ‘CNN’s Ratings Surge Covering the Mystery of the Missing Airliner’ he details that when they began covering the story CNN’s ratings “soared last week and over the weekend, rising by almost 100 percent in prime time. The network even managed the rare feat of edging past Fox News for leadership in several hours.”At that time Anderson Cooper, in the 8 PM time slot, beat Fox News’ own Bill O’Reilly in the ratings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. That was the first time that had ever occurred.
However, for all their success in the ratings their ability in covering actual meaningful news has dropped off the face of this earth. They themselves, as a network, have become like that of Malaysia 370; M.I.A.
What does this have to do with CLOSURE? Everything.
The reason CNN’s ratings have gone up is because people are tuning in wanting to find out what truly happened to that missing flight and the people aboard it. Why? Well, that is the question I have been contemplating. Why do people need closure? Why is it so important?
Let’s define CLOSURE. The Merriam- Webster online dictionary defines CLOSURE in several ways including ‘a feeling that something has been completed or that a problem has been solved’ or ‘a feeling that a bad experience (such as a divorce or the death of a family member) has ended and that you can start to live again in a calm and normal way.’
What I have been starting to realize is that everyone, on every part of the world, regardless of circumstance, status or career will want closure at some point in their lives about something. Why exactly is that? I believe that it is within our human nature to want answers to things we do not yet fully understand or that are beyond our control.
That is why religions exist. Good, bad or indifferent religion provides a way for a person to feel less uncomfortable or uncertain about death or the world in general. If you know how the story ends you don’t have to be afraid to turn the corner to see what comes next. Television and movies use the same premise. Every week they leave you with cliffhangers or questions in hopes that viewers will tune in next week to find the answers. In the case of movies there are sequels upon sequels that slowly, over time, reveal a big twist at the end. Now before I move on I want to say that I do not lump in religion with movies and television as a way to call into question the veracity or importance of whichever religious text you read is true. If it is true and holy to you then so be it. I only bring that up to showcase the need and sometimes urge for closure.
It is that need for closure that CNN uses to its advantage. They know that their viewers want the information about this situation, especially the families of the victims, who now themselves, have become part of the media 24 hour machine- all in the effort to drive up rating while not even dispensing actual news.
Like I said- everyone has the need to have answers about something in their life, even scientists and science educators. However they have a method of testing known facts against belief.
One of my favorite scientists, Carl Sagan, had a system of trying to detect pseudo- science falsehoods against proven science. In his book ‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark‘ in a chapter titled “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” he laid out steps one could use in order to try and separate proven scientific logic and fact against unproven and sometimes false statements. I came across this and I loved it.
The steps are as follows:
- Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
- Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
- Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
- Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
- If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
- Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
- Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
I put Sagan’s steps here somehow hoping that the people who are tuning in to CNN eager to uncover some new evidence about the missing plane come to terms that they may not ever get it. We, the viewing and/or listening public, must in our own right become mini scientists ourselves. We must question-against known facts- if something is true or not. Gone are the days (if there truly were any) of media outlets giving their public solid facts about events good or bad. In its place now there is biased, propaganda, emotion inducing uneducated guesses of what could have happened; where they lure you in with ‘breaking news’ just to discover that it is the exact same news from two hours ago. We as a public cannot trust whole hardly the news to be our filter; to let us know what is and what is not important. We must now be tasked with doing this ourselves. In the world of TV and 24 hour networks more viewers’ means higher ratings which, in turn, mean more money. I don’t think CNN will stop doing what they’re doing until their rating tell them to do so. It is because of this we as the viewing public must be careful not to let our hunger for CLOSURE stand in the way of facts.
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