Bad college journalism

Earlier this week I ran across an article titled “Space tourism still distant” in The Daily Bruin, the student newspaper of UCLA. Reading this, you’d think the prospects for space tourism were pretty dim indeed, based on these misconceptions included in the article:

  • A suborbital spaceflight “has a price tag of about $20 million”;
  • Orbital flights not only cost even more but are “restricted to astronauts and researchers”;
  • A suborbital spaceflight “does not allow for the floating-in-air experience that a flight orbiting the earth permits”;
  • A hurdle to orbital spaceflight is that “just the logistics of getting their bodies fit is alone another barrier”;
  • Large-scale space tourism may never happen because “we will run out of petroleum before we can get off the planet in any large numbers”

Yikes. Although you can quibble with some of the opinions above, there are clearly some major errors in the article. The biggest flaw, though, is that the article relies on “experts” who are actually professors and grad students in the physics and astronomy department at UCLA. While these are smart people who know a lot about space science, they’re not automatically going to be experts about space tourism or related applications. Unfortunately, many people assume that just because you study the universe, you know everything that is going on in space.

Fortunately, this story should soon have a happy ending. I contacted the author yesterday and pointed out some of the most egregious errors, and suggested some alternative sources in the LA area. I got an email back saying that my corrections had been passed on the paper’s managing editor and a correction would run in Friday’s issue of the paper (although it’s not been posted yet to the corrections page of the paper’s web site).

3 comments to Bad college journalism

  • Chance

    We all make errors, but you would think a college paper at UCLA would at least try and get the basic facts right. A decent internet search takes what, 5 minutes? Hell, the wikipedia entry alone could have set the author straight. Oh well…

  • Peter Shearer

    “Experts” worry me…

  • Andy Motherway

    It seems that correcting these laughable errors is a low priority, at least for whoever is updating ‘The Daily Bruin’ corrections page…

    Pretty irresponsible, I gotta say.

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