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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

Looking for Real News? Let the Reader Beware.

 photo by Southwest

There's an old Latin phrase the Romans originated and most people have heard  even today: "caveat emptor," let the buyer beware. This holds true for even those consumers that want to be objectively informed by our news media. Before we go further, realize this isn't some type of "the newspaper's politics is slanted" diatribe. No, this is more about business than politics.

Today's Los Angeles Times ran a story in their science pages with the headline "Scientists infuse 'life' into inanimate compounds." Such a sensational achievement by science should be trumpeted across the headlines of all majors papers, no doubt.  However, this was carried in their regular science page, back on an interior page of a subsection of the paper.

Why would the Times choose to bury such a sensational story? The answer lies in the story itself.

The scientist had hundreds of bacteria-sized particles, each with an attached mineral hematite that stuck out on one end spread randomly in a drop of liquid solution. Because the solution included hydrogen peroxide and when exposed to a blue-violet light hematite reacts with the hydrogen peroxide, whenever the scientists turned on the light, a chemical reaction would start and the particles would gather together in crystal-like shapes. The article goes on to say "at first, the particles moved about at random. Then, about 25 seconds into the chaos, the limited space and directionless driving produced a traffic jam of particles." Because of the "jam" the particles forced themselves into these hexagonal structures.

This is an interesting and non-trivial find; I'm sure it can lead to efficient ways to do things on a microscopic level that we've not been able to accomplish before.  However, is this an example of infusing life into inanimate compounds?  It doesn't seem so to me.  Anyone who has studied systems restricted by some type of containment knows that such systems will sort themselves into a honeycomb shape. Cannonballs and oranges in crates are routinely cited as examples of this.  It is common enough that chemists even have a name for it: face-centered cubic packing.

Now, the fact that these particles are grouping in such a way because of the influence of the light is as I said interesting and could hold promise for many different uses.  However, this has nothing to do with making things alive. These particles are infused with life in much the same way a pinball machine comes to life when you drop a quarter in its slot. So why would the headline scream that scientist have succeeded in infusing life into inanimate objects? Of course the headline used scare quotes around the word "life" but they knew people glancing at the article would draw an implication. The newspapers bank on such sensationalism to get people to read the story.

As thoughtful consumers we need to be cautious and carefully read the claims made in the media today.  Supposed documentaries of the Discovery Channel and other cable shows will routinely use this tactic to try and grab viewers. Many times an unwitting public will buy a ridiculous idea that Jesus' family tomb was discovered or that the Gospel of Judas somehow overthrows two thousand years of Christianity. But the Romans knew better than to believe the first thing someone tries to sell you, even if what they're claiming to trade in is the truth.

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