Friday, 1 May 2015

Two Distinct Concepts: "Persistent" vs "Recurrent"

As usual I've been too busy to write the posts I wanted to over the past month. One of those was a fisking of an article published in Commonwealth magazine at the end of March. It was an article on the current drought in Taiwan and it was riddled with errors, some serious and some simply ridiculous (e.g. describing the Kaoping river as "south of Hsinchu"). Needless to say, I read these things with an eye to how they may function as political propaganda rather than informative journalism.

One of the more interesting errors that article contained was in the title wherein the current drought was described as "persistent". The more accurate term is "recurrent", since droughts in Taiwan are typically relieved by summer rainfall brought by typhoons. Describing Taiwan's droughts as "persistent" emphasizes the length of time over which they occur and omits the fact that they are always temporary. In this skewed sense you could just as well talk about Taiwan's "persistent" rainfall or "persistent" flooding, which are also recurrent phenomena. It is by way of little details like this that editorial writers and others try to politicize the subject of water; the author, one Rebecca Lin, goes on in her article to attribute the current drought to climate change and cites an academic as stating that droughts in Taiwan are more frequent - although without linking to any data whereby readers could check for themselves to see if this is true (we are expected to blindly accept the academic she has chosen as an authority)*.

I didn't finish writing my fisking of this article (as I said it was riddled with errors and I am busy), but funnily enough I came across that same error the other day at Michael Turton's blog. In a caption to a photograph heading a post on tourism, he described a river in Miaoli as "bone dry after three years of drought". When I pointed out to him in the comments that we have not in fact had "three years" of drought, he reverted to teenage sarcasm trying to paint my comment as unnecessarily pedantic. But I know very well what he was up to - it is what he is always up to - trying to portray any and every bit of environmental bad news as worse than it really is.

My further replies and comments on the remainder of his post about tourism were censored.

I remember a post of his written back in 2009 shortly after the typhoon Morakot disaster (though I read it a year or two later) when he republished slides from an environmental activist claiming that a planned three meter rise in the capacity of Tseng-wen reservoir would lead to the complete submerging of Dapu village (see slide #23). Having visited the area for myself numerous times I could immediately see that this was absurd and obviously false. I left a comment to say so. It didn't get through.

*I looked up the data for rainfall in Taiwan on the Central Weather Bureau website intending to plot the data myself, but they only go back to 2006 which is insufficient to look for long-term changes. If they would publish historical data on their website, then members of the public could check for themselves various claims as to long-term changes in rainfall patterns.

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