Flat Earth News

A clear example from Australia

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Tagged: / Posted: 2 February 2009

Dengue Danger Distorted.


You would have had to have died and gone to heaven to miss stories in every major newspaper recently about the risks associated with rain water tanks infested with mosquitoes responsible for the spread of dengue fever.


The following piece is typical:


Water tanks help spread of dengue fever

Adam Cresswell, Health editor | January 28, 2009

Article from:  The Australian



BACKYARD water tanks, a key weapon for Australian households in the battle against drought and climate change, may prove a double-edged sword if they help the mosquito that spreads dengue fever to penetrate deep into southern and inland Australia.

Melbourne researchers who set out to measure how much further the dengue mosquito might spread as the climate heats up discovered that water hoarding by households was likely to prove a much bigger help to the insect.

The species responsible for spreading dengue in Australia, Aedes aegypti, is largely confined to Townsville, Cairns and Queensland's far north, where two outbreaks of dengue are continuing to worsen.

There have now been 198 confirmed cases of dengue fever in Cairns and 21 in Townsville, according to figures released last night. The Townsville outbreak is particularly alarming because two of the four types of dengue are circulating simultaneously; raising the risk that someone will suffer a potentially fatal second infection.

Scientists from Melbourne University say climate change and evolutionary adaptation are making more of Australia habitable for the insect, but human behaviours may be smoothing the mosquito's path even more.

"While we predict that climate change will directly increase habitat suitability throughout much of Australia, the potential indirect impact of changed water storage practices by humans in response to drought may have a greater effect," the authors write.




A quick Google search will reveal no less than seventy two links to this story: including New Scientist:  a reputable, globally distributed science magazine for well informed geeks with short attention spans. (I shan’t give you the link because you’ll only get half way through the article before you’re asked to subscribe if you want the whole sordid truth).


Fanning this explosion of media coverage is the global wire service AFP who would have probably picked it up from AAPT.


So; how does a humble research document in a science journal in Melbourne get to hit world headlines? Why pick on water tanks when there are a million places for our dengue spreading mozzie – Aedes aegypti – to breed and spread its wings?


What is the big deal when a cup of liquid paraffin in a water tank will lower surface water tension and drown the little blighters as they hatch from the larvae stage? What’s more, it won’t make you spit out your next glass of pure wholesome, free tank water because it will sit on the surface and not mix with your daily intake.


The answer is just what drove long-time Fleet Street journalist, Nick Davies to write Flat Earth News. These days, many hard-working journalists have no alternative but to rehash PR releases (about 80% of stories in major papers around the world are just that!).


Our Dengue Danger story began its days at the desk of Dr Mike Kearney of the Zoology Department, Melbourne University. This is attached to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. It is reputed this receives significant funding from the Waterways Group run by Melbourne Water.


Now, to his credit, Dr  Mike did mention the myriad of places our little beast can breed  – right up to, and including the hollow in a large candle left on the outside table after the party. In the interests of brevity, and impact, every one of the million breeding spots were omitted from the story fed to the wire services.


Melbourne Water has a close working relationship with the Australian Water Association, and Sydney Water which, informed children tell us, has a link with insider(s) at AAPT.


Now, you’d need to be dead, and Blind Freddy to have missed the point that Melbourne and Sydney Water executives have waged war against rainwater tanks since they became money grabbing corporate concerns. Water tanks catch water, sent by God. Our corporate water instrumentalities can’t charge good money when that happens.


Why, recently Melbourne Water announced they would be putting up the price of water by 90% because the good burghers of the village weren’t using enough of it! Not long ago, water authorities were telling householders they had to run the family four wheel drive over their water tanks before they could qualify for connection to mains water.


There it is. A good scholar’s paper becomes a news item. His reputation is attached to it as a guarantee of its bona fides. The irony is, the final story has only one single connection to his original paper – Aedes aegypti can also be found in water tanks.


The story of Australia’s water plight is loaded with mis-information spun from fact to misleading readable rubbish.


These fairy tales rank in number, with the humble mosquito and the places they pro-




Bernard Eddy

Australian Water Network


For further information about media distortion:  




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