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25 February 2009

Verisimilitude Or Something

media watch salyut 7


Precisely Wrong

Dan reminds me of a story I heard on an ancient Media Watch episode. It’s Stuart Littlemore-era Media Watch, and is sadly not in the otherwise extensive ABC online archives. hence you’ll have to rely on my somewhat hazy recollection. Don’t worry though, I may have forgotten some of the details, but I remember the punchline.

The story was about a satellite that was crashing to earth. It was almost certainly Salyut 7, which came down in 1991. The memory of Skylab, which crashed in Australia in 1977, was still present in people’s minds. As always, the media was anxious for a local angle, and the possibility of a Skylab re-run, with an added dash of panic-mongering, was too tempting for them to resist.

Media Watch tracked the published predictions of the crash site as the re-entry date approached.

A few weeks out, some media outlets reckoned that that the satellite would fall somewhere in the Indian Ocean, Australia, or the Pacific.

A week out, the predictions narrowed to mainland Australia.

Days away, and it looks more like Western Australia. Towns such as Kalgoorlie are becoming extremely worried at this point. Rumours abound of satellite crash insurance being sold to worried locals.

On February 7 1991, Salyut 7 crashed to earth.

In South America.

Littlemore delivered the punchline, declaring the reporting as “a lesson on the difference between precision and accuracy.”