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The Citizen Journalism Manual…

12. Be wary of word salads

A word salad is a mash-up of words strung together to make something sound credible, intriguing or authoritative.

Here’s a real question asked on a social media channel:
“Can I ask how much it costs to learn how to encode signatures for the evolution of consciousness by using a gong? Does the gong really need to be tuned to the frequency of the planet or can I just use my own set of gongs for this?”.

Yes, the questioner was being serious. So, can anyone explain what this gobbedlygook is all about? How does one “encode signatures” (which are what, exactly?) and affect how consciousness evolves? With a gong. Or maybe a set of them. If they are suitably tuned.

And what about tuning to “the frequency of the planet?”. Well, turns out it might be a bit hard pinning that down. Skeptiod puts it like this:

The atmosphere has its own radio equivalent of someone blowing across the top of the bottle: lightning. Lightning is constantly flashing all around the world, many times per second; and each bolt is a radio source. This means our atmosphere is continuously resonating with a radio frequency of 7.83Hz, along with progressively weaker harmonics at 14.3, 20.8, 27.3 and 33.8Hz. These are the Schumann resonances.

“It’s nothing to do with the Earth itself, or with life, or with any spiritual phenomenon; it’s merely an artifact of the physical dimensions of the space between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere. The amount of resonance fluctuates as the ionosphere becomes more or less dense, which depends largely on the amount of solar radiation striking it.

“Our major point today is that you should be very skeptical of any product, service, article, website, or merchant who uses the Schumann resonance, in any way, as part of a sales pitch. The Earth does not have any particular frequency.

It’s a salad

What the skeptics demolished here is a bunch of gobblegook that makes us a word-salad. Word salads are often sciency-sounding mashups designed to look impressive to the scientifically illiterate and gullible. It’s New Age magical thinking and, look closely enough, somewhere you are likely to find someone selling something… like a workshop on how to change the evolution of consciousness (an especially dangerous experiment, perhaps), a process that normally takes millions of years. With a gong.

This sort of stuff is for those who cannot comprehend how strange, how incredible the world and the universe we inhabit really is. The best way we’ve found to understand it is through scientific process, for, unlike having to tune a gong to a frequency that might not exist and maybe even use your own set of gongs to do it, science questions its own findings and amends its errors accordingly.

As cosmologist, the late Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The intervention in evolutionary consciousness afforded by banging gongs lacks that extraordinary evidence. Sagan wrote a book about this stuff. He gave it the very appropriate name of The Demon-Haunted World.

What do citizen journalists do with word salads?

Don’t mistake a peice of technical writing that makes use of technical terms for a word salad. It is a technical communication aimed at a readership that understands the terms.

Word salads are phenomena, an abuse of language, that we are likely to encounter at some time or another. What do we do about them? We have options:

  • ignore them and move on
  • demolish their claims through a skeptical and rational thinking approach
  • reframe the word salad by making it the focus of the story rather than what it is attempting to talk about; it then becomes a story about the use and misuse of language.

The Citizen Journalism Manual…

  1. Citizen journalism: A few definitions

2. Introducing Citizen Journalism

3. Backstory

4. Making a start in citizen journalism with basic skills and equipment

5. Our challenge: the distrust of media

6. Things we will encounter

7. Dealing with conspiracy theories

8. The legals

9. An insight into copyright

10. On offence

11. On bias

12. Be wary of word salads

13. The necessity of skepticism

14. Types of stories and writing

15. Practices for citizen journalists

16. Writing and distributing our stories

17. Writing: a few considerations

18. Let’s start writing

19. About formats: News or features?

20. Follow the arc

21. Write sticky stories

22. Writing reviews

23. Doing radio interviews

24. Civic affairs reporting for citizen journalists

25. Using audio and video

26. Photography for the citizen journalist

27. Shooting video for MOJO

28. The time is now



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Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.