I have a client who collects rubbish. I decided to ask him why.
If you are a regular reader of my meanderings you might be aware of two facts.
One is that I run a storage facility, and that I don’t particularly concern myself with what is stored therein (as long as it is legal and non-toxic). The other is that quite often, when pausing in the job of loading or unloading items into their facility, my clients like to share a moment or two with me, discussing what they’ve got in store.
It was at one such moment that a client told me about his store of rubbish. But not, I hasten to add, rubbish of the house clearance type, but rubbish that appears in print.
I was fascinated and asked for an example. He produced what looked like a serious academic paper from the Department of Climatology at the University of Arizona published in the Journal of Geoclimactic Studies vol 23 p273.
Basically it proves that human activity (such as burning coal) has had and will not have any effect on the planet’s climate.
Now if you know anything about the climate change debate you’ll probably know that there are a lot of people out there who deny either that:
- climate change is happening at all or
- climate change has anything to do with the activity of mankind.
The fact that these people tend to own coal fired or oil fired power stations, or coal mines or oil fields, has nothing to do with it.
So an article like this is wonderful news for these people – not least because it was published in an academic journal.
Except the article wasn’t published in an academic journal, because the journal quoted doesn’t exist. Nor does the Department exist. The university does and does do climate research. But there is no climatology department.
And yet vast numbers of people picked up on this article and it is still regularly cited as “proof” that climate change through human activity is a myth. But that proof invariably comes from the fact that no one bothers to check that the article is real.
It is not so much that the people who promote the story haven’t read the report to which it refers (which they can’t do, because it doesn’t exist) but rather that they haven’t actually bothered even to check if the people, the department, or the article actually exist (they don’t).
Hence rubbish is written, and this is what my client gathers up. “By and large such stories only last a little time and then they are taken off the internet,” my client told me, “because the perpetrators don’t want to be traced.
“Many of them are running such stories simply to show the gullibility of 21st century mankind in general. Others like to wind up journalists.”
He went on to show me other stories in his collection – stories that the world would end when the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland was switched on, stories that the President of the USA is not an American (which he has to be in order to be president), stories that there is nothing wrong with salt (those are mostly produced by the Salt Institute in the US which is funded by salt production companies), stories that octopuses are mutating because of the toxins they are getting at sea, and a land breed of octopus has already been found in Sussex.
“The problem is,” he added, “that the most alarming things in our society today are actually true, but by and large we tend to ignore them, and people don’t write articles about them.”
“What sort of thing?” I asked.
He took a sheet of paper out of his file and handed it to me. It was an article from the Journal of the Institute of Detection Management and it raised the very worrying suggestion that the UK has no workable defence against terrorism.
“In the UK we have the most sophisticated tracking and identification systems in the world,” the article told me, “including the vehicle recognition system that is in operation on every motorway and most A roads. That system links into the UK’s vehicle licensing system, which in turn links with the surveillance network set up by GCHQ to monitor email and internet activity.
“And yet in one fell swoop, both criminal and terrorist gangs are sidestepping each and every one of our surveillance systems, so that the only people who get caught tend to be petty crooks, and those who are careless enough to break the speed limit.
“The reason for the failure of such a sophisticated system is simple. For anyone to be caught they have to be driving a car or using a computer or phone connected to the internet. There is growing evidence, however, that the most sophisticated of criminals and terror suspects are using approaches that by-pass all electronic surveillance.”
I turned the page wondering what on earth this extraordinary system could be.
“Those who wish to stay outside the law in order to commit terrorist acts communicate through first class post, buy bus and rail tickets with cash, and meet in public places – if possible on the beach where even if there was a surveillance microphone the sound of the surf breaking on the shore would remove any chance of the conversation being heard.
“Despite the billions of pounds being spent on surveillance each year, we now find ourselves more vulnerable than ever.”
I looked at my customer in horror.
“I never knew that,” I said, feeling the blood drain from my face. “Are they really avoiding all the surveillance just by sending letters to each other?”
“Don’t worry,” he said, “that’s one I made up.”
And with that he slipped the article back into its folder and closed up his storage compartment, giving me a smile on the way out that could have meant, “Nice to see you,” but probably meant, “got you.”
Admiral Self Storage Ltd
Tel: 0800 810 1125