Thursday, July 01, 2010

An intent to mislead or a failure to fully explain?

Just a quick post. I had been working on a post about TMCR, but that's taking a whole lot more time than expected.

Found this excerpt on CNA today (unlike my usual practice, I'll not cite and link for now):

"The total rainfall for June this year is 10 times higher compared to the same period last year.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the total rainfall recorded at Changi Climate Station in June is 240.5 mm, up from just 21.8 mm last year.

However, it is not the first time Singapore experienced heavy rainfall in the month of June. There was a similar level of rainfall in June 2006.

The Meteorological Services added that average rainfall for June since 1869 is 162.2 mm."

Sounds fair and all the data seems to be there. However, my first impressions were "wait a minute ... what are you actually trying to tell me?".

Here's my interpretation after reading it several times:

1. June 2010 has high rainfall (about 33% above average).
2. June 2009 was an especially dry month (just 13% of average).
3. The average of 162.2 mm is a fairly stable value since it is over 140 years and as a result, 140 data points. Having standard deviation data would have helped us understand the actual variation.
4. June 2006 had similar rainfall to June 2010.

However, the way it was written had initially made me think the article was trying to tell me that June 2010 was an incredibly wet June, especially with that useless reference to it being 10 times higher than (what turns out to be a ridiculously dry June) June 2009.

I don't know, maybe it is just me ... but I feel that news articles should not merely state facts semi-incoherently but to do so with a reasonable interpretation in mind in order to help readers understand a matter or an issue.

Incidentally, this raises a question - were there serious floods in Singapore in June 2006? Of pertinence is the fact that if we successfully withstood a similar level of rainfall (barring extreme daily spikes) then, why did we not successfully handle the same in 2010?


Gary said...

The usual suspects:
1. poor maintenance and tidal conditions
2. a new factor: the just inaugurated Marina barrage

Strange isn't it, that none of the MSM even hint at this new factor. Sensitive? Afraid to call a spade a spade in order not to incur the wrath of the minister in charge? Cowardice.

Chee Wai Lee said...

Gary - a friend of mine checked tidal conditions during the first flood (the one at Orchard), it was not high tide.

As for poor maintenance, unfortunately, we will never know if nobody (authorities, the news or anyone else) wants to investigate. We can only guess.

The same is true for the barrage. My personal inclination is that it should not be part of the problem. Unfortunately, I know too little about it to understand the mechanics of how it might cause any floods if improperly controlled.

Again, you are right about the poor quality of our news media. All they appear to do is "report" rather than help their readers understand the facts or present the relevant angles (which can, and sometimes should, be biased - I'm an unapologetic liberal) to issues.