Edge of Space?

I have a small problem with the science reporting of Felix Baumgartner’s “edge of space” jump. It wasn’t from space, or even the edge of space. The boundary of space is commonly defined as 100km (the Karman Line). I would not consider going less than halfway to space as the “edge of space”.

That being said, I believe this was an extraordinary achievement. The technical challenges were real and deserved recognition. In order to emphasize the significance of this event, promoters had to stress the boundary pushing aspects of this jump. I understand this and realize why they called it the “edge of space” jump.

What I find frustrating is the context that forces the title. TV and newspapers have for a long time been focused on sensationalizing stories to reach a greater audience. This has led to stretching the truth, particularly with science reporting. The result has been science reporting that has been inaccurate on subjects such as climate change, GMO food and vaccines.

Science is about the search for the truth. Shouldn’t we hold science reporting to a higher standard due to the subject? Why shouldn’t science be treated with it’s due respect, after all the advances to the human condition this subject has afforded us? It amazes me that inaccurate reports of celebrities generate such outrage, but the same issue in science reporting do not.

To further highlight the point, MSNBC briefly reported that Baumgartner had exceeded the speed of light. While those of us versed in physics chuckle at how ridiculous this claim is, this shows that many people don’t know the difference between the speed of sound and the speed of light. But understanding of these concepts is what underpines all of our new technology from airplanes to spacecraft to the TV and broadband that was showing us images of this incredible feat.

How do we change this situation? By telling the truth, as science is meant to do. Let’s start by saying that Felix Baumgartner didn’t go to space, or even the edge of space. He did push the boundaries for all of us, so that our technology and knowledge will continue to grow. Isn’t that sensational enough!

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