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Monday, July 17, 2006

On Rogue Giant at Sea

Last Tuesday the science section of the New York Times published an article entitled Rogue Giants at Sea. I read it in the morning and later my daughter was nicely emailed me the article in case I missed it with the comment “may be the fact that it’s published in the NYtimes may draw more attention (and hopefully more research $$s) for this subject.” The research $$ part was her wishful thinking to help my research. But any article published in the NYTimes is news in itself and draw attention automatically. I noticed a couple of news articles already appeared based entirely on this NYTimes article.

This article starts by telling the case of the Cruise Ship Norwegian Down that survived a seemingly rogue wave attack in April, 2005 a full year and three months ago. There were plenty of articles written about this case since then. As a matter of fact since July, 2004 when ESA (European Space Agency) announced the identification of more than ten individual giant waves around the globe above 25 m in height after an examination of three weeks’ worth of world wide radar satellite data, there had been all kinds of giant/rogue/freak wave articles written all over the world. There was also a smaller rush of rogue wave news articles recently in connection with the release and review of the 2006 movie “Poseidon.” With all these backgrounds, one can not help wondering why NYTimes chooses to publish this article now.

With all kinds of article that have already been written, some are truly outstanding, what should we reasonably expect from NYTimes? How about some competently researched facts and reporting just the facts without hyperbole?

May be the editor and the writer are counting on people only give a quick glance or read it once and not again. Because, alas, when I read it again, I begin to wonder is this from NYTimes or it is from some tabloid? The sensationalism seeped through loudly.

Here’s an example to show what I mean:

Enormous waves that sweep the ocean are traditionally called rogue waves, implying that they have a kind of freakish rarity. Over the decades, skeptical oceanographers have doubted their existence and tended to lump them together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters.

Rogue waves are known to happen momentarily, it appeared out of nowhere; it took place, and then disappeared like nothing had happened. It never “sweep” the ocean. There is no such thing as “traditionally called rogue waves.” Rogue wave is a fairly recent term. The use of the term “freak wave” was started by Laurence Draper in 1964. There was no firmly established term before 1964. The existence of unusually large, great waves was nevertheless very much on all sea going oceanographers mind. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would “lump them together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters.”

I find the sentence “scientists are now finding that these giants of the sea are far more common and destructive than once imagined” irresponsible. I doubt they can find a single scientist today would agree to testify to this effect. Finding ten giant waves all over the world in three weeks may question the notion of “rare” cases but certainly can not be considered as “far more common.” An irresponsible expression like this can spread widely and quickly because it’s from the NYTimes.

This next sentence “The upshot is that the scientists feel a sense of urgency about the work and growing awe at their subject” is pure nonsense. On record this reporter talked to three scientists, one of the three is not working on rogue waves and another one is not active on rogue waves, only Wolfgang Rosenthal is in the forefront of rogue waves research but he just retired. The reporter did not seem to know the three year EU “Max Wave Program” Rosenthal managed successfully. The article cited the 90 feet wave in the Gulf of Mexico during 2004 Hurricane Ivan and the 95 feet wave off Scotland in 2000 are really large wave but they are not rogue waves. The article talked about the Brest Rogue Waves conference in 2000, but totally ignorant of the second one in 2004. With all that half-baked information he gathered, this reporter managed to fictionalize for all scientists about “a sense of urgency.” Scientists interest only in study to understand the nature. There is no sense of urgency in science.

May be I am over reacting to a merely newspaper article. May be I am! May be this article should really “lump together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters.

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