No April Fools: CBS Sunday Does TWO Stories on Fusion (sorta)

This past Sunday, April 1, 2012, CBS Sunday Morning ran not one, but TWO stories about the continuing quest for nuclear fusion.

The first  was a serious "hard news" (they have to call it that nowadays because so much of what passes for news is just fluff…) segment by David Pogue about the National Ignition Facility, the monolithic facility that hopes to achieve meaningful fusion by pounding a pellet of hydrogen isotopes with nearly TWO HUNDRED of the LARGEST LASER BEAMS ever constructed (sorry, I had to put all that in caps just to underscore how ludicrous it all seems).  Here, see for yourself:

(I apologize for the commercials that CBS is going to make you endure in order to see these segments.)

My favorite part in that report is where the guy says that, once they have achieved this near impossible technical achievement of aligning and simultaneously firing all these lasers, all they have to do to create a useful power source is "do it more often."  Like hundreds of times a MINUTE.  Which assertion is quickly followed by a critic's assertion that "we'll see pigs fly before we see ignition at NIF."

Contrast that "serious" report to this lighter 'human interest' story by roving reporter (and Charles Kurrault wannabe) Steve Hartman, which features Taylor Wilson, who learned much of what he knows about fusion from this very website:

OK, I give up.
I have posted the embed code
for this video THREE TIMES
and every time, CBS changes the video.
In the process I have been forced to watch
ads for Golman Sachs about ten times.
If you want to see this clip, visit CBS.com
and search for "Taylor Wilson."

This is how legacy media companies work the Internet.
No wonder they are going the way of the Dodo.

Unfortunately, the fusion angle in this story is glossed over pretty quickly while the reporting dotes on Taylor's obvious gifts and likens him to Mozart, who was composing his first symphonies at age 5.   Oooh… look at the cute kid and his affection for all things radioactive….

The second segment  falls short in a couple of aspects.  First, it makes it sound like Taylor 'figured out' fusion all by himself.  In describing Taylor as "the youngest peson earth to create fusion…" Steve Hartman ignores the deserving experimenters who have gone before him — starting with Philo T. Farnsworth.  You'd think that somebody who works in television would at least offer a nod to the guy who made his job possible.  But no….

The really lost opportunity falls somewhere between these two stories, and the way each treats its subject.  The first takes a serious look at how billions of mostly Federal tax dollars are being spent.  The second ignores that it is possible to produce fusion without spending that kind of money, and treats Taylor's work as a novelty because he's just a precocious kid.

The whole enterprise would have been better served if the second segment had approached its subject matter as seriously as the first.

  • http://www.opensourcehardwarejunkies.com Michael

    Great post! I suppose any coverage is better than none…maybe.