Friday, August 26, 2016
The science news is discovery of a planet 4.25 light years away. Little is known about it other than it is in the "goldilocks" zone suitable for life. The media went crazy with this news but it shouldn't have. It is clear the planet is so far away, any probe traveling less than the speed of light would take tens of thousands of years to get there. Further, there is no way to tell yet whether the planet has water or oxygen suitable for life as we know it. All we know is that it rotates a red dwarf star every 11 days and the only reason it is potentially habitable is that its sun is cooler than ours. It may take years if not decades of astronomical work to flesh out the details of the planet and some might remain hidden given its distance from earth. Why did the media play up the story? The scientists did and the media obliged. Secondly, the media probably didn't understand how far away the planet is, how many trillion miles go into a light year. Third, how would we communicate to a satellite at such vast distances? Each message would need to travel for 4.25 years to reach the instrument and another 4.25 years for a response. This is science hype at its worst.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
There is little doubt pharmaceutical companies are sparking self-induced crises in their drug pricing policies. The latest uproar is over the EpiPen used by people with peanut and other severe allergies. The ingredients in the pen cost $10 but Mylan is selling the pens in packs of two for $600. The company has tried to justify its huge pricing differential but no one is listening. It has brought this PR disaster on itself, and it will be pilloried until it lowers its price. Mylan is not alone, however. New drugs coming on the market are costing $100,000 or more, and there is no way for consumers to pay for them without health insurance. Health insurers in turn are fighting back but to no avail. There are no generic drugs for some of these medicines at the current time. Pharmaceutical companies are getting a bad name because of this aggressive pricing -- and they deserve it.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
The Nigerian government is claiming it has killed the terrorist leader of Boko Haram. The problem is that it has made that pronouncement several times before and each time Abubakar Shekau has reappeared in good health. To say the Nigerian government has no credibility in the issue is an understatement. In order for it to be believed, it needs to produce a body and other evidence that the bandit has indeed been slain this time. It doesn't look like it can given the nature of the attack -- an air strike in the jungle where the terrorists can easily disappear. Why does the government risk becoming a laughingstock with its multiple communications that it has killed the leader? It might be a twisted sense of PR -- providing hope to families whose lives have been destroyed by the group and whose girls have been kidnapped. A false sense of security, however, doesn't help anyone and none can be blamed for being cynical about Nigeria's leaders.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
In a usual election year, this kind of negative PR would be enough to sink a candidate. Not this year. Hillary Clinton should thank the Republican party for putting up a candidate with more negatives than she has. Although it is early, it is looking now like Clinton will sweep most of the states in her march to the White House. Trump, although getting better, is so far behind that it would take a herculean effort to turn around his slide. Add to that, his lack of organization. Hillary has a campaign machine working behind her constantly. Trump has a skeleton staff and he has barely advertised his candidacy. Even though a judge has ordered the release of 18,000 new Clinton e-mails before the election, it doesn't look like this would hurt her much. The Republican Party's collapse this election year is a case study of bad PR. One can only hope that the party can revitalize itself before future elections.
Friday, August 19, 2016
It is a strange marketing and PR choice to ignore one's best customers yet Volkswagen is doing it in the diesel engine scandal that has overtaken the company. The conglomerate has spent billions settling claims for cheating on its smaller motors, but it has yet to take any action on its larger power plants that went into its Porsche and Audi brands. Porsche owners, particularly, are in a dudgeon over the lack of action on their high-priced vehicles, which are now devalued well below their selling points. Why has Volkswagen not addressed the problem? Probably because handling the fallout of cheating on its smaller engines is taking the company's entire time. However. ignoring one's best customers is never a good idea, especially if one wants to enhance the luxury brands. Volkswagen doesn't have much time left to rectify the situation. Lawsuits are pending and the corporation is not in a good position to defend against them.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
This video opinion piece explains why American train travel is so bad. Amtrak is caught in a bind not of its own making. Were it free to operate, it might cut back on money-losing long haul routes and concentrate on three-hour trips between major cities. This means it would be primarily an East Coast service since there are few cities outside the East Coast that are interstate, close enough to serve and with sufficient passenger traffic. One can think of Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-St.Louis or Los Angeles-San Diego but the question remains whether there are enough business commuters between those cities. The challenge for Amtrak lies in Congress. Whenever Amtrak tries to remove a route, a Senator or Congressman will protest and force Amtrak to keep it alive. Amtrak doesn't have the lobbying power it needs to circumvent Congress, and it might never have. Hence, it is like the US Postal service -- another money losing entity. It knows what it should do but it can't get there. It is a major public relations challenge and one that Amtrak will be struggling with for years to come.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
It seems this political season fact checkers have come to the fore and everyone is busy looking into the details of what candidates say. This is good but for one point. Who will check the fact checkers to make sure they are doing their jobs correctly.? It is easy for a fact checker to slip opinion into data being vetted, even if the checker is rigorous about the work. Facts are slippery. One person's body of facts are another's set of lies. One has to abstract himself from the noise and judge as objectively as possible what the truth of the matter is. There are obvious errors such as claiming President Obama was the founder of ISIS. There are subtle mistakes such as forecasting what the GDP might be under one's fiscal plan. It is with these latter kinds of errors that a fact checker can go wrong. Fact checking on the whole is good. The media should be doing much more of it but with caution.