My wife and I are city-bred. Wildlife there is generally on the order of a skunk, squirrels or raccoons in our backyard. I was a Boy Scout though, and paid attention in school. I know a little bit about animals.
I should have realized Sunday was going to be a bad day for observing nature shortly after the start of our afternoon walk. As we passed by a small pasture on the edge of a vineyard, my wife exclaimed, “look at the cute black calf!” My immediate response was, “Where? I don’t see it.”
She didn’t seem all that impressed with me, given that the animal was in plain sight. She was even less impressed when I explained that I hadn’t seen the “calf” because what I was looking at was a small black sheep. A calf would be a young cow. I guess anyone could make the mistake – it was a cloudy day.
Several kilometres further on we were walking on a ridge at the edge of a vineyard, when again my wife spotted some wildlife. “Look at the elk!”
I have seen elks in the Canadian west. They are not, I don’t think, native to Germany. I looked anyway. After all, there was a remote possibility someone had imported some elk and there was a breeding farm nearby.
I looked. I didn’t see any elk. I asked “Where?” My wife pointed. I saw the animals. Here’s what I saw.
She claims those are German elk, considerably smaller than the Canadian ones. When I was younger we would have called them goats, but I understand how times have changed. In a post-truth world, sheep become calves and goats become elk.
For my wife it was just a bad day. And some of it may have been linguistic confusion – she switches between English and German a lot these days, and sometimes the words escape her. She knows a goat is not an elk and didn’t think I would swallow her line about “German elk.”
My mind can take strange directions at times. The incident got me thinking though about the decline of newspapers and the rise of social media.
Once upon a time you could trust what you read in the newspapers. They had a large staff of trained, professional journalists who were dedicated to getting the story and getting it right. The New York Times, for example had as its slogan “All the news that’s fit to print.”
Times have changed and the internet has changed the nature of news, both in how it is gathered and how it is consumed. As their advertising revenue has fallen, so too has the news media’s ability to deliver a quality product. Information fragmentation means that there really is no universally trusted source for news anymore. It used to be that people on the left or right politically might not like the slant of a particular news outlet, but they didn’t dispute the facts. Now it seems, if you don’t agree with a particular viewpoint, you simply dismiss it as non-factual. Objective truth is no longer accepted in a post-modern concept. That is why, for example, Donald Trump could claim last January that the crowd at his inauguration was the largest in American presidential history and be believed – even though the pictures of the event proved conclusively that he was wrong. His supporters rejected the veracity of his critics because the narrative didn’t suit their beliefs.
Which may be all well and good when talking politics, but I hope such attitudes don’t extend to physics or engineering. I can only hope that this is a temporary aberration.
On the walk back home, we passed by some rabbits. Those my wife recognized – we have seen them before.