I always amazes me just how inept the media can be in its coverage of science related news stories. There seems to be a complete lack of fact checking and assuming things based on what the journalist thinks they remember from high school physics.

Now, I'm particulary interested in astronomy and feel that I have a godd grasp of the basic facts surrounding this area of science. But it amazes me sometimes (actually most of the time) some of the errors that they make.

My case and point is a news story that was on TV tonight here on New Zealand on TV3. It was centred on the major solar flare that the was released by the Sun a couple of days ago. The whole thing was going surprisingly well, with an interview with a guy from the Auckland Observatory. But then they ruined the whole story by saying:

These images were taken by the SOHO satellite. This sits about one million kilometres from Earth, about halfway to the Sun
I just cringed. Any amateur astronomer will be able to tell you that the Sun is in fact 150 million kilometres from Earth.

Now come on. Are you trying to tell me that this piece of imformation was that hard to find on the internet. To prove this I typed "distance Sun" into Google and the first result was http://sparky.rice.edu/~hartigan/nsci111/assignments/wk9assign.html. The fourth item on a list of data about the Solar System was this:
Distance to the Sun: 1.5 x 10^8 km.

Now I understand that scientific notation may be a bit hard for your standard Auto-Cutie to understand, but why just assume that 1 million kilometres is halfway to the Sun? My only idea is that they may have been confused by diagrams that show where SOHO is and plot the other Lagrangian points. These would be drawn purposely not to scale.

But anyway enough ranting. How can this problem be fixed. Well maybe the news media could do some fact checking. The internet is a wonderful source of information (everything2 springs to mind for some strange reason). Of course there is alot of misinformation as well (everything2 springs to mind for some strange reason), so what they need is to ring somebody. Run through the story before it is broadcast or goes to print. There is never more than one story a week so it wouldn't be that hard of a job.