A stew of bogus trends: Robo tripping, digital drugs, temporary dropouts, and subway hogs.

Media criticism.
July 19 2010 6:15 PM

A Midsummer's Stew of Bogus Trends

Robo tripping, digital drugs, temporary dropouts, and subway hogs.

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How does the Globe know this? It doesn't! The "trend" is totally anecdotal, as the article ultimately confesses:

While there is no data showing how many Americans opt for a gap year, some admissions deans say they are seeing an increase this year following more publicity about the benefits of delaying enrollment.

Finally, today's Washington Post drops a bogus-trend bomb on Page One with a piece titled "As Metro congestion grows, so does anger at 'seat hogs.' " The article provides no evidence that Washington subway-rider anger is rising against folks who insist on occupying more than one seat at a time.

Actually, bogusity is the least of the story's crimes against journalism. It bestows anonymity upon three sources: a fellow who runs a Web site called Seathogs.com, a gentleman whose wife has a "sensitive government job," and a midshipman. Now that's something to get angry about.

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Instead of getting angry about bogus trends in the press, maybe I should calm down and internalize Oscar Wilde's other trenchant observation about modern journalism. The master wrote:

By carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it shows us of what very little importance such events really are.

Addendum, July 20, 2010: A couple of close readers of this column, Derek Mahlburg and Julia Kamin, pointed out to me via e-mail that I could have worded the last sentence of my Robo tripping item  better. In it, I state the total population of the United States. For the purposes of comparison, the more relevant figure is the population of 12- to 25-year-olds. According to the 2000 census, the population of those between the ages of 15 and 24 was about 39 million, so it's safe to assume that the population of 12- to 25-year-olds in 2006 was somewhere between 45 million and 50 million.

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Eternal thanks to my friend Jeff Riggenbach for locating and forwarding that Wilde quotation to me years ago. Thanks also to bogus-trend-spotters Christi Crawford, Tammy Gibson, Chuck Kapelke, Aaron "from Denver," Quinn Eastman, Sara Mayeux, Jared Chausow, and Joe Rominiec for their nominations. Send your evidence of bogus trends in the press to slate.pressbox@gmail.com and trip on my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word DXM in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.