Getting the light bulb story right

Every reporter who says the government is banning incandescent bulbs should be required to swallow one of these.

As you know, I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy when it comes to light bulb stories.

So when I got an email from the otherwise excellent Miller-McCune Magazine promoting a new “the government is forcing you to buy CFLs” post, I politely replied, explaining that the article was based on a false political narrative. Miller-McCune‘s managing editor asked me to write a response, which is posted here.

As I note in the piece, the confusion in light bulb coverage comes from an urge to find a simplified, conflict-based narrative that readers can latch on to. We’re naturally drawn to conflict – a couple having a polite disagreement in public won’t garner much attention, but when it escalates into a fistfight, we’ll drop everything and watch.

And so a lot of people believe the government is banning incandescent bulbs and forcing everyone to buy CFLs. It’s a tight, concise narrative that’s easy to understand. The fact that it’s completely false seems to be a secondary consideration for many journalists.

So you can imagine my pleasure this morning after seeing a news story that actually gets it right. The Cleveland Plain Dealer had a brief item over the weekend about the Billy Baldwin of the light bulb world, halogens.

The halogen bulbs contain a small tubular halogen light. It provides the same light as a standard 60-watt and 100-watt bulbs but uses less power.

For example, the Sylvania Halogen Super Save replacement for the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb uses 72 watts.

And the Philips EcoVantage replacement for the old-fashioned 60-watt incandescent uses 43 watts.

But the halogen bulbs still qualify as incandescents, meaning they create light by passing electricity through a metal filament until it becomes so hot that it glows.

Congress did not ban incandescent bulbs, just inefficient incandescent bulbs. (emphasis mine)

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

2 thoughts on “Getting the light bulb story right

  1. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to comment to provide proper context or correct factual errors on stories on biofuels.

    I was particularly frustrated a few years ago, when a failure of a few school buses in one school district on a sub-zero morning was blamed on the (then) two-percent biodiesel blend used statewide in Minnesota.

    The story went on the national wires, asnd to this day is used by biodiesel critics.

    Of course, an investigation of the fuel proved it was the 98% petroleum part of the fuel that was at fault, and only caused a problem in one old model of bus with a flawed design.

    The Star Tribune eventually followed up with an editorial “An unearned black eye for biodiesel.” But most media outlets never followed up with the correct information, so the damage was done.

  2. This is something that I often scream at my computer monitor when I read the words “ban” and “incandescent light bulbs” together. I’m glad you’re here to give people the correct information.