Tents and Tents and Tents

by Alex Hern

Between comments and responses to my piece yesterday, as well as Occupy London’s official statement, a few other explanations have come to light for the scarceness of glowing tents in the photo and video I linked yesterday:

  • The camp is very active at night; as can be seen by the number of people wandering around, at the time the telegraph turned up, there probably were a few empty tents, because their occupiers were still awake, out and about. Doesn’t mean the camp is full of people going home in the evening.
  • The properly glowing tents are likely using propane heaters, which is why they show such an even heat density.
  • If you are in a sleeping bag in a tent, you shouldn’t be giving off any heat. Heat that leaves your sleeping bag and warms up the tent is wasted heat, and heat that makes it all the way to an IR camera is very wasted heat.

Although I stick with my explanation yesterday as at least partially responsible (although I realise that rather than calling them “IR translucent” and “IR opaque” tents, I should have just referred to them as what they probably are – summer and winter tents), the third point above is likely also part of the reason.

Regardless: Rather than proffering a multitude of explanations as to why some tents glowed and some didn’t, we should remember the important point. Every paper that reported this story as fact was performing shoddy, shoddy journalism. The original claim still seems to have come from one city councillor looking at some footage from a police helicopter, and only the Telegraph even bothered to do more than print that entirely unsubstantiated claim. And their fact-checking was, well, poor:

The journalist in question was found by our Tranquility Team (night-time volunteers who look after the peace of the camp and who keep it ship shape in the twilight hours), shaking the tents of occupiers, who initially thought they were police and understandably approached them to enquire what was happening.  The journalist explained that he was investigating a claim that tents were empty at night, and argued that it was correct to check this claim.

It is clear that there is a strong desire to discredit Occupy London on the part of many on the right. It is to be expected from the Telegraph – who are, lest we forget, edited by the ex-assistant editor of the Mail – but the Times remains, just about, the newspaper of record, and the BBC is supposed to be impartial. They should know better.

Interestingly, it appears the Times at least know they have been a bit dodgy. Compare and contrast the original piece,”Nine out of 10 campers quit protest camp at night” with this new one, which went up at 11pm last night: “Labourers are few on anti-capitalist night shift“.

Both broadly the same story, by the same journalist, illustrated with the same image – but the nine out of ten tents empty claim is quietly dropped.