Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mea culpa, BMW

Embarrassingly, I have fallen prey to some completely unreliable reporting. A few days ago, I wrote about a decision that BMW had reportedly made to abandon hydrogen technology. In that post, I also wondered why nothing had been reported in English yet.

I now know why: the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Although I first heard the story on the Nightly News on German TV, which you would think would be a reliable source, it turns out that some journalists misunderstood a company spokesperson -- or perhaps the spokesperson misspoke. Anyway, BMW is not abandoning hydrogen technology.

To make things worse, some reports conflated fuel cells with hydrogen. In the case of BMW, that mix-up is completely misleading since the Bavarian car maker is known for working on hydrogen as a fuel in internal combustion engines; BMW is not focusing on fuel cells at all. I actually knew that (it was reported in this magazine, for which I was the editor), but some German media completely conflated hydrogen with fuel cells, including some major German papers, and I repeated the confusion.

You win some, you lose some -- last week, I happened to catch an error in Die Zeit, where the author had spoken of "solar cells" providing hot water for a hotel in Tunisia. Of course, solar cells produce electricity, and the solar collectors on the hotel just heat up water. That mistake, at least, was immediately obvious to me.

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