(Dis)information Overload

Remember the selfie taken by a macaque with the camera of David Slater, a British photographer?

The US Copyright Office ruled that he could not copyright the photo and that it could therefore be used for free by anyone who chooses to do so. The reason for this being that it was not Slater who had pushed the button on the camera, but rather the monkey, therefore the rights to the photo belong to the macaque.

I had not intended to write about macaque selfies today, but bear with me, I am getting there.


A macaque was able to press a button on a camera to take a bunch of selfies that made him world-famous. In certain respects there are parallels to pressing an upload button in order to upload a video to YouTube,  an image to Instagram or a post to Facebook.

Just because one is able to press the button does not necessarily automatically make the content clever or meaningful by any stretch of the imagination.

Some examples?

Top of my negative charts was a comment I saw the other day on Facebook:

Only retards who can’t tie knots tie stopper knots.


Ok, let us take this one step by step: regarding the choice of words, I do not do “retard”, sorry, simply not part of my vocabulary – this is not about being the Political Correctness police, rather I find the use of this kind of derogatory term for a person with a psychological and/ or physical impairment to be offensive and poor style. You will also – for the same reasons – not find me using terms such fag or faggot, bitch or any of the myriad of other terms used to put down a certain group of people. But that just as an aside…

Let us just take this sentiment a step further, you could extrapolate that line of thought as follows:

Only muppets who can’t climb use a rope.

Fair point, why bother dragging all that rope round the tree. If you can climb you do not really need it, do you? And this shows just how flawed that line of thought is. Stopper knots save lives. Period. Anybody who claims otherwise is either being deliberately misleading, is posturing or is just plain ignorant.

Last year in Germany a climber fell over 100m from a tower whilst descending on a short line on an I’D – without a stopper knot in the end of the line. As a consequence when he descended, he passed the end of the climbing line and fell to his death. And this is one a number of similar accidents.

Another example?

I was watching a video that someone uploaded discussing the practice of clove hitching the Prusik loop onto karabiners. The person goes on to demonstrate how it is done, which I did not have an issue with, but where I struggled was when he explained the rationale behind this practice: According to the author of this clip we do this because if you happen to cut one part of your Prusik loop with your saw, you will not fall.


And here was me thinking that we did it to prevent cross-loading of connectors. More fool me. Put it this way: if this is the kind of safety margin you are operating with, you are sailing close to the wind! And it is probably worth remembering that clove hitches can roll out… so no, depending on the circumstances, this will not prevent a fall.

This example illustrates to me how in this manner new facts can be created that do not quite hit the mark, but through frequent repetition can become accepted as true. This can lead to worrying misconceptions and can even go as far as influencing people’s perception of what kind of behavior is acceptable and what is not.

I was watching a video the other day in which someone was demonstrating that the safest way to work aloft is to body paint yourself in rainbow colors and glitter, wear an rubber glove on your head and to free climb*! Struck me as being a bit weird, but it must be true, as the comments were all favorable, some were even raving about this technique, and also the video has 11’455 views!

Just because many people maintain that something is the best thing since sliced bread, this is not necessarily a guarantee for it to be true – just think of the Nürnberg rallies. Or of Justin Bieber. Likewise, just because someone possesses the technical competence to press an upload button does not automatically mean that the content of their upload is correct or contributing something valuable. For this reason it can be necessary to look beyond the packaging. Pretty editing or glitzy graphics featuring incorrect or dangerous work practices do not make these any better… They remain just that: a well-edited video or a glitzy piece of graphic design – not more, not less — and the same is true of the incorrect or dangerous work practices

The intent behind this post is by no means to be inflammatory, although it will probably be taken by some as such, but rather aims to encourage critical reflection when discussing techniques used to work at height. Surely when it comes to safety, it cannot be a bad idea to get things right, to be really sure that you have gone the extra mile to ensure that you have worked through at least the most obvious pitfalls that a technique or a tool may present and are using them in the best and safest way possible.

Try to filter the information from the disinformation – and don’t believe the hyperbole!

*It is not, by the way. That was a piece of disinformation, brought to you by treemagineers ltd.