It does get boring simply recording and repeating mistakes made by those covering science inexpertly in the media, but when it happens so regularly and so confoundingly, it can be hard to avoid or resist. In this case I’ll prefix it with some better reporting.
Carl Zimmer is a consistently excellent science writer, and indeed concentrates on evolutionary biology. His blog is very good and his articles (whether for magazines or newspapers) are great and his books a good read while it is all accurate and informative. This time out he has a short review paper about communicating science and teaching (the whole thing is here). A couple of key quoters “Unfortunately, most reporters simply relayed hyperbolic quotes from their sources. They also demonstrated some deep misunderstandings about evolution” and “The number of skilled science writers who can report a story like this one with the proper skepticism is dwindling” bring me to the bad side once more.
The online arm of BBC news has sent a reporter out to a major dinosaur egg site in India. Naturally this is a local reporter and thus not a specialised science reporter. Nothing wrong with that, but one would also hope that a non-expert might just recognise their non-expert status and thus do a bit of fact checking or ask for some help. One can only assume not given what follows.
This is the offender “….Rajasaurus narmandensis or the regal reptile from Narmada. They say it belongs to the genus – subfamily – of the ferocious carnivore Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
OK, well first no italics, and then inconsistent / incorrect use of capitalisation in the species name. Not a good start and strongly suggests that the former name was cut and past from a document to ensure the spelling was correct and then T. rex was typed in incorrectly afterwards. However, the bizarre follow up is that confusion of genus and sub-family – the two are not synonymous obviously since, well, one’s a genus and one’s a subfamily. To make this still more odd, of course it’s not in the same genus as Tyrannosaurs, if it was, it would be a member of Tyrannosaurus! Rajasaurus is it’s own genus as you can tell because, well, it has a different generic name. And it’s not even a tyrannosaur, it’s an abelisaur. So somehow in 14 words two genera are confused, two families are confused and genus is made synonymous with subfamily and the names is written wrong and not italicised. Good work.
To cap it all off, the wonderful words “They say” is referring to scientists, thus squarely placing the blame on us for this mishmash of errors. Obviously this is not intended, but it doesn’t help when you are this wrong that you give clear credit to people who clearly did not say such a thing. Really, was it too hard to Google the actual name of the animal you are reporting on?