Media fail – a bit more on aquatic dinosaurs

Quite some time ago, I wrote this little guide for journalists spotting non-stories in science. When they were told of a breaking story or heard of some breakthrough, these should be a fairly simple set of tell-tale markers that something wasn’t right an should be left alone, or least dug into far more fully to make sure it was legitimate. I doubt there’s too much there that would shock any researcher, and one would hope not any credible reporter, let alone a specialist science journalist.

How then did this abomination of a speculation (theory is not the right word, and I’d hesitate even to use hypothesis) about dinosaurs make it’s way into the media spotlight? Well clearly it sounded great (dinosaurs in water! all palaeontologists wrong!) and there was an article to support it, and the man in question clearly has ties to the media and knows which buttons to push.

However, after this, literally every part of it is tissue-thin in the extreme. The article is in a non-peer reviewed outlet (and not even a very well known one as far as I’m aware). The article contains absolutely no references or mentions of the scientific literature, contains no analyses or data, or even a strict laid out hypothesis and clear identification of what evidence would support it. The man behind this is a self-confessed non-expert, with no apparent qualifications or experience in the area at all (and there have been reports that he’s not even an expert or qualified in the areas he does claim) and obviously does have a track record of commenting or publishing on very disparate subjects well outside of microbiology.

So this is a non-reviewed piece of work, not even written as a paper, proffering no specific evidence or hypothesis, written by someone with no qualifications in the area, with a track record of discussing things outside their expertise. Presumably this is considered just as good as say, oh I don’t know, a peer-reviewed paper in Nature by numerous and experienced researchers, who carefully document all their data, analyses and results. Oh, it was. And by more than one media outlet. Hooray for journalism!

9 Responses to “Media fail – a bit more on aquatic dinosaurs”

  1. 1 Heinrich Mallison 06/04/2012 at 10:56 am

    Well, the thinking-cap crackpot is a favorite of the media, and crackpots and incompetents can be found in any profession – including journalism. Combine two of them and presto, you get such a story.

    The real problem is that fact-check-free copy and paste performed by all the others: “If they published it, we gotta copy as fast as we can. Fact-check? no time for that.”

  2. 2 Jamie Revell 06/04/2012 at 11:36 am

    No, not a terribly well known magazine, in my experience. I used to get a free copy (which I believe is the only kind) every month for some reason or other, but not any more. It’s essentially a mini-newspaper, about 90% of which is ads for lab equipment. I’m sure it’s great as an advertising forum… journalism, not so much.

  3. 3 daleamon 06/04/2012 at 1:48 pm

    You should see some of the stuff I’ve been sent over the years about ‘Flying Saucer Propulsion’ systems… But I don’t have trouble with something like this hitting the press. Like most news, it will be entertainment for a week or so, and utterly forgotten a year from now, although some kids interested in dinsosaurs might get their internal science interested tweaked a little more towards a career in STEM areas, the adult public will mostly forget it, the experts will not be much affected (unless there was a diamond flake of a good idea in the pile… it *does* happen at times), the journalists will have moved on to something else to pay for their beers (I have journalist friends and that is no small expense) and the world will not come to an end.

  4. 4 Zhen 06/04/2012 at 11:13 pm

    This is why a random slob like me can be viewed as a dinosaur expert by people online. Not because I am, but because the quality of reporting by the media is so damn horrible.

    I’m glad Nototyrannus story was shoot down quickly so the misinformation barely got anywhere. Of course that story was nothing compared to this.

  5. 5 johnny 07/04/2012 at 1:38 pm

    Interesting points.

  6. 6 zombiezurfer 07/04/2012 at 4:52 pm

    Makes me want to resent an actually factual “paper” similar to the one he made. If I were lucky, it would be published and spread actual frikkin’ knowledge to the populace. Idiots like this who publish crap like that really rile me up.

  7. 8 robert reyes 21/04/2012 at 11:21 pm

    i think prof. ford is partly right,i think t-rex hunted on land and water,and in shallower water it used those infamous front legs for stalking and anchoring itself to the bottom,and when the target was aquired with those stereoscopic eyes,it used those rear guns to lunge,and with mouth wide open it would catch or kill its prey with one bite!similar to the nile essence t-rex could have acted like a giant killer frog.

  1. 1 Catch 22 « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 11/05/2012 at 10:56 am
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