No living relatives?

A week or two ago a short article appeared in The Times about the red panda. In it, the bold and quite ludicrous statement was made that the red panda is “not related to any other animal”. That would be news to anyone with any background in biology, but this kind of simple, yet gross, error is still commonplace.

I’m sure they simply meant that it had no close living relatives (which itself is debatable, since, well it’s not really in the same bracket of uniqueness as say an aardvark or platypus). However, the implication is that the red panda stands unique with no ancestry at all. While admittedly the use of ‘living’ hints at fossil pandas, it is being marked out as distinct and separate. It’s a fundamental implication of evolution that all species are ultimately, at some level, related and to suggest otherwise is clearly a nonsense.

Now I doubt too many creationists even spotted this, let alone made use of it, but it certainly doesn’t help trying to reach the public and pass on good science. But it’s the kind of error that can easily confuse people who don’t know better. It certainly sounds plausible and authoritative, and that’s just the kind of thing that people tend to accept, or if question, assume that it’s probably correct. It’s also the kind of basic error that’s so wrong, you wonder quite who wrote it, or just how limited their knowledge of biology must be.

OK, it’s not the first or last error of it’s kind and not even the most egregious. But really, it’s still pretty dreadful.

4 Responses to “No living relatives?”

  1. 1 Heinrich Mallison 29/05/2012 at 9:31 am

    ah, language – why should we expect people who studied it in some way to use it as accurate as those darn nerds who tried to get out of as many humanities classes as possible to free up time for more biology, chemistry, geology, and so on?

    • 2 Marc Vincent 29/05/2012 at 10:35 am

      You don’t have to have a background in biology to know that that’s nonsense. Any bright kid would scream “but it’s a mammal!” at such a statement. There’s a chance that the journalist was just being dense, but an overzealous subeditor could’ve been to blame. Either way, it’s pretty shoddy work.

  2. 3 Robert A. Sloan 29/05/2012 at 9:32 pm

    Ouch. Yeah. There used to be a certain amount of trust that journalists would be professionals with a good grasp of the language and a willingness to check facts. Few publications actually lived up to that, though. Today it’s gone downhill in a big way.

  3. 4 Mark Robinson 31/05/2012 at 3:40 am

    Yep, they should have qualified that statement by mentioning that it is a distant relative of the house fly and the oak tree. 🙂

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