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Author Topic:   Stupid evolution headline of the day
caffeine
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Posts: 1787
From: Prague, Czech Republic
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(2)
Message 1 of 5 (852579)
05-13-2019 3:27 PM


While I have no intention of actually updating this daily, I thought it would be useful to have a thread to capture examples of the disservice the press does to public understanding of evolutionary biology, through an apparently wilful determination on the part of new editors to understand as little as possible.

The particularly egregious example that prompted this:

Extinct flightless bird came 'back from the dead' because of a quirky evolutionary process

In case you're wondering what weird evolutionary process can resurrect an extinct species and are tempted to click, then don't bother, because obviously no such thing is possible.

The story being garbled is quite interesting, though. In brief, rails from Madagascar colonised the remote island of Aldabra. Here, safe from predators, they lost the ability to fly. As the climate changed and the sea waters rose, this flightless population was driven to extinction.

Fast forward several millennia, and the waters receded. A new population of rails arrived from Madagascar, and under the same selective pressures as their predecessors, evolved the same adaptations - forming the island's current population of flightless rails.

--------------------------------

I was thinking 'Creation/Evolution in the news' would be most appropriate.


  
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Message 2 of 5 (852581)
05-13-2019 11:35 PM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Stupid evolution headline of the day thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
caffeine
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Posts: 1787
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008
Member Rating: 3.2


(4)
Message 3 of 5 (868694)
12-17-2019 6:29 AM


Dog walker discovers 65 million-year-old fossil after pets sniff it out

What, you may ask, is stupid about that?

Well, the fossil in question is an ichthyosaur. If the headline was true, this would be a really exciting find, since current understanding is that ichthyosaurs went extinct much earlier. It would extend the ichthyosaur fossil record by some 25 million years.

Of course, it's not true. The fact that it's not true is evident even from within the very brief article. The fossil in question dates to the Jurassic period (201-145 million years ago).

How then, did the 'journalist' come to the conclusion that the fossil was 65 million years old? He seems to have got that from a quote attributed to the guy who first stumbled across this remarkably preserved fossil. He informed journalists how exciting the experience was, to find something that 'has been there for at least 65 million years.'

So, random member of the public knows, off the top of his head, that ichthyosaurs have been extinct at least as long as dinosaurs, and thus his fossil must be older. A journalist somehow confuses this terminus ante quem based on common everyday knowledge for an age estimate and ran with it. This despite the fact that the pitiful excuse for research that went into the article had already provided them with enough information to know the fossil is about 100 million years older had they thought to, say, look up the word 'Jurassic' in Wikipedia.

What's concerning, is not just that one journalist is shit at his job and that his editors are shit at theirs (original source was the Daily Mail, after all), but that of the 7 'news sources' that simply copied the Daily Mail's story, only one put enough thought into their rewrite to remove this basic, glaring error. The other 6 all blithely inform us that it's a 65-million year old Jurassic fossil.


Replies to this message:
 Message 4 by dwise1, posted 12-17-2019 6:06 PM caffeine has responded

  
dwise1
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Message 4 of 5 (868745)
12-17-2019 6:06 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by caffeine
12-17-2019 6:29 AM


At OLLI we just finished a series of lectures based on a video lecture series (¿Great Courses?), Improve Your Health Awareness. It established a "Skeptic's Toolkit" of six S'es of questions to ask about all claims (Source, Strength, Salesmanship, Salience, Sides of the Scale, Sensibility) and then applied them to examine and evaluate newspaper and journal reports of medical studies. In our classes, after watching the video lecture we would then discuss it.

One thing that came out was that there is often a disconnect between the article's headline and the contents of the article itself. In many cases, the article did a proper job of citing sources and weighing both sides, etc, but the headline reflected none of that and would a times even contradict what the article said. One conclusion we arrived at (I forget whether the lecturer, an MD, had alluded to it) was that the person writing the headline was different from the person who wrote the article. IOW, a journalist wrote the article applying whatever skills and scruples a journalist would apply in conjunction with reporting the facts -- IOW, what would be important to the journalist would be the story that he is telling. But then it was the editor who wrote the headline and what was important to the editor was basically to create clickbait, to come up with a headline that would grab the readers' attention and entice them to read the article. Far too many of us, myself included, will gather much of our news by scanning headlines and not by actually taking the time to read the articles.

What's concerning, is not just that one journalist is shit at his job and that his editors are shit at theirs (original source was the Daily Mail, after all), but that of the 7 'news sources' that simply copied the Daily Mail's story, only one put enough thought into their rewrite to remove this basic, glaring error. The other 6 all blithely inform us that it's a 65-million year old Jurassic fossil.

Unfortunately, that's business as usual. Many articles in local newspapers come in through the various news feeds as we can see in the bylines of AP (Associated Press) and UPI (United Press International). Local papers have limited resources and definite deadlines for going to press. One would wish to be using a reliable news feed that one could trust. Not being British, I would assume that the Daily Mail is not one such trustworthy news feed.

However, I can also see this as a model for how "creation science" and the flow of creationist claims works. I've often used the model of urban legends in which most creationist claims are spread in the same manner such that nobody has any idea who had originated those claims. Then one level higher we can see where a creationist wrote something which other creationists then referenced or just simply copied without attribution, etc until we have that rarity, that unicorn: a bibliographical history of a creationist claim. On my page about that creationist claim that refuses to die, the "leap second claim" (AKA "at the rate that the earth's rotation is slowing down, ..."), I was able to follow creationist bibliographies from Kent Hovind all the way back to perhaps Creationist Zero of this claim, Walter Brown circa 1979: see DWISE1'S CREATION / EVOLUTION PAGE: Earth's Rotation is Slowing -- A History of the Claim.

As I point out in a footnote there:

quote:
It is very common for creationists to use claims made by other creationists and plagiarize that other creationist's bibliography, thus lying to their public about their sources. Since they've never seen the sources they claim and so do not know what they say, this is one reason why the first best action to refute a creationist claim is to read the source they claim.
For example, Dr. Henry Morris claimed his moon dust claim was based on a "1976" NASA document, "written well into the space age". That "1976" date was the primary point of the claim, which was meant to refute the observation that they use outdated sources. When I pulled that NASA document off the library shelf, the front cover refuted Morris' claim because it contained papers presented in 1965 and was printed in 1967. Clearly Morris had never actually seen the document that he claimed as his source. Instead, Morris' actual source was Harold Slusher, a fellow creationist, who also claimed that NASA document as his source and who, I now suspect, had also never seen that NASA document, but rather plagiarized that reference from yet another creationist.

For the full story, see my page, MOON DUST.


Similarly, if you should ever look at creationist claims for the "shrinking sun" (actually, it's getting larger by about an inch per year), you will inevitably find many creationists telling you the same thing: three hundred (300) years of observations taken at the Boyle Observatory show that the sun is shrinking. Both things ("Boyle Observatory" and "300 years") will immediately tell you that that claim is based on bogus sources. The "shrinking sun" claim is based on an abstract presented by Eddy and Boornazian in 1979 based on solar observations taken over a period of about ninety years (from about the mid 1800's to the 1930's) at the Royal Observatory. The very moment you ever see "Boyle Observatory" or "300 years of observations" come up, you know for a fact that the other side is running on 100% BS.

Decades of bitter experience informs us that creationists operate on recycling bogus claims uncritically. And that is what you have observed happening with this ichthyosaur fossil article.

 

 
PS

Submitting this as an idea of "how it should be done." In my junior high school journalism class we were taught that the very first paragraph of an article must answer the questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why (even more than half a century later, I can still whip those out at a moment's notice). Thus the first paragraph of an article would support the headline (and possibly act as a guideline for the editor in writing that headline) by giving the reader a kind of summary of the rest of the article. Similarly, in English composition classes we were taught that the first paragraph in an essay must include our thesis, a statement of what the essay is about, coupled with a conclusion in the last paragraph that demonstrates the completion of that thesis.

A professional journalist should know how to do his job, but then there's the editor. In the preface of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel (¿Carson Napier of Venus?), the protagonist had submitted his story directly to Burroughs via a form of ghost typing. Burroughs swore up and down that he was just relaying the story on as it was given to him, but, he then warned, first it must pass through the hands of the editors and editors would even change the very Word of God.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 3 by caffeine, posted 12-17-2019 6:29 AM caffeine has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 5 by caffeine, posted 12-17-2019 6:28 PM dwise1 has not yet responded

  
caffeine
Member
Posts: 1787
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008
Member Rating: 3.2


Message 5 of 5 (868749)
12-17-2019 6:28 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by dwise1
12-17-2019 6:06 PM


One thing that came out was that there is often a disconnect between the article's headline and the contents of the article itself. In many cases, the article did a proper job of citing sources and weighing both sides, etc, but the headline reflected none of that and would a times even contradict what the article said. One conclusion we arrived at (I forget whether the lecturer, an MD, had alluded to it) was that the person writing the headline was different from the person who wrote the article. IOW, a journalist wrote the article applying whatever skills and scruples a journalist would apply in conjunction with reporting the facts -- IOW, what would be important to the journalist would be the story that he is telling. But then it was the editor who wrote the headline and what was important to the editor was basically to create clickbait, to come up with a headline that would grab the readers' attention and entice them to read the article. Far too many of us, myself included, will gather much of our news by scanning headlines and not by actually taking the time to read the articles.

While this is, of course, true, it does not absolve the journalist in this case. The '65 million year' claim was taken from the text of the article. Interestingly, the subeditor who wrote the headline to the original piece is the only one of the 7 who did not include this in the headline. The original Mail headline was 'Dog walker stumbles upon five-and-a-half foot long Jurassic fossil on Somerset beach', which is much more accurate. All the copies included the journalist's dating error in the header, but I don't know if that's because this detail somehow appealed to them or because most were secondary copies of the original copy.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 4 by dwise1, posted 12-17-2019 6:06 PM dwise1 has not yet responded

  
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