Monday, December 22, 2014

Two Science Story Screw-ups in One Day.

We all make mistkaes. Two people made them today in science stories.

Two Science Story Screw-ups in One Day.

On the website Why Evolution is True, University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne criticizes the New York Times for committing the day’s second worst science writing goof. He rightly takes the author of a story in today’s Science Times to task for stating that “Okapis are the only known relative of the giraffe…”  

The writer must have meant the closest relative or the only close relative. According to evolution, we’re all relatives of the giraffe – even the reader who called me yesterday to inform me that while I may be related to a chimpanzee, he’s certainly not.  

The Times writer might have been sloppy, or he might have committed a write-o. Mistakes of that sort are an occupational hazard for science writers because science stories tend to be packed with facts compared to most other newspaper fare. The more facts per story, the more risk for factual error. If a story says nothing it’s hard to get anything wrong.

Coyne wrote that he might be “nitpicking” to point out the okapi/giraffe error in an otherwise interesting story. It’s clearly not as egregious as a caption that ran earlier today proclaiming that an asteroid is about to “pass through Earth, moon.”   If it's not corrected yet, you might still catch it here.

It’s not a bad idea to live every day as if it’s going to be your last, but the asteroid is not actually predicted to hit either us or the moon. 

There is, apparently, an asteroid that’s going to come closer to the Earth than the moon. The situation is interesting but not dangerous, according to various astronomers who track asteroids.  Read more here. It's a cool story, even if it's not the end of the world. We all make misktakes.

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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