Media FAIL (or, Superstorm followup)

By Phil Plait | February 9, 2011 1:59 pm

So this morning I posted a rather lengthy and hopefully thorough debunking of an execrable doomsday story trying to tie the Earth’s magnetic field with big "superstorms" pummeling the US and Australia. I was pretty clear where I stand on this; I loathe it when people ramp up the pseudoscience to try to scare other people about an imagined doomsday scenario. You could probably point your finger anywhere in my post and find some stern words about how the Earth’s magnetic field is unrelated to these storms.

So why oh why did the Press-Enterprise website pull this quote from my article? Here’s a screen grab:

Whaaaaa? That quote says:

The earth’s climate has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field, according to a Danish study published Monday that could challenge the notion that human emissions are responsible for global warming. Our results show a strong correlation between the strength of the earth’s magnetic field and the amount of precipitation in the tropics.

In fact, that quote was not from me. It was from a pseudoscience website I was quoting and debunking! So Press-Enterprise managed to find, extract, and post just about the only thing in my entire article that is the opposite of the entire point of what I wrote.

So in a blog post about media fail, I get a followup media fail.

It may be a media fail, but at least it’s an irony win.

MORE ABOUT: media, Press-Enterprise

Comments (46)

  1. Bill

    Hey…at least they have a link that sez “View quote in context”…which just shows the same quote again, but adds a tiny little link at the bottom to your full post that they pulled the quote from.

    So all anyone has to do to set the record straight is to:

    - bother to click the ‘View quote in context’ link, then…
    - recognize that the resulting screen adds that tiny little link at the bottom, then…
    - bother to click THAT link

    Surely EVERY ONE of their readers will do that, right? Right???

    sigh…

  2. Orlando

    Thinking is so hard for some people…

  3. Paul Clapham

    What, you other posters think they selected that part because they were stupid? I don’t think that’s the case. Notice how the phrase “challenge the notion that human emissions are responsible for global warming” is front and centre? I think that’s the whole point of the selection. Accuracy be damned.

  4. Number 6

    How frustrating!

  5. Phil

    It may not be a purposeful fail. A lot of the software behind these sites just looks for material that appears between quote marks and pulls it out.

  6. Yes, selected for maximum sensationalism.

  7. Bob from Easton

    Irony is dead….

  8. Joe

    *loses all faith in humanity*

  9. Gonçalo Aguiar

    Well I just let out a big laugh. How stupid can mass media be. But even worse: how stupid can people be to believe what mass media says.

  10. Nemo

    At least they got the headline right.

  11. Chief

    Looks like you will have to get a patent on an exclusive font for the display of others text. Barring that, increase your own font to 72 point to try to get the eggheads to see what they are missing, ie point of the article (for that matter the full article itself).

    Does this mean that Fox is holding training seminars on how to properly present news……

  12. Dave

    Nothing new for the media. It’s all about eyeballs to advertisers and selling copy. Accuracy? Are you kidding? First consider the audience, then figure out what to write to pay the bills, then blow off accuracy and review. Watching what the media does with information technology is sad, pathetic.

  13. Jon F

    It’s like an onion of FAIL. So many layers!

  14. Kristjan
  15. Terry

    Lazy journalists or sensationalist journalists? Both?

  16. Fritriac

    8. Bob
    Irony is dead….

    …long live sarcasm!

  17. Kirk

    What did they say when you contacted them?

    This is a pretty boneheaded mistake, and if one of my staffers did such a thing, I’d have a rather strongly worded conversation with them. It’s fine to rail at the media and call them out publicly when something like this happens, but there are plenty of us out there trying to fight the good fight, waging war against stupidity when we see it pop up in newsrooms.

    But we do need help. When something crops up on a stray page on a website, someone in charge sometimes needs to be told that the problem exists before it can be corrected. And then, the person who did it can be corrected from ever doing such a thing again.

  18. Terry

    I bet the next round of sensational journalism will be the Yellowstone Volcano:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41494177/ns/technology_and_science-science/

  19. My first thought would be that they picked a random <blockquote> chunk from your post. But, I note that their “quote” of your post “mysteriously” ends right at the point where is says:

    one of the two Danish geophysicists behind the study, Mads Faurschou Knudsen of the geology department at Aarhus University in western Denmark, told the Videnskab journal.

    which makes it appear that you said it, rather than you quoting an article which quoted some Danish geophysicist.

    And their “view quote in context” simply changes the font they use to display it (and adds that little “full article” link), without showing anything about its context. It doesn’t even finish the <blockquote> from your post. Brings out the skeptic in me.

  20. FYI – the pe.com website’s “contact us” link actually takes you to the “about us” page. The closest thing I see to a contact for such things would be “feedback-at-pe-dot-com”, which is listed as “newsletter issues”.

  21. Fail begets fail, it seems.

  22. CB

    Fail is a matter of perspective.

    Did they fail to correctly present news information? Yep.

    Did they fail to get more pageviews for themselves by pissing you off and getting you to post a link? Nope!

    From their perspective, this was pure win. I’m ashamed I even helped (because I had to see what that “view quote in context” thing did…).

  23. Mark

    Never mind the pole shift is comet Elenin going to smash into the planet on 9/11 this year like i’m reading on the conspiracy sites?

  24. Missy

    I am embarrassed that this is the paper where I grew up. They do have a link to send an email for corrections on the about us page.

  25. Wil

    You should demand a correction and an apology, Phil. They’re attaching your name and reputation to something that not only did you not say, but which runs entirely counter to your whole point. They’re deliberately misleading their readers and using your credibility to do it.

  26. Jojo

    Computers are still weak on context and irony…

  27. Messier Tidy Upper

    @24. Mark : Never mind the pole shift is comet Elenin going to smash into the planet on 9/11 this year like i’m reading on the conspiracy sites?

    No. ;-)

    Protip : If they’re saying it on a conspiracy website it probably ain’t true.

  28. Messier Tidy Upper

    I wonder how they’ll treat this follow up article here? Oh wait :

    BREAKING NEWS JUST IN!!!

    *****

    BAD ASTRONOMER CONFIRMS “DOOMSDAY STORY!”

    By Ima Meedjapoe, The Daily Fever, posted 13.13 pm.

    Recent comments from Dr Phil Plait in an article posted on his blog today have confirmed the world’s worst fears. The popular astronomer wrote on his much respected blog today :

    So this morning I posted a rather lengthy and hopefully thorough … doomsday story … I was pretty clear where I stand on this; … Here’s a screen grab: … That quote says:

    The earth’s climate has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field, according to a Danish study published Monday that could challenge the notion that human emissions are responsible for global warming. Our results show a strong correlation between the strength of the earth’s magnetic field and the amount of precipitation in the tropics.

    … Press-Enterprise managed to find, extract, and post just about the only thing in my entire article that is the … entire point of what I wrote.

    ;-)

    ****

    Sorry, BA, Okay, clearly I’m joking there.(Except about the “popular” and “much-respected” parts, natch!)

    Yet it does go to show how absolutely anything can be taken out of context and edited to seem the opposite of what it is. Its all too easy & all too frequently done. :-(

    Don’t believe the media on anything folks.

    Always, *always* check the facts for yourselves & consider the likelihood that the media has got it wrong yet again.

    Do people still need to told this? Are there people who are really silly enough to honestly beleive what they hear on the news these days? That seems so – which is unbelievable enough in itself given what keeps happening with media stories. Sigh. :-(

    As Shakespeare said & Isaac Asimov quoted :

    “Against stupidity (& the media) the Gods themselves contend in Vain.”

    ————–

    “Nostradamus correctly predicted that in this age many people would be so guillible they’d fall for anything!”
    - Letterman Late Show “top ten” Feb 2011. (If memory serves?)

    “We apologise for the error in the last edition in which we stated that Mr Fred Nicolme is a defective of the police force. This was a typographical error. We meant, of course, that Mr Nicolme is a detective in the police farce.”
    - ‘Derby Community newspaper’ (Other info. unavailable.)

    “Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity and I’m not sure about the universe.”
    - Albert Einstein

  29. If you would like to contact the author of the debunked article, you can do so at @TerrenceAym on Twitter. While there, look at his other stories and you will see that he clearly believes that sensationalism whether accurate or not is the correct choice in journalism.

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    A much funnier & also 100% spot on take on the media treatment of science can be seen here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/10/26/felicia-day-collides-galaxies/

    Via this blog & Felicia Day. One of my all time fave posts here. :-)

  31. katwagner

    19. Terry. Lordy mercy, haven’t you ever been to Yellowstone? The park is one huge caldera and why do you think there’s so many hot pools, geysers and mud pots? Because lava is so close to the surface and heats it all up. Geologists and other scientist types are keeping an eye on the lake because sometimes the earthquakes there intensify. The land is rising on one side of the lake.

    The hot spot that’s under Yellowstone used to be under the Snake River Plain – which is southern Idaho, where hot springs remain in Soda Springs, Hagerman and some other places I’m not telling. Just saying check your facts first.

  32. Martin

    #29 – “Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain…” – Schiller, actually, not Shakespeare.

    Like you said – don’t believe anything the media says…and always, always, check the facts.

  33. Christopher R. Vesely, PharmD

    Evidently, the concept of checking sources by journalists is dead. Let us have a moment of silence for the passing of this important idea.

  34. I never had an journalism training at all and even I know better than that!

  35. Messier Tidy Upper

    @33. Martin : D’oh! You may well be right, I’ll have to check on that.

    Isaac Asimov certainly used & quoted it in his novel ‘The God Themsleves’ which is one of my favourites.

    Oh well. Thanks for that correction. :-)

    Nobodies perfect least of all me.

  36. Casey

    Today on Bad Astronomy:

    “So this morning I posted a rather lengthy and hopefully thorough [...] story trying to tie the Earth’s magnetic field with big “superstorms” pummeling the US and Australia. I was pretty clear where I stand on this; [...] doomsday scenario.”

  37. CB

    @ MTU:

    Protip : If they’re saying it on a conspiracy website it probably ain’t true.

    It’s true; I read it on a conspiracy site!

    Waitaminute… *hed asplodes*

  38. Gary Ansorge

    I’m currently re-watching BattleStar Galactica(with Edward James Olmos) and railing at how stupid, narrow minded, prejudiced, selfish and self centered, etc. are their human protagonists. Then I came here and saw,,,it’s all true. Bummer.

    I think we invented civilization too soon. We’re undermining natures method of culling our idiots. Perhaps another 100,000 years would have fine tuned the gene pool enough for us to have a REAL civilization.

    Oh well, we ARE on the verge of engaging with a new environment that could go a long way toward separating fools from their bodies, as in “Don’t open that air lo,,,oh, never mind,,,”

    Gary 7

  39. “It may be a media … win.”

  40. I’d demand a retraction and correction for sullying your name.

  41. A suggestion: when quoting, especially quoting something you would never ever want attributed to you, perhaps you can present the quote as an image file, a picture of the text. That way it would not register on a Google search – which may or may not be something you would want.

    Snopes and other sites do something to make their text unselectable and uncopyable. It could still be copied by hand, but that would require effort.

  42. Oh, and I did sort-of warn you about this a while back:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/01/31/repeat-after-me-apophis-is-not-a-danger/#comment-355191
    I really want to post this to Facebook as “Phil Plait says, ‘Apophis is…a danger!’”

    I really, really wish your site had some sort of indexing system to find past posts.

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