Darwinius versus blog power: A look back

By Carl Zimmer | August 5, 2010 1:29 pm

Brian Switek, one of the junior members of the science-blogging-whippersnapper brigade, has written a detailed look back at the saga of Darwinius, the primate fossil that held Mayor Bloomberg captive at a press conference. It was just published in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach and is free for the taking. Switek has kind things to say about the impact of the Loom’s coverage of the subject, although I’m pretty sure this blog–and the many others that hopped on this crazy story–won’t stop this sort of fiasco from happening again. All we can do is help set the record straight.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Darwinius

Comments (7)

  1. Thanks, Carl! I am glad you liked the paper.

    As you said, I expect that we will see the likes of Darwinius again (be it in the form of an exceptionally-preserved dinosaur, a hominin fossil, or something else), but even if blogs can’t prevent such media missteps from happening, what you did here at the Loom illustrates how science blogs can play a pivotal role in both correcting misinformation and motivating scientists to take action. Given what I constantly hear about how science blogs have stagnated and are just havens of angry atheism not worth paying attention to, I thought the Darwinius saga was a powerful counterexample of how blogs can provide a platform for scientists, journalists, and science enthusiasts to get together and make a significant difference in both academic and popular settings. Keep up the great work!

  2. Jason R

    junior members of the science-blogging-whippersnapper brigade

    That comes across as patronizing.

  3. Jason: I’m sure Brian understands the admiring joke from a writer twice his age.

  4. Yep – the “science-blogging-whippersnapper brigade” line made me laugh, especially since Carl was kind enough to read a draft of Written in Stone and provide a great blurb for the book. He has been nothing but supportive of me as a writer, and since we science bloggers are often viewed as irascible whippersnappers, I only saw humor in that opening line.

  5. John Kwok

    @ Jason R –

    I endorse completely Carl and Brian’s comments about the science blogosphere. But, oddly enough, The New York Times weighed in on this in last Sunday’s magazine:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/magazine/01FOB-medium-t.html?_r=3

    While I agree with Brian and Carl’s assesment regarding the importance of Brian’s original blog post on Darwinius, I believe The New York Times writer has raised some valid points which should not be dismissed, especially since many of the blogs at Science Blogs are those who deserve such harsh crticism.

  6. gaddeswarup

    John Kwok
    I too had reactions similar to the ones in NY Times article and stopped looking at Science Blogs (except a select few for which I have separate links) after seeing statements like “You beat me to it”. Perhaps, the tendency to say something often to be in the limelight is taking its toll.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Good show!

    The New York Times weighed in on this

    Yes, and as the science blog Phrayngula noted Could Virginia Heffernan possibly be more wrong?:

    ” it isn’t just that she doesn’t like many of the scienceblogs (including yours truly), but that she gets the facts wrong.

    This was just bizarre.

    I was nonplussed by the high dudgeon of the so-called SciBlings. The bloggers evidently write often enough for ad-free academic journals that they still fume about adjacencies, advertorial and infomercials. Most writers for “legacy” media like newspapers, magazines and TV see brush fires over business-editorial crossings as an occupational hazard. They don’t quit anytime there’s an ad that looks so much like an article it has to be marked “this is an advertisement.”

    Errm, many of the early departures in the wake of Pepsico were science journalist/bloggers — and the impression I got was that they were more concerned about the ethics of advertorials than the pure science bloggers. And the problem with the Pepsico blog was that it was an ad that looked much like an article but wasn’t marked “this is an advertisement”.

    There is much in her rant that is clearly outrage that some of us (uh, yours truly again) have no sympathy for religious excuses, or indulge in “religion-baiting” as she calls it, but I’ll pass over that — atheist-haters are dime-a-dozen, and it’s not even particularly notable. But this final bit is absurd and discredits her completely: she lists some blogs she favors for her version of ‘science’.”

    And she goes on to list “Watts Up With That?”, a climate science denier!

    Yup. that Heffernan surely “weighed in” on the matter of science blogs.

    Where are the “valid points” you may well ask after that show of non comprehension and ant-science. So do I; please point them out.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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