Category: Not Exactly Rocket Satire

Exposed: the severe ethical breaches of superhero journalists

By Ed Yong | June 27, 2012 11:35 am

Journalists have an almost superhuman ability to hold forth on the ethics of our own profession. And yet, despite endless talk about “self-plagiarism” or some such, we have been wilfully blind to the more grievous ethical breaches carried out by revered reporters who cover the so-called “superhero beat”. Perhaps we are unwilling to admit that those who write about truth and justice are the least likely to champion transparency and proper attribution. Here are some examples of the most severe offenders:

Clark Kent

When it comes to journalistic ethics, Mr Kent is not so super after all. He regularly reports about himself without disclosing as much. He deceives his employers by moonlighting during working hours as a doer of derring, leaping his contractual obligations in a single bound. Worst of all, he uses the privileged inside information that he gleans as a journalist for his own personal gain during his extracurricular activities. Here is a man who is faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a locomotive, and about as transparent as either of those.

Lois Lane

Seemingly strong-willed and single-minded, Ms Lane superficially seems like a role model for aspiring journalists. But closer investigation reveals a troubling tendency to sit on stories that clearly belong in the public domain, especially when it benefits her friends. She has won a Pulitzer for reporting about a source who she has long been romantically involved with – a fact that remains undisclosed. Sympathetic readers will see a journalist torn between personal emotions and professional duty. Others will see a woman who is not just hiding the location of weapons of mass destruction from her readers, but is actually sleeping with one.

Jimmy Olsen

Or to give him his official epithet: “Superman’s pal: Jimmy Olsen.” His sin is in plain view: this hungry, young, and undoubtedly talented photographer has gone native. He has sacrificed his journalistic independence by revering one of his sources as some sort of lofty superhuman god, becoming little more than a snap-happy PR agent to the Man of Self-Promotion. Perhaps “Superman’s Pal” might better serve the public interest as “Superman’s Critical Friend”.

Peter Parker

Imbued with the proportional strength, speed and ethical judgment of a spider, Parker has made a career of taking photos of himself in a mask and selling them to his employers. Some might argue that Parker is merely a symptom of the poor wages awarded to photojournalists, and the intense pressures they face (“I want pictures! Pictures of Spider-Man,” his editor regularly exhorts). Amid such a cutthroat environment, this promising talent has clearly learned that with great power comes great ethical lapses.

Spider Jerusalem

Finally, a journalist whose ethics are beyond reproach. Hound of truth. Scourge of authority. Ignoring the guns and wanton drug use, here is a reporter we can all look up to.

(Inspired by this Daily Mash piece and the fact that discussions of journo ethics can get a touch po-faced. Contributions from Tim Carmody and Dean Burnett via Twitter.)

Full genome of Otzi the Iceman is published

By Ed Yong | February 28, 2012 11:00 am

After years of anticipation, the full genome of Otzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Alps, has finally been published. The genome reveals that Otzi carried a large genomic region known as the ‘Y chromosome’, which significantly increases the risk of traipsing about in the a*se-end of nowhere with very little protective clothing, and getting shot by arrows.

Image © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

[For a more serious take, see here. And as Carl Zimmer notes, I’m suffering from YAGS]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Not Exactly Rocket Satire

Incredible fossil found in meteorite

By Ed Yong | April 1, 2011 5:28 am

Oh that’s where he is…

This astonishing find is proof, if more proof were needed, that stripey shirts and glasses did not evolve on Earth. They came from space.

(Happy April 1st. I was originally going to do a much longer version of this, but as the month drew on, it became quickly clear that nothing I would write could rival the reality.)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Not Exactly Rocket Satire

Scientists create first ever synthetic bacterium that looks like Craig Venter

By Ed Yong | May 20, 2010 3:33 pm

Venter_mycoplasma

In a move that’s been hailed as one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the century, a group of scientists have created a synthetic bacterium that looks like Craig Venter.

The team artificially synthesised a genome in the lab and inserted it into an empty bacterial cell, which promptly remodelled its outer wall into a picture of Venter’s face.

“Before today, there had only been one genome in the world with the right sequence of nucleotides to encode my face,” said Venter, speaking from his secret volcano lair. “Now there are two, and I can’t help but think that things have greatly improved.

“Of course, the ultimate goal is to build a creature with 100 heads, not unlike the mythical hydra, but where every head is my head.

“Or, er, something about biofuels,” he added.

Other scientists warned that the ethical debates sparked by the discovery had only begun. Andrew McQueen from New York University said, “Imagine going for a walk in the park only to find that every bird in the trees has Craig’s face on it and they’re all looking at you.”

“They’re not smiling either,” he added before curling up on the floor and crying quietly.

While the research was widely reported as a major breakthrough, other newspapers were more critical, with one spokesperson saying, “He’s basically just taken information from an existing source, copied it and reprinted it in another place. That’s our f**king job!”

Meanwhile, it transpired that Venter has coded a line from a James Joyce novel into his synthetic genome, a move that drew condemnation from America’s creationist groups, who didn’t understand what a novel was.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Not Exactly Rocket Satire
MORE ABOUT: genome, synthetic, venter

Scientists discover gene and part of brain that make people gullible

By Ed Yong | April 1, 2010 7:10 am

Supra_credulusScientists have discovered the part of the brain that makes people gullible, it was claimed today. The findings could have massive implications for treating the growing number of people who fall wide-eyed for sensationalist media reports.

Professor Cristoph Morris, who led the research, said that a part of the brain called the inferior supra-credulus was unsually active in people with a tendency to believe horoscopes and papers invoking fancy brain scans. “This correlation is so strong that we can speculate about a causal link with a high degree of certainty,” he concluded.

Morris made his discovery using a brain-scanning technique called fluorescence magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which can read people’s thoughts with an incredible degree of accuracy, just slightly better than chance. His results are published in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychoimagery.

When Morris studied individual neurons within the supra-credulus, he found that gullibility was associated with the activity of a single gene called WTF1. The less active it was, the more feckless people were. This fits with existing evidence, for faulty versions of WTF1 have already been linked to a higher risk of being Rickrolled and buying the Daily Mail. “You could say that gullibility is in your genes,” said Morris. “You’d be shatteringly wrong, but that wouldn’t matter to gullible people.”

The researchers described their discovery as “the holy grail of behavioural neurogenetics”. Morris explains, “It’s a real breakthrough. It means that we can fire a magic bullet right into the heart of sensationalist media stories. We can develop vaccines that stop people from buying things on the grounds that the packaging has a smiling farmer on it or that they’re endorsed by the cretin who may or may not have lost Big Brother.”

Morris has been collaborating with nutritionist Patricia Marber to develop just such as vaccine. Together, the duo found that they could completely stop the activity of neurons in the supra-credulus by smashing them with a giant hammer.

“We think that the iron in the hammers is somehow suppressing WTF1 in a way that stops nerve signalling in the supra-credulus,” explains Marber. “We might need some clinical trials to check that the hammers are effective and to work out any side effects, but you go right ahead and write your headline.  Say something about Thor. Everyone likes Thor.”

“It’s not like the people who need the treatment will question it,” she added.

The fMRI scans also revealed that the supra-credulus was more active in the brains of women than in men.  Evolutionary psychologist Stephan Koogin, who also worked on the study, thinks he knows why.

“Picture, if you will, a group of Pleistocene-Americans. The men are out hunting for mammoths and bears, and they can’t afford to be fooled by fake tracks. The women stayed at home picking berries or something, and they needed to tell each other far-fetched stories to keep each other entertained, because berries are really boring. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Assuming all of this is true, and who’s to say it isn’t, I’m right.”
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Not Exactly Rocket Satire

Physicists disappointed at discovery of dark mattress

By Ed Yong | December 18, 2009 10:58 am

Exciting hints that scientists had finally discovered the existence of dark matter - the mysterious substance thought to make up a quarter of the Universe – were dashed last night as researchers realised their equipment had detected a dark mattress instead.

The premature announcement was blamed on faulty software. “Apparently, someone left an errant ampersand in our code,” said an embarrassed physicist, before weeping slowly into a whisky glass.

The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) laboratory, buried half a mile underground in an iron mine, announced last night that they had found traces of the weakly-interacting massive particles (or WIMPs) that are thought to make up dark matter.

Instead, they had actually detected a dirty poorly-sprung mattress, left in the cave by a weakly-inebriated, noxious old-timer (or WINO).

“We thought there was around a one in four chance that we had found nothing,” said one of the lead researchers, “but we now know there is a one in one chance that we have found the former sleeping materials of a sheltering vagrant.”

Laboratory technicians were saddened that the most important advance in recent physics had not come to pass, but noted that the dark mattress was really rather comfortable, if not a bit wet.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Not Exactly Rocket Satire
MORE ABOUT: dark matter, mattress

Darwinius changes everything

By Ed Yong | May 20, 2009 8:00 am

Darwinius-on-toastYesterday, the entire world changed noticeably as the media, accompanied by some scientists, unveiled a stunning fossilised primate. The creature has been named Darwinius masillae, but also goes by Ida, the Link, the Chosen One and She Who Will Save Us All.

The new fossil is remarkably complete and well-preserved, although the media glossed over these facts in favour of the creature’s ability to cure swine flu. Ida was hailed as a “missing link” in human evolution, beautifully illustrating our transition from leaping about in trees to rampant mass-media sensationalism.

Speaking to a group of international reporters, the scientists who discovered Ida described the animal in painstaking detail to the sound of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries played from 50-foot speakers. As a barrage of fireworks launched in the background, one journalist said, “The release of 30 doves just at the right moment really helped to drive home the unique paleoecological perspective that Ida provides.”

Evolutionary biologist Stephen Wilton added, “Ida has been waiting for us for 47 million years so I’m grateful that the publication of the paper wasn’t rushed and that the whole thing didn’t turn into some sort of media circus. You never know when that might happen.”

Businesses around the world are also hoping that demand for Ida merchandise will stimulate an ailing global economy out of recession. Retailer Bud Hornblower said, “We’re seeing a massive spike in demand for fainting couches as ordinary lay people fail to cope with the total change brought on by this small, weird-lookin’ monkey thing.”

Scientists and people who actually know a thing or two about evolution warned of hype and exaggeration but were forced to abandon their reason and critical analysis in the face of incontrovertible speculation that Ida could convert base metals into gold and has already led to the invention of flying cars.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Professor Adam Templesmith from the University of Slough. “When I read the press release about a fossil that would change everything, I naturally assumed that it was some sort of poorly conceived and overly exaggerated PR claim. But now that the total reversal of climate change is underway, I’m forced to reconsider my prejudices.”

Already the star of her own website, book and documentary, little Ida will soon have her own action figure, underwear range, three-album deal and seat in Parliament. “Ida’s brand is a hot as Obama’s right now,” said Don Chumleigh, market analyst. “I’m just sad that her fossilised hand isn’t doing that fist-bump thing.”

Recreated through CGI, Ida is also set to play a pivotal role in the climax of the new Harry Potter film, where she will be voiced by Keira Knightley and wield a powerful ‘Changus Totalus’ spell. Special effects will also be used to insert Ida into previous seasons of the Wire and past G8 summits.

Around the world, signs that everything has changed have already begun to appear. Jeanette Gould from Stoke-on-Trent was shocked to discover the outline of Darwinius emblazoned on her morning toast. “Well, it ruined breakfast,” said Ms Gould, failing to appreciate the detail of the creature’s stomach contents outlined in bread crumbs. “I couldn’t very well spread raspberry jam over the direct ancestor of my children, could I?”

For actual details about Ida, look no further than excellent takes from Brian Switek, PZ and Carl Zimmer. Brian in particular has serious reservations about the paper itself. I’m too weary to tackle it.

Swine flu gains sentience, begins social networking

By Ed Yong | May 7, 2009 5:20 am

Everything about this is brilliant:

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Not Exactly Rocket Satire

Ad Placement FAIL

By Ed Yong | September 25, 2008 5:59 pm

Heh. Roffle.

Adplacementfail.jpg

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Not Exactly Rocket Satire
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