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Mar 19 2009

Can You Spot the Stupidity?

Remember, magazine articles are supposedly vetted by knowledgeable editors. Yet a magazine with a 100+ year history of science writing manages to fuck up so egregiously that the error practically leaps from the page. Even creationists should be able to figure this one out:

I’ve bitched and complained about the sorry state of popular science writing for years. Here’s another textbook example from, of all places, National Geographic in an article about a rather amazing 90 million year old dinosaur boneyard:

Judging from the animals present at the site and their ages, as determined by carbon dating, the herd was probably made up of one- to seven-year-olds, said David Varricchio, a Montana State University paleontologist.

Of course, there’s more than one bit of dumbfuckery in there, but it’s sort of like puppies: you notice the one that’s jumping up and down barking first. The ones it’s using as a trampoline come to your attention a bit later.

I need to apply as an editor. Apparently, you don’t even need a high school education.

For those of you who had a temporary brain seizure along the lines of what NatGeo’s editors must have suffered and can’t spot the stupid, you can pop over to Ed Brayton’s blog for the punchline. I’ll give you a hint. It’s got something to do with carbon.

I imagine David Varricchio’s either supremely pissed or very amused about now. I wish I had the transcripts of this interview. They probably look something like this:

Artist’s impression of Tasha Eichenseher’s listening skills.

With science writers like Tasha Eichenseher, who needs creationists?

(Be sure to visit that last link, too. Especially if you need to explain to an apologist why quoting the Bible to an atheist is about as effective as lecturing your dog.)

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Mike at The Big Stick

    Even if you could carbon date the dinosaurs, the margin of error on something that old is huge. There’s no way to determine age. I imagine the palentologist judged the ages based on his familiarity with the dinosaurs’ size, etc and the writer screwed it up in the article.

  2. 2
    Cujo359

    Frankly, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the author was implying that they’d determined the age of the dinosaurs based on carbon dating. As Mike mentions, it’s just not possible. So, I was confused there. It could have just been a badly constructed sentence, I suppose. Given that the author was clearly not familiar with how paleontologists determine the age of things, anything’s possible.

  3. 3
    Dana Hunter

    This may be the only time I ever say this, Mike, but I do believe you’re right. ;-)Cujo, if that sentence was a building, it would’ve been condemned. It’s the kind of construction that would’ve made the Big Bad Wolf scream with joy. Just breathing on it makes it fall apart.

  4. 4
    cousinavi

    This is why I restrict my personal application of radiometric dating to determining whether or not the milk is safe to drink.

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