Yeah, About That Giant Kraken at GSA…


Oh, I’ll grant you, it’s sexy. It’s fun to play with the possibility. And letting this poor gentleman have his say at the GSA shindig was nice, even though his evidence is, shall we say, sketchy, but putting out a press release would seem a bridge too far.

Every geologist I’ve spoken to has met the news with amusement and horror, or amusement and anger, or sometimes horror and anger, and none of them seem to think this claim was ready for prime time. Chris Rowan put together a nice piece showing the geos’ reactions on Twitter and explaining the situation, which is good, because I don’t want people to get the impression from that press release that all geologists are wild-eyed fools ready to swallow extraordinary claims without demanding the evidence to match. They’re scientists. Most of them are damned good scientists (never mind the Flood “geologists” who hang around these professional meetings like ticks on a dog). And their skeptic-sense is tingling like mad.

Speaking of mad, don’t get Brian Switek started on the resulting media dumbfucker – whoops, too late.

We have a serious problem with science journalism. A big one, in fact, and today that problem takes the form of a giant, prehistoric squid with tentacles so formidable that it has sucked the brains right out of staff writer’s heads.

[snip]

But what really kills me about this story is the fact that no reporter went to get a second opinion. Each and every story appears to be based directly off the press release and uses quotes directly from that document. No outside expert was contacted for another opinion in any of the stories – standard practice in science journalism – and, frankly, all the stories reek of churnalism. What does it say about the general quality of science reporting when major news sources are content to repackage sensationalist, evidence-lite speculations and print them without further thought or comment?

I think he has become upset. And he’s far from the only one.

GSA, you has gots esplainin’ to do.

And you so-called science writers who can’t be bothered to do more than reword a patently-unbelievable press release? You deserve such a smack.

Comments

  1. says

    Science journalism has been terrible for a long time. I’ve been saying for years that Carl Zimmer is the model of how to be a science journalist. Unfortunately, he can’t work for every outlet at the same time.

    • Dana Hunter says

      Ed Yong. Maryn McKenna. Brian Switek. Hannah Waters. Many more, thankfully. But they’re swamped by a sea of suck.

  2. says

    Did GSA do the press release, or did the author (and/or his institution)? Because in a free country you can’t stop joe random from writing a press release and circulating it to whomever is silly enough to listen. Virtually all the conference press releases that I know of are done by the media dept. of the author’s institution. And scientists can’t always control the media play once it gets going (e.g. Arsenic life).

    • says

      A press release was posted on the GSA website. It’s not entirely clear who wrote it, and Mark McMenamin, the lead author on this, has a fairly long history of aggressively self-promoting somewhat idiosyncratic geological theories. This is, as you say, his right; what vexes me is that the GSA does seems to have chosen to promote something that was obviously going to cause the press to hyperventilate and scientists to grind their teeth. This poor judgement does not make me happy.

      • Dana Hunter says

        Thanks for doing the Storify on this – it’s a potent piece of evidence that geologists in general have their heads screwed on straight!

  3. says

    Never mind. I stand corrected. It looks like an official GSA mirror of the guy’s press release WTF GSA?

    Also: This guy is department chair? Good Lord.

    • Dana Hunter says

      I know, right? Argh. I feel like emailing the GSA contact with two words – okay, three: Rly? RLY? Srsly?

      I’m afraid non-geo folk are going to get a rather warped view of what goes on at GSA meetings now.