Scientifical journalism done good

Over on an MSN site, there is an image of Ötzi the iceman with a very strange caption.

The iceman is believed to be the ‘missing link’ between apes and humans that roamed the mountains, encased in ice.

How many ways is that wrong? The “missing link” remark, applied to a human being let alone anything else, is bad enough…but I’m having a hard time picturing the ecology of beings encased in ice and roaming mountains.

Attempts to get MSN to correct the ignorance are going unheeded, apparently.


  1. plum grenville says

    Otzi is what, 5,000 years old? The only way he could be the missing link between apes and humans is if the earth is only 6,000 years old. Young Earth Evolutionism anyone?

  2. kamaka says

    Otzi has cool tattoos.

    And, a very nice collection of tools. 5000 years-ago, and his tool-kit is not unlike mine when I go out hiking the untrodden lands.

    Damn, it would be so cool to be a mummy…well, I wouldn’t know…

  3. Waydude says

    Young Earth Evolutionism! LMAO! I would love to see a smackdown between the YECs and the YEEs

  4. Feynmaniac says


    Using this reasoning the people who made the Great Pyramids were ‘missing links’.

  5. seokso says

    How long before anti-evolution nuts go off about how there is a gap in fossils between Ötzi and humans?

  6. says

    I believe the logic of the quote is supposed to be similar to:

    “The number 32 is believed to be (the number 2), (multiplied by 16).”


    “The iceman is believed to be (the ‘missing link’ between apes and humans that roamed the mountains), (encased in ice).”

    The first doesn’t imply that 32 is believed to be 2, and 32 is believed to be multiplied by 16; neither does the second imply that the iceman is believed to roam the mountains and believed to be encased in ice.

  7. H.H. says

    The iceman is believed to be the ‘missing link’ between apes and humans…

    Believed by whom?

  8. seokso says


    Actually, that’s exactly what the grammar implies. It’s called a misplace modifier. The phrase “encased in ice” belongs either immediately before or after the noun it modifies, allowing only for additional modifiers in between.

    Your example is correct (except for the extraneous comma) because “multiplied by 16” modifies the “2” immediately before. “Encased in ice”, however, isn’t supposed to modify mountains.

  9. Rorschach says

    Since when is there ONE missing link between apes and humans anyway?
    And some dude wandering over a mountain is “roaming”?
    As PZ said,wrong on so many levels.

  10. mcmillan says

    Ugg, #12 is right, this seems to be part of a gallery with mostly imaginary animals, though I got far enough to also seem the tasmanian tiger shown (though that’s “thought by Cryptozoologists to still exist.”

    Since I don’t feel like registering on, anybody mind giving a little more detail of what’s going on with msn not wanting to correct things?

  11. Fl bluefish says


    Re: MSN Iceman idiocy.
    by RoaringAtheist » Mon Apr 20, 2009 4:21 am

    Where can you report the mistakes in such an article? Strength in numbers, I suppose – I would like to send a message about it too (possibly you could post it here so we don’t go and contradict each other. :D)

    by Spearthrower » Mon Apr 20, 2009 4:49 am

    RoaringAtheist wrote:
    Where can you report the mistakes in such an article? Strength in numbers, I suppose – I would like to send a message about it too (possibly you could post it here so we don’t go and contradict each other. :D)

    I didn’t keep a copy of my email to them, but it basically pointed out that:

    There is no “missing link between apes and humans” as humans ARE apes.
    No one “believes” that this is a missing link, this is a complete misrepresentation of the facts.
    This is in NO WAY connected to the fake “minnesota iceman” as they have implied.
    Ötzi is a modern homo sapiens sapiens, not an ancestral species.

    I sent my email to the editor of as that seems to be the subsection that it is published under.

    I also spent a paragraph explaining why I considered that they had a responsibility to publish scientifically accurate explanations of genuine phenomena, and shoving this into their speculative cryptozoology pap was entirely misleading and factually wrong. I then asked them to publish a correction to show accountability for their mistake.

  12. MadScientist says

    I think I’ll die of asphyxiation from laughing. A 5,300 year old mummy which is obviously a modern human is a “missing link”? WTF? That’s creationist crap! (Because as everyone knows the earth is only 6000 years old, so that mummy had to run away from dinosaurs to survive.)

    I’m also imagining these hominids frozen in giant ice cubes while sliding across the terrain and frightening tourists. It reminds me of the abominable snowman in one of those ancient cartoons narrated by Burl Ives.

    I guess the 7 or 8 year old editor of the article will not be swayed by PZ and the article will remain frozen.

  13. Goldenmane says

    Oh, yeah, and if anyone else would like to contribute to the effort to get this fixed, please feel free to email the address provided @ #16.

  14. Thommo says

    Their suggestion that the Tassie Tiger still exists may well be true. I don’t know for certain. I would be shocked and also delighted to to hear that a living population is still surviving. If that were to be true, I am pretty sure that they would be found in the island state of Tasmania, which, as it’s name suggests, is where they were actually from.
    It is unlikely in the extreme, that should they still exist, they would be living in or about Melbourne, on the mainland. I doubt there is any record of a tiger population anywhere on the mainland, at any time in recorded history.. Maybe before the flood but certainly not since.

  15. nick nick bobick says

    Apparently the editor of that MSN UK Environment site is as stupid as the commenters on its forum: and the stupidity there has reached critical mass. I swear have have only seen that level of idiocy from Youtube commenters. Read some of the threads only if you want to lose brain mass or despair for humanity.

  16. Happy Tentacles says

    Of course, if the Earth is only 6,000 years old, he probably encased himself in ice to fend off the Velociraptors.

  17. Kitty says

    Can I suggest you all go to the article and rate it? Perhaps if enough people give it one star it might register with the author that his writing stinks.
    Though I doubt it, when did facts ever get in the way of a good story? :(

  18. Joe says

    The “Do you believe in monsters?” link be below the caption is really quite telling.

    I have grown to hate MSN. Every time I see an interesting article title, I feel compelled to check it out. And every time I come away disappointed from a poorly written or researched article that is only tangentially related to the catchy headline.

  19. Ec5618 says

    People can rate these articles. How is it possible that the great Pharyngula hordes have not descended on this ‘poll’?

    With 47 votes so far, the article in question has three stars.

  20. SEF says

    As many fish, embryos/sperm and donor organs could tell you, being encased in ice is the only way to travel.

  21. DaveH says

    @Thommo #21: I think the hypothesis is that some tigers were introduced onto the mainland in the 19th/early 20th century and a remnant population might survive. Kind of like the Alien Big Cats in the UK. Maybe…

    As for the Iceman, check out this

  22. Twisted_Colour says

    but I’m having a hard time picturing the ecology of beings encased in ice and roaming mountains

    I tried that once. I can’t remember what happened towards the end, but I woke up two days later in a farmhouse out the back of Lorne in the company of a naked, bald (but for three dreadlocks) feral chick.

    Great times!!

  23. DuckPhup says

    Tom Levitt @ #23

    “I have picked up this poor error and removed the offending section from the article.”

    OK… but have you removed the offending moron from the news room?

  24. windy says

    “but I’m having a hard time picturing the ecology of beings encased in ice”

    Perhaps they constructed protective cases like caddis larvae do, except they made them out of ice.

  25. MadScientist says


    Given the habitat of the Tasmanian Striped Marsupial, the size of Tasmania, and the fact that there have been no confirmed sightings for over 80 years I’m afraid that beautiful marsupial is gone. There has been talk about attempting to find viable specimens which can be used to create chimeras which can hopefully be bred or further cloned and refined to breed out a close-to-pure animal, but since that’s not my field of study I have no idea if that’s even possible. Such a pity – it was one gorgeous animal.

  26. Goldenmane says

    I have to thank PZ for putting this out there … are we a mafia yet?

    And thank you, Tom Levitt for actually getting around to getting this tripe off the site you oversee.

    Oh, and a thank you to anyone who emailed Tim Levitt about this nonsense. Thanks to all involved.

  27. Goldenmane says

    By the way: Duckphup, where the hell have you been?

    PM me on RD, or something. I need you.

  28. Somnolent Aphid says

    Any time I see or hear the phrase “is believed” I never believe it. Give me a citation. Give me a source.

    I like to think that when someone uses the phrase “I believe”, they actually mean, “I would like to think what I’m about to say is true but I have doubts”. I eschew the use of “I believe”, which makes it hard to listen to the NPR series “This, I believe”.

    As for the poor grammar, hey, there’s a recession, they probably fired the copy editor. But still, inexcusable in such a prominent news source.

  29. flaq says

    Come on, if you had been encased in ice all these years, your link would be missing too.

    Seriously, well done Tom Levitt for being responsive and taking down a really poorly researched, badly written piece.

    Now let’s see what took its place… *facepalm*

  30. William McBrine says

    Otzi has been removed from the gallery, but he still appears (without caption or link) in the “Do you believe in monsters?” article. The alt text says “Is this evidence of the existence of iceman?”.

  31. Charles says

    I’m only getting a picture of a “Chupacabra” AKA a coyote. Am I missing something? Maybe THE LINK! Ba-dum-dum.

  32. David Marjanović, OM says

    Young Earth Evolutionism anyone?


    The Ötzi photo is still in the article. Probably they wanted to put the Minnesota Fake Iceman there, and whoever picked the photo has never turned on the TV news and seen Ötzi.

  33. Omphaloskepsis says

    Someone on the spec evo board recently posted about this “missing link” nonsense. I was wondering where the hell they came up with that.

  34. says

    Clearly, a carapace of ice (if you like, a carapice) was an early human defense adaptation against the constant danger of fire-breathing dragons.

  35. Qwerty says

    He isn’t there anymore as your link to the “missing link” which isn’t really a “missing link” is missing. Or did I miss something?

  36. Andyo says

    Those dumbasses at MSN have now stooped down to the level of the astrology pages in teen magazines.

    What the fuck, at least two of those pictures were identified by their authors/real reporters as hoaxes. The indonesian snake was really like 6 meters or something.

  37. says

    Oddly enough, I have seen official stats for an undead creature in a Dungeons & Dragons rulebook that consists of a human(oid) corpse encased in magical ice…weirdly enough, it is a desert creature, cursed with magical cold. The real snow-zombies just look like people who died of frostbite.

  38. Matt W says

    Ok, that’s the third time this week I’ve seen a distinction made between humans and primates (or more specifically, apes). Like trying to find a midpoint between a city and the state in which it’s located.

    The first one almost made me do a spit-take while eating breakfast: some shallow news program was covering the baby lemur story:

    The reporter said the zookeepers did something novel: mouth to mouth resuscitation on a primate. I almost punched my bowl of cereal.

    The other one was on MythBusters last night while exploring (I won’t say “testing”, because they are evidently unable to set up a real experiment) the myth of slippery banana peels. The announcer said something about ‘both apes and people liking the fruit’. Just as Dalmatians and canines both happen to like dog food! Fail.

  39. Bureaucratus Minimis says

    Yea, how cool is that when journalists writing about science don’t understand the science they are writing about…

    It’s not just science. Anyone who is a specialist in anything has experienced cringe-making errors by journalists. And, as noted above, they really don’t like to do corrections/retractions as it makes their lack of expertise painfully obvious. Think of how bad this was before the internet…

  40. Feynmaniac says

    They took down the page referring to Ötzi as a ‘missing link’. Now that error will not longer tarnish this piece discussing the existence of the Chupacabra, Loch Ness monster, Big Foot and mermaids.

  41. F says

    Although I did spend the past winter wandering around encased in ice, I wasn’t near any mountains. Do roofs count?

  42. John Morales says

    Matt W,

    Like trying to find a midpoint between a city and the state in which it’s located.

    That’d be the midpoint between the city’s location and the state’s centroid. I think.

  43. astrounit says

    This reminds me…

    Anyone remember that awful movie “Quest for Fire”? They made up the protagonist tribe with heavy brow ridges and slightly protruding chops. They were barely passable as “Hollywood neanderthalis” except that they all seemed lame as they walked slightly hunched over, as if fully upright bipedalism hadn’t quite evolved.

    But then some really hairy, nasty, abominably cannibalistic apeman tribe showed up with faces that would kill a moose. I heard someone in the audience confidently remark to a companion, “No, those are Neanderthals!” in a tone that sounded super-impressed with the “reconstruction”, and I started to laugh.

    These fantasy “monsters” attacked the tribe (I suppose, because they hadn’t learned to appreciate the taste of meat from other sources) and this drove the surviving members of the tribe out into the wilderness, eventually leading to the grievous loss of their precious fire.

    As the three intrepid emissaries from the protagonist tribe set out aimlessly across the countryside to locate a source of fire to restore their lost flame, they come upon a tribe that looked fully “modern”…except, they too looked as if they suffered from chronic lower back pain.

    Everybody in the movie did.

    After the movie out in the lobby I overheard a small debate within a group there, where another “knowledgable” individual explained, “Those weren’t Neanderthals! They were GIGANTOPITHICUS!” And I laughed some more.

    I stopped laughing when I saw how the movie was so enthusiastically received by everyone, and realized that this sort of silliness fairly well represented the popular conception of their ancient ancestry. And then I grew depressed.

    This item here reminded me of that movie experience.

    BTW – PZ, I noticed in one of your quotations the famous line by Einstein:

    “I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos.”

    [Albert Einstein, in the London Observer, 5 April 1964, on his problems with quantum mechanics and not, as popularly misinterpreted, an expression of religious belief.]

    This cannot be, of course, since Einstein died in 1955.

  44. Nix says

    Oh yes, journalists make errors of this magnitude or worse all the time. Astronomy is even more afflicted: I remember laughing at one article in the BBC last year in which they described the discovery of a new Kuiper belt object as being ‘on the fringes of our galaxy’.

    WTF? No, it’s about twice as far from the Sun as Pluto is, you utter idiots. You don’t know the difference between solar systems and galaxies, do you?