Thursday, March 17, 2011

Some animals deserve to go extinct

Scientists at the University of St Andrews studying beaked whales, a species that frequently becomes beached in Britain, concluded that they were extraordinarily timid creatures that were scared “by virtually anything unusual”, despite being the size of a rhinoceros and weighing the same as a London bus.
Pussies. If I was the size of a rhinoceros and weighed as much as a London bus, I wouldn’t be scared of anything. Well, maybe my big sister and my mother-in-law, but that’s all.

This comes from a story in the Daily Telegraph headed “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales”. You know where I’m heading – yes, I looked at the paper cited in the article, “Beaked Whales Respond to Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar” published at PlosOne. It isn’t peer-reviewed that I can see but it was edited (maybe that is the same thing) by Simon Thrush from NIWA which is good enough for me. The paper does not mention wind farms. Not once.

One expects this level of meretricious “reporting” from the Guardian, the BBC and so on, but what has it come to that we can no longer trust the Daily Telegraph?

Paul Litterick in the Comments says he cannot find the offending article online. That, it turns out, is because the Telegraph yanked it and has since published this:
Correction: whales and wind farms
Scientists studying why whales strand themselves said yesterday there is no known direct link between those strandings and off-shore wind farms, although the construction of turbines may affect the mammals’ behaviour.
Prof Ian Boyd, of the University of St Andrews, said the construction of offshore renewable energy sites is likely to cause some species to move to other areas and to distrub [sic] their feeding and reproductive cycles. At present it is not possible to predict precisely how this will affect their populations.
However, he wished to correct a report on this website this week that said there was a proven link between off-shore wind farms and strandings.
The professor said a quotation attributed to him in a press release issued by the university, which discussed strandings related to sonar emissions from naval vessels and which suggested renewable energy sources also contributed to the disturbance of whales, had been taken out of context.
We are happy to make this clear.
That distrubing literal (which is what we in the trade call a spelling mistake) is a bit embarrassing – editorials, apologies and corrections really should be error-free. One blames the Australian subs. 

More to the point, it may seem from the Telegraph’s correction that the error in the original text was not the fault of the reporter but of the idiot at the university who sent out the press release. But I spotted it and I’m not paid to, unlike the reporter. Inexcusable.

There should be a paper in all Media Studies courses called “Press releases are not gospel, they are not news: fact-check them”.  

1 comment:

Paul said...

I went for the link and got me a 404, so I went to Telegraph home and used the search - which is enhanced by Google - and it gave me some enhanced answers about beaches, so I searched for whales and got the right headline but again a 404.

Maybe someone realised that underwater windfarms are not much of a possibility.