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RE: PALEONEWS:High-flying dinosaur's wings clipped

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. wrote:

What damage it apparently caused is all surface.  Indeed, the main take-home
lessons from this event (e.g., don't publicize a specimen before the
description makes it through peer review; don't trust specimens whose
provenance datum is "Tuscon Rock Show"; etc.) have been overshadow by the
anti-dinosaurian origins of birds folks crowing how this "Piltdown Dinosaur"
overturns all previous studies.

Undoubtedly true, though the science magazines I've seen have largely gotten it right (even if we couldn't resist the "Piltdown bird" headline). THe problem journalists have is that stories require conflict, and that the conflict involves the birds-aren't dinosaurs crowd, whose statements sometimes go beyond the evidence. It's the general press that's screwed it up. The USA Today article was pretty bad as well.

One subtle but important issue for journalists is when the rational opposition becomes irrational crackpots and has to be cut out of the debate. Journalists are supposed to be fair, you're not supposed to stop one side of a debate. But in science the time comes when some arguments are no longer credible and have to be abandoned. Some editors will insist on quotes from the other side on an issue. (That's why you see the same tired old sources lined up claiming there's no such thing as global warming, for example.) I don't think the birds-aren't dinosaurs crowd has reached that low level of credibility yet, but they may wind up there if they try hard enough.

Jeff Hecht     Boston Correspondent    New Scientist magazine
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