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NPR "News" item this morning: A Cautionary Tale, and an Apology
Some of you may have caught an item on NPR's Morning Edition today. I didn't,
but I did hear it online. It was an article about the
lengths that movie studios go to in order to promote forthcoming movies.
I happened to be featured in it. The only reason I was called is that the
reporter found claims that Universal "created", or at
least hyped, new discoveries prior to each Jurassic Park movie. (In point of
fact, I used the DML Archive to try and track down
these claims, and actually couldn't substantiate it. Go figure.)
The reporter eventally got back to me weeks later to say that she couldn't
figure out what was associated with JP and JP2, but that
Jack Horner's announcement of new large (possible record-setting) T. rex
specimens at around the time of the release JP3 was part of
this pattern. (Here's Steve Brusatte's posting about this:
The claim was made that Horner "foredated" (whatever the opposite of
"backdated" is) the time of discovery of the larger of the
as-yet undescribed T. rex material to more closely match the opening time of
the movie. In Horner's interview for the present story
(and I point I agreed with in my interview), he indicated that the date of
discovery of a specimen is the least significant datum
concerning it, and in fact that none of this material has yet entered the
scientific literature anyway. In fact, I said that if
someone was being unscrupulous they would do it the other way, and claim to
have made a discovery EARLIER than they actually did
(the opposite of what was supposed to be going on here).
So I spent a half-hour or so on the phone with the reporter explaining the
world class status of Horner and his research; the world
class status of his field work and his lab, both of which are larger supported
by outside funds such as Universal (since, as I well
know, dinosaur research is by no means a priorty for state universities...);
the fact that even when I disagree with him
professionally it is based on alternative interpretations of the evidence, as
often happens in science; the fact that I've accepted
(a far smaller amount of) money from Universal, in the context of a couple of
kids books; and so forth.
I even gave my own suggestion of what Universal should hype for the next movie,
which would be tours of Horner's field work AND his
lab AND his grad students at work, to show that the money does real good for
Science. Not just digging up new bones, but actually
doing Science with them.
Did this make it into the broadcast? Of course not. (Okay, the reporter
paraphrased a few of the comments above, but you don't get
to hear ME say it).
Instead, they took a one sentence out of a 30 minute conversation, directed at
Universal rather than Horner, but which in context
comes out sounding as if I were critical of Horner and suspicious of his other
data. If you happened to catch the sentence, you'll
note my use of the word "them" in it, rather than "him." Nevertheless, in
juxtiposition with the reporters discussion before and
after, it sounds like I am being critical of the verity of Horner's research.
So, to set the record straight:
*I have no question that the scientific information provided by Horner is
accurate. There is no reason to suspect that he has not
presented the facts as they are in his work.
*I did not intended to discredit Horner's work. However, as broadcast, it
certainly sounds like I said that.
Towards that end, I apologize publically about making it sound like that. If
the MOR would like, I would do so in any venue they
choose. (I told Horner that directly this morning).
Also, I want to thank the various science reporters I've dealt with over the
years. Guys (male and female), having finally dealt
with reporters with other specialities, I much more greatly appreciate your
commitment to conveying information rather than
storytelling. I do appreciate investigative journalism, and actually think that
the U.S. media needs more of it, but this
"investigation" just makes me feel really displeased with the whole process.
Finally, I want to apologize to the DML for taking up your time with a
non-science matter, but one which touches on aspects of
paleontology's place in society. Hopefully the next post will have more
Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Department of Geology Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland College Park Scholars
Building 237, Room 1117
College Park, MD 20742
Phone: 301-405-4084 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax (Geol): 301-314-9661 Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-405-0796