June 17, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Science News Reporters Act Like Echo Bots

Where are the bold reporters who investigate quack claims? They’re gone. They all quack together like rubber ducks.


See C. rex Run

On the flimsiest of evidence, paleontologists at the University of Queensland reported that they had discovered a crocodile that walked on two legs. No, they had not watched the old Disney Fantasia film; they really meant it. But the evidence came only from footprints. The evolutionists jumped to the conclusion that the tracks were made by a crocodile, even though there was no other supporting evidence to suggest such beings ever existed. They even supplied imaginative artwork of the beasts, walking on hind legs with forelimbs outstretched. Mind you, no bones were found at all – just footprints.

An international research team has been stunned to discover that some species of ancient crocodiles walked on their two hind legs like dinosaurs and measured over three metres in length.

To the point of the story, all the major science news media echoed the claim uncritically.

Ancient crocodiles walked on two legs like dinosaurs (Science Daily). Echoed the press release verbatim, which is usual. Like unmanned conveyor belts, Science Daily, EurekAlert and Phys.org usually pass along university press releases unaltered.

Ancient crocodile walked on two legs (Live Science). Laura Geggel used the artwork, then embellished the story with some creative writing, but no criticism. She even added to the story, letting Marty imagine how the tracks were made:

During the lower Cretaceous, the track site was a lake surrounded by muddy ground, “which made for making good tracks,” Lockley told Live Science. It’s difficult to say how these prints were preserved, but perhaps the creature left the prints in wet mud just before the lake retreated, allowing the prints to dry and harden. When the water level rose again, mud and fine silt could have covered and preserved the tracks, Lockley said.

Or, maybe the mud was soft and soupy, like warm ice cream, but the ground under the “ice cream” was hard, he said. The crocodile could have squished through the muck and left an impression on the hard ground underneath, which would have been instantly buried and preserved by the “ice cream” when the animal lifted up its foot, Lockley said.

Ancient footprints could be from a crocodile that walked on two legs (New Scientist). Only a hint of dispute is given; one outside paleontologist thinks the tracks should have some webbing between the toes if they were crocodiles, but they don’t. Another expert thought more data is needed.

The new findings suggest previously discovered footprints may also have been formed by a crocodylomorph, rather than a pterosaur, says Lockley. This was a surprise, he says. “No one knew that large bipedal crocs existed in the early Cretaceous.”

An ancient crocodile that ‘ran like an ostrich’ (BBC News). Reproducing the artwork, Jonathan Amos echoes the story line with hardly a hint of questioning: “Scientists have been stunned to find that some ancient crocodiles might have moved around on two feet.” He lets Professor Lockley’s imagination run wild and free:

People tend to think of crocodiles as animals that don’t do very much; that they just laze around all day on the banks of the Nile or next to rivers in Costa Rica. Nobody automatically thinks I wonder what this [creature] would be like if it was bipedal and could run like an ostrich or a T. rex,” Martin Lockley, an emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, US, told BBC News.

To his credit, Amos quoted one other paleontologist, Phil Manning, who doubts the identification of the beast. “The study is sure to provoke a lively debate,” Amos says. “Not all researchers will necessarily accept the team’s interpretation.” Manning questions the identification of a crocodile track-maker mainly because no bones were found. By the end of the article, though, is anyone still reading after having seen the headline and artwork?

SETI Calculated to Two Significant Figures!

Another wild speculation concerns how many space aliens there are. A press release from the University of Nottingham committed a major logical blunder: never extrapolate based on a sample of one.

Is there anyone out there? This is an age-old question that researchers have now shed new light on with a study [prepare to be hoodwinked] that calculates there could be more than 30 intelligent civilizations throughout our Galaxy.  This is an enormous advance over previous estimates which spanned from zero to billions.

One of the biggest and longest-standing questions in the history of human thought is whether there are other intelligent lifeforms within our Universe. Obtaining good estimates of the number of possible extraterrestrial civilizations has however been very challenging.

A new study led by the University of Nottingham and published today in The Astrophysical Journal has taken a new approach to this problem. Using the assumption that intelligent life forms on other planets in a similar way as it does on Earth, researchers have obtained an estimate for the number of intelligent communicating civilizations within our own galaxy -the Milky Way.  They calculate that there could be over 30 active communicating intelligent civilizations in our home Galaxy.

Without going into the weeds, suffice it to say that many news sources echoed this claim uncritically, logical fallacies and all. Among them were Science Daily and Chris Ciaccia, science reporter at Fox News. A Google search shows thousands of echoes across the internet. Some of them updated the number from “over 30” to 36. Live Science did a bit better, questioning the assumptions behind the calculation that give a false sense of precision. But reporter Stephanie Pappas, like all the others, never questions the ability of aimless material forces to produce life and intelligence by chance. In that respect, Live Science is like all the other echo bots for Darwin.

Cartoons by Brett Miller.

Experiment Needed! If you are a scientist, work with your university to run a Sokal hoax on science reporters. Let the administration know this is an important research project to test the dissemination of science news. Make up an evolutionary claim which sounds marginally plausible to an untrained layman, like the ones above. Then have a press agent in the public relations office, who is in on the gig, write it up. Supply some artwork, and send it out through the usual channels. See if any reporter double-checks the claim and finds the hoax. We predict they will not. As a follow-up, reveal the hoax through the same channels, and see how many of the echo chambers report that they were fooled.




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