February 9, 2012 | 1
You might think, on reading this story, that myrmecologists had made a significant new discovery. But you’d be wrong.
That’s because this isn’t a news story. There is no breaking research paper, or even a press release. Rather, this is a YouTube clip extracted from an 8-year old nature documentary called Ants: Nature’s Secret Power (watch on Hulu). It’s been on the internet for years. The only story here is that Julian Gavaghan, the Daily Mail writer, apparently noticed the video just now and mistook it for news. Gavaghan makes no effort to track down the source of the clip, crediting it simply- and incorrectly- as “© youtube.com”.
Then there is this:
After a month, scientists, led by professor Luis Forgi, began digging and revealed the incredible city described as the ‘ant equivalent of the Great Wall of China’.
Who is Luis Forgi? I’ve got no idea. Luiz C. Forti is the ant scientist you find if you actually look up the technical literature on leafcutter ants. But Luis Forgi is what you get if your background research consists entirely of mishearing a youtube clip.
Science journalism has a pecking order. At the high end, there are carefully researched pieces that report scientific discoveries in the context of the field. Think Carl Zimmer. At the low end is “churnalism”- largely automated algorithms that re-broadcast press releases. Think PhysOrg. And then, lower than the reprinted press release and simply making shit up, is the Daily Mail.