New Scientist bottles it

I have a lot of respect for the New Scientist. I really do. I kind of grew up with it. But I don’t think it handled the Great Seed Bank Confusion very well. Let me remind you. Last week a blog post went up at Short Sharp Science confusing the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is demonstrably not at Kew. Here’s a screen grab of that original post (click to enlarge):
That was bad enough, as both places have been in the news a lot lately, and it elicited the predictable flood of comments1 — some unpardonably rude, it must be admitted2 — setting the blogger right. But it was nearly a week before the post was corrected, thusly:
And, rather than being up-front, the apology for the mistake, and the notice that a correction has been made, is buried in the 18th comment.

Journalists often bitch and moan about bloggers not being sufficiently professional about checking sources etc etc. I think New Scientist was unprofessional in making the original mistake — but hey, that happens — but also, and unforgivably, in not owning up to it quickly and visibly enough. Anyway, at least now everyone knows the difference between Kew and Svalbard.

  1. Even one by me! []
  2. Not mine! []

7 Replies to “New Scientist bottles it”

  1. I’d go further. New Scientist, like many other main stream media Big Boys, wants to jump on the blogging bandwagon. But real bloggers have already debated to death the ethical aspects of blogging. Do you correct? Do you erase when you correct? Do you note that you’ve corrected, and why? How prominently? I don’t care whether NewScientist pays its bloggers, it should encourage responsible blogging. It would be way off topic to get into all that here, but I do think that New Scientist’s behaviour is not only cowardly, it also suggests, yet again, that They Just Don’t Get It.

  2. Thanks for the question. The short answer is no company (biotech or otherwise) was involved in financing the construction of the Seed Vault. A Gates Foundation grant to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, in part is financing the voluntary shipment of seeds from developing countries and international agricultural research centers. The Vault operates like a safety deposit box – the depositors own their seeds; there is no transfer of ownership, and no access to seeds other than your own. The story you cite is highly inaccurate. Fanciful. Full of conspiracy angles that the author, alone among the hundreds of journalists that have covered the story, has detected. If alarm bells are now going off, it’s for good reason. Don’t assume it’s correct even on the minor and inconsequential points. Due diligence is required before believing anything in the article.

  3. What was particularly odd was that they did deal with it early on but not thoroughly enough. For instance, they quickly corrected the laughable gaffe about the collection being 150KM below the permafrost but without addressing the obvious issue – the egregious mix up. The New Scientist, after all, is a well known and trusted “brand” and they can ill afford an evaporation in confidence which can be so desastrous in other situations (food scares, crisis in the financial system, holocaust denying Catholic bishops etc). Even if it is a blog, professionally written to boot.

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