Get your deleted journalism here

The controversy over “Dr. Doom” has taken an interesting and expected turn. After the Sequin Gazette-Enterprise broke the story that Dr. Eric Pianka advocated the deaths of 90 percent of the human population to save the rest of the biosphere from us, the creationists jumped all over it. Now, not only have most of the creationists totally abandoned their interest in Pianka, (expected) but when you try to access the articles on the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, they are coincidentally missing… Interesting. But I’ve got them right here for you.

There’s been a lot of coverage of the issue over at The Panda’s Thumb, with two posts (Cheshire Cat) (More on SGE) so far about the Seguin Gazette. The paper seems to display a lack of journalistic integrity by choosing to try to erase the record of their stories instead of posting retractions and apologies. Quite possibly the second best thing about Google, the Google Cache, has made it possible for these to remain permanantly.

On the Cheshire Cat link, you’ll find discussion about the article and the google cache, but the links provided didn’t seem to work for me, or only gave half of the article, so I looked up the cache links myself and posted them there. I will reproduce them here so you can take look.

DOOMSDAY: UT Professor says death is imminent.

Seguin Gazette-Enterprise Phone Interview with Dr. Pianka.

As of right now, the mp3 file hosted on their site is still up, but the page that links to it is missing. So they may realize that the mp3 it still there and delete it as well. Just in case, download it here. In it, they ask the loaded question, do you advocate the death of humans, and his response is a clear no. And just in case the article disappears from the cache (it is possible to get them deleted indirectly, I read), here’s a text file of it. Spread the word!

If they have deleted these files off of their system purposefully, then they have committed an abhorrent act as it concerns journalism. I’m not kidding. When you make a mistake, you correct it and move on, you don’t shred the evidence. It’s akin to book-burning. Strangely enough, though, the posts about Pianka at Uncommon Descent, all of which I linked to in my previous post on the subject, are still up. Weird, because that blog is known for its record of deleting criticisms, embarrasing posts, etc. Maybe that’s why they haven’t tried. Or maybe, they haven’t yet caught on?

What is most interesting about this controversy is not the controversy itself, but the controversy about the controversy. What I mean is, what is going on with the sudden leap of creationist bloggers all over this story, and then a sudden abandonment? As one PT commenter very astutely points out,

Just more evidence these folks jump before they think.

Update: Pay Hayes at Red State Rabble discusses the fallout from the Pianka debacle. Best quote:

Mims, Dembski, and the rest of the ID crowd simply wanted to raise morale after a series of dispiriting setbacks for their movement. They way that is done on the right is by picking out a scapegoat for symbolic — and many times actual — retribution. Blacks and Jews are passe, for now. Scientists are in.

I think we are seeing a pattern emerge.

Also, It appears that Uncommon Descent is still refusing to let go of the story. Now, after the folks at the intelligent design blog, Telic Thoughts, have wisely retracted their position, they’re getting a beating over at UD by Dembski’s “Blog Czar,” DaveScot. He also continues, asking the question, what good are Lizards? (Pianka being the lizard) My irony meter lit up as I thought, certainly better than snakes…

Update #2: Mike Dunford of The Questionable Authority contacted the paper, and they told him that the removal of the files off of their website was a mistake of communication. Apparently, they meant to take them down until more complete versions could be put up. But curiously, Forrest Mims has an entirely different take on the missing files. The folks over at UD seem to think that it was a server crash. That is, after they thought it was a “courageous” move to remove them. Both seem likely, but I am awaiting a response from Mims as to where he got his information. So far, Dunford’s take on it seems more reliable, especially considering the broo-ha-ha over Pianka now seems to be manufactured.

Princess Leia echoes in my head at this moment: “It’s not over yet.”

But as it stands now, we can take a few lessons from this event. It is incredibly easy to spread information across the internet, and get it disseminated very widely and rapidly. When the information is accurate, blogs are a boon. But when the information is inaccurate, the new non-traditional media system we have going on here can make matters worse.

It takes effort to do research, and it takes fortitude to post retractions rather than delete them. It is the duty of serious science weblog authors to always be on the lookout for dubious claims and cut them off before they spread like a virus. For this, the Panda’s Thumb has done a world of good by investigating Mims’s claims about the misunderstood Pianka, providing instantaneous mental antibodies against them. And Kudos to Mike Dunford for digging down to keep the Thumbites from assuming that the Seguin Gazette Enterprise was trying to erase its mistakes. And then retracting his position. This kind of self-correcting attitude is just what the world needs when it comes to science, and the media.

Thankfully, I kept my conclusions tentative about whether the SGE removed its files on purpose, but my opinion about their integrity is changed, and I retract it. (See striked out sentence above) Let this be a virtual nudge to Uncommon Descent about how they rush to conclusions. Whereas it seemed before that SGE displayed a lack of journalistic intergrity, by returning the files to their website they are instead displaying intergrity, whether or not their explanation about the missing files is true. They still have to contend with their lack of critical analysis of Mims’s claims, however. It is just as much their duty as it is ours to critically analyze significant claims before we pass them on.

Follow Dave’s link below to the discussion at PT.


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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

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