Satoshi Kanazawa has an interesting post about how British Newspapers Make Things Up:

I hope American and British readers (and readers throughout the world) will finally wake up to the reality of British journalism: You just cannot believe what you read in British newspapers. I’d further call on my academic colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic never to speak to British reporters. You have absolutely no control over what they say about you and your scientific research.

Unfortunately, however, this does not always work. A reporter from the Sunday Times has recently requested an interview with me about one of my papers. Having already learned my lesson in 2006, I completely ignored his email and telephone messages. As a result, no interview took place. But that did not stop him at all. He went ahead and wrote his article, pretending that he had interviewed me and quoting me at length.

Gee, I wonder who that reporter was?

It’s not hard to find the story: Women are getting more beautiful, by Jonathan Leake:

Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors.

And sure enough, Leake pretends to have interviewed Kanazawa:

Kanazawa said: “Physical attractiveness is a highly heritable trait, which disproportionately increases the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons.

“If more attractive parents have more daughters and if physical attractiveness is heritable, it logically follows that women over many generations gradually become more physically attractive on average than men.”

These quotes are not from an interview, but from Kanazawa’s paper “Beautiful parents have more daughters”. And if you read the paper you will find that Kanazawa is not saying that evolution is making women more beautiful, but rather that has already made them more beautiful. And Kanazawa says that human evolution isn’t happening at the moment:

In fact, we’re not playing catch up; we’re stuck. For any evolutionary change to take place, the environment has to remain more or less constant for many generations, so that evolution can select the traits that are adaptive and eliminate those that are not. When the environment undergoes rapid change within the space of a generation or two, as it has been for the last couple of millennia, if not more, then evolution can’t happen because nature can’t determine which traits to select and which to eliminate. So they remain at a standstill. Our brain (and the rest of our body) are essentially frozen in time — stuck in the Stone Age.

I should also note that Andrew Gelman has shown that Kanazawa calculated the statistical significance of his results incorrectly and they were not statistically significant.

But I’ve saved the best till last. Chris at A Free Man wrote a post arguing that Leakes’ story was bad journalism and bad science. Leake emailed him to complain about his story and wrote (my emphasis):

I stick to my point about bloggers. I wouldn’t write about someone or their work without contacting them. It’s unfair and risks inaccuracies.

Comments

  1. #1 Zarquon
    February 27, 2010

    Leake sent emails and left messages, that means he contacted Kanazawa, for one meaning of the word.

  2. #2 Marco
    February 27, 2010

    Ah, but Tim, Leake DID contact Kanazawa! That the dastardly bastard didn’t want to talk to him doesn’t matter. Leake can, with confidence and the facts on his side, claim he contacted Kanazawa…
    (and lest somebody misunderstands, this is sarcasm).

    On a more serious note, perhaps you should bundle the various leakegates and send it to the Times. Let’s hear them wriggle their way out of hiring somebody with such shoddy reporting on his resumé.

  3. #3 jyyh
    February 27, 2010

    Their attention span in sciene and socializing is so short one might put words in their mouth and prove they can’t remember that they’ve said the words.

  4. #4 bi -- IJI
    February 27, 2010

    I just contacted Leake using telepathic rays. Well, he didn’t respond to me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I did contact him.

    I’m now in the middle of writing a draft article about Leake:

    > Journalist says blogs are “unfair”, laments “lack of time”

    > In what may be the final showdown between the world of the mainstream journalism establishment and the world of new media, renowned journalist Jonathan Leake has lashed out at blogs and bloggers for being “unfair” to people.

    > In a tirade against the blogosphere for taking him to task over inaccuracies in his news articles, Leake said that his work often suffers from “lack of time on the day”, and there’s “no need” for anyone to “raise” their “ire” at what they might see as journalistic errors. He has further defended his supposed errors by saying that “I suspect most people won’t understand what distinction is being made”.

    > “I stick to my point about bloggers,” he added.

  5. #5 Wadard
    February 27, 2010

    I just contacted Leake using telepathic rays. Well, he didn’t respond to me, …

    Try using telepathetic spectrum next time. Good, proactive journalism, btw.

  6. #6 sod
    February 27, 2010

    risk inaccuracies? Leake? heaven forbid!

  7. #7 stopmurdoch
    February 27, 2010

    Rupert Strikes Again!

    The Weekend Fin had a nice little story about Murdoch types being nasty and hacking competitors and then settling out of court for hundreds of millions after all their lies and crooked behaviour were on show.

    Murdoch and all his spawn are very nasty pieces of work, don’t waste your electrons or stamps on allowing them to own the debate (on any topic).

    Stop Murdoch!

    [Any ideas HOW are always welcome]

  8. #8 Hank Roberts
    February 27, 2010

    Typo:

    “It’s not to find the story:”

    Should probably read

    “Click here to find the story:”

    *[Fixed. Thanks, Tim]*

  9. #9 Lars Karlsson
    February 27, 2010

    Here is another Leakegate!
    ICO has not found any substantial evidence of FOIA violations at CRU:
    http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/CRUstatements/ICOcorrespondence

    And who was behind the story that they did? You all have a guess and then click here….
    http://biggovernment.com/smosher/2010/02/01/leake-and-the-london-times-climate-scientists-thwarted-foia/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BigGovernment+%28Big+Government%29

  10. #10 dhogaza
    February 27, 2010

    Actually that’s not *quite* accurate. They have not finished their investigation of the FOI requests regarding releasing data, and newspaper reports stating that are incorrect.

    The ICO statement about “prima facie” evidence was in regard to Phil Jones having e-mailed colleagues suggesting they delete e-mails. I think everyone understands this was wrong.

    AFAICT this is the *only* thing of substance in the entire set of e-mails. My guess is Jones might get disciplined by UEA for that.

    The rest of the stuff is just bullshit. They don’t want bad papers to be published, oh my! They think McIntyre is a jerk, demonstrably true. Etc etc.

  11. #11 bigcitylib
    February 27, 2010

    Dhog,

    That’s not quite right either. UEA was concerned with trying to get the ICO to clarify that the actual “evidence” against Jones et al is “prima facie” even if quite suggestive. From the various letters exchanged you can tell they’re ticked that the ICO “ambushed” them by going to the press without contacting them first. And it appears that the ICO has admitted that, even if they did not retract their first statement. ICO’s response is a bit weird; they suggest that their first stronger statement can be “read” as a weaker statement provided in the letter noted above, and blame Leake (though Webster actually wrote it from Leake’s research)for misinterpreting them, thought actually I think Webster/Leake got the gist of what the statement origonally said.

    And it is of course wrong if anyone actually did any deletions. My understanding is everyone, Jones included, claim they did not (at least of relevant materials).

  12. #12 Dave Andrews
    February 27, 2010

    Tim,

    Just where in that article does Leake say he interviewed Kanazawa? As you say yourself the quote came from Kanazawa’s paper.

    Your mendacity is getting worse.

  13. #13 stepanovich
    February 27, 2010

    Indeed, Dave Andrews. At the same time, nowhere in the article does Leake say that he wasn’t writing fiction.

  14. #14 guthrie
    February 27, 2010

    Lars #9, and others – I’ve got a request for information about the statement made to the media about that topic, I now expect to receive an e-mail on MOnday linking to that page.

  15. #15 Michael
    February 27, 2010

    In keeping with trollish behaviour – Dave Andrews is deliberately obtuse.

    Lake could have written; ‘Kanazawa wrote..’, or ‘Kanazawa’s study stated…”.

    But if you ask most people what is suggested when a journo writes “Kanazawa said..”, they’ll thnk that there’s been some kind of interview where the person, well, actually said ‘x’.

  16. #16 silkworm
    February 27, 2010

    Nowhere in Leake’s article does he claim to have interviewed Kanazawa, nor does he even pretend to. When Leake wrote: “Kanazawa said: ‘Physical attractiveness is a …’,” it is clear from the context that he is citing Kanazawa, not quoting from an interview.

    I hope you are building up a file against Leake, but please delete this inaccuracy from it.

  17. #17 Michael
    February 27, 2010

    silkworm,

    I’ll grant you that this is a misdemeanor in comparison to Leake’s other crimes of fabrication and blatant mis-representation, but it paints a portrait of a serial offender when it comes to journalistic malpractice.

  18. #18 A Free Man
    February 28, 2010

    Thanks for posting this. I was shocked when Leake contacted me about my post a) because I’m a blogger and b) I was pretty gentle with him in my post. His story was utter shite. Typical bad science journalism combined with a complete misunderstanding of the field. I stick to my point about science journalists – lazy, uninformed and obsessed with sexy headlines.

  19. #19 John Quiggin
    February 28, 2010

    Silkworm, if you read the article to the end, you’ll find two more uses of the “X said” construction. Both read as direct quotes. The first, attributed to Jerry Hall’s mother is presented as a statement she made on a previous occasion, and the second to a psychology lecturer is presented in the same way as with Kanazawa, but the context (no article, and a general point) implies an interview. So Kanazawa is right to be annoyed with Leake, and Tim is justified in endorsing Kanazawa’s view of the article.

  20. #20 Fran Barlow
    February 28, 2010

    Not only that John but in context, the reference to “contacting” the authors before quoting them by Leake does invite treating “said” as if the comments came from interview.

  21. #21 hellblazer
    February 28, 2010

    Having seen someone mention Kanazawa’s concerns a while back (weeks? months?) I feel compelled to add these links

    http://ionian-enchantment.blogspot.com/2008/03/crazy-kanazawa.html

    http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/2008/03/17/

    indicating why, if Kanazawa was misrepresented, I personally can’t find too much sympathy.

    That said, the broader point still stands, about the shoddy standards and/or incompetence of most British science journalism in the mainstream media.

  22. #22 Dave Andrews
    February 28, 2010

    hellblazer,

    “That said, the broader point still stands, about the shoddy standards and/or incompetence of most British science journalism in the mainstream media.”

    This is surely true across the world, yet it is the madia that in large part has been driving the hysteria about climate change, aided and abetted of course by a cabal of climate scientists. I didn’t notice Tim, however, complaining about the media when the message was more to his liking.

  23. #23 Marion Delgado
    February 28, 2010

    You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God, the British journalist
    But seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

  24. #24 davidk
    March 1, 2010

    How can one keep up with so many Leakes, another one here

    What I want to know, how do you plug them, the Leakes that is?

  25. #25 davidk
    March 1, 2010

    Whoops, like I said – it’s hard to keep up with all the Leakes,
    try this instead, and surprise surprise, from our favourite rag no less, Tim?

  26. #26 Anarchist606
    March 1, 2010

    Hi Tim,

    Under the guise of an article about Dawkins’s website problems, the Times have tried to do a hatchet job of you. http://anarchist606.blogspot.com/2010/03/murdoch-press-shills-denial-shill.html

    I say if they write this then it means you are getting to them, so keep up the good work!!!!

  27. #27 Vince Whirlwind
    March 2, 2010

    Dave Andrews must live in an alternate reality – he’s complaining about
    “…it is the madia that in large part has been driving the hysteria about climate change…”

    What hysteria about climate change? The only hysteria that I am aware of is the hysteria from cranky pensioners, deranged engineers, and random assorted maleducates and dishonest science-illiterate hacks who deny the reality of climate change and instead consider it all to be some kind of communist world-takeover plot.

    The Australian’s pseudo-journalism where they interview cranks instead of the CSIRO or BoM is equally hysterical.

    Janet Albrechtston’s quoting of cranky dowser:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/seeing-through-hoax-of-the-century/story-e6frg6qx-1225794053555

    “…Nils-Axel Mörner – a leading world authority on sea levels …sets out some facts.…
    Fact number 3: In the 1970s, the sea level fell by about 20cm to its present level.
    Fact number 4: Sea levels have remained constant for the past 30 years “implying that there are no traces of any alarming ongoing sea level rise”….”

    Is utterly hysterical.

  28. #28 Westerner
    March 2, 2010

    It is always entertaining to hear people in the US and elsewhere bleating about the dastardly British press. What they mean is that the Brits don’t go in for the sort of craven and spineless reporting that passes for journalism in other parts of the world.

  29. #29 Bud
    March 2, 2010

    @Westerner

    45 minutes from DOOM!

    That is all.

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