Twitter can be cruel sometimes. Without it, I never would have come across (via user @DoubleBeam) this aneurysm-inducing travesty on the Fox News website. I’ve italicised sentences of particular ‘interest’ in the first three paragraphs.
Cataclysm That Killed Dinos Still Taking Lives Today
Coal from China’s Xuan Wei County, widely used for cooking and heating, may contribute to unusually high rates of lung cancer among women in the region.
The tremendous volcanic eruption thought to be responsible for Earth’s largest mass extinction which killed more than 70 percent of plants and dinosaurs walking the planet 250 million years ago is still taking lives today.
Scientists investigating the high incidence of lung cancer in China’s Xuan Wei County in Yunnan Province conclude that the problem lies with the coal residents use to heat their homes. That coal was formed by the same 250-million-year-old giant volcanic eruption termed a supervolcano that was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. The high silica content of that coal is interacting with volatile organic matter in the soil to cause the unusually high rates of lung cancer.
That’s right. In just that second highlighted sentence, Fox News tells its readers that:
- The dinosaurs were made extinct before they actually evolved (in reality they radiated after the Permian extinction killed off the mammal-like reptiles that were the dominant large land animals at the time0.
- Volcanos erupt coal (if you read later in the article, this might just be clumsy wording – but I’m not sure that makes it any better).
My browsing of the various science news feeds indicates that the Fox News story was probably adapted from this press release. Compare the first sentence (my emphasis again) to the second paragraph of the Fox piece:
The volcanic eruptions thought responsible for Earth’s largest mass extinction — which killed more than 70 percent of plants and animals 250 million years ago — is still taking lives today.
So, the Fox reporter replaced ‘animals’ with ‘dinosaurs’. Because all extinct animals are dinosaurs, right?
Seriously, if you’re planning to actually expand on a press release for your story – a laudable aim, in principle – perhaps it might be best to fact-check your additions. I’d prefer churnalism to gratuitous insertion of wrong. On a more positive note, Alexis Madrigal wrote up what is actually quite an interesting story properly for Wired. It can be done, allowing us to ponder the actual point of the story – the potential impact of long-ago geological events on human health today – without having to grind our teeth to do so.
Update: The Volcanism Blog is also understandably perturbed about this story, and has a bit more on the actual research behind it.