Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Telegraph Science Journalism Fail: Or, ARRRRGHHHH!!!111!

I was alerted to an absolutely daft article in the Telegraph via Derren Brown's Blog (who, disappointingly, didn't seem to notice it's daft). Basically, the article completely misrepresents a paper, "Bonobos Exhibit Delayed Development of Social Behavior and Cognition Relative to Chimpanzees", in press at Current Biology. The paper showed, roughly and among other things, that both bonobos and chimps are cooperative when they’re young, but then chimps become progressively less cooperative and more competitive with age, whereas bonobos don’t. The authors hypothesize that this may be due to pedomorphosis, that is, evolutionary changes to the developmental pattern such that juvenile characteristics persist into adulthood.

The 'science correspondent' at the Telegraph, one Richard Alleyne, however, would have you believe the researchers involved "now believe that being aggressive, intolerant and short-tempered could be a sign of a more advanced nature." How the hell Alleyne got from the paper to THAT conclusion is utterly beyond me, the researchers never even hinted that there is connection between 'civilization' and their findings. Alleyne goes on to commit a bunch of science howlers: among other things, saying chimps are "more evolved" and that chimps and bonobos are monkeys (ARGH). Anyway, I was going to blog about this in more detail, but luckily Alison Campbell at BioBlog has a most excellent take-down of the article, so go there for more (and more competent) analysis.

By the way, this is not the first time Alleyne has gotten it spectacularly wrong. Ben Goldacre has exposed his breathtaking misinterpretation of climate science (which he refused to correct) and his shameful distortion of a graduate student's MSc thesis which he claimed concluded women who get raped, essentially, were asking for it (at least this was half-heartedly and partially corrected). 

In conclusion: 

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