I Swear I Didn't Say That! Having someone else put your foot in your mouth for you

One of the scariest things I've found about being contacted by the media regarding your scientific expertise on a particular subject is reading or hearing the end results. Quite often due to either a lack of comprehension on the part of the interviewer or some final editing what appears is not quite what you meant (or in some cases the complete opposite). It is not so easy to shrug this off in the days of "You Tube" and file sharing as this is now a permanent (and often heavily distributed) record of you saying something that you did not, especially if you do not agree with what "you said" at all. Possibly this could be embarrassing for you as well depending on how your "thoughts" are perceived by your colleagues.

Matt Wedel was the recent recipient of this type of "quote mining" as Darren Naish put it (including having his name mispelled through the entire show). He is quite angry about it and has commented here and here. Several fellow bloggers and colleagues have chimed in as well including Darren Naish and David Hone.

I discussed something similar on this blog a little over a year ago. In my situation I submitted proof corrections that were either not made or incorrectly made. Again this is a situation where something permanent is going on the record with my name on it containing errors that are distorting the information that I wished to provide.

Who 'proofs' the proofs, and who has the final say on scripted interviews? Because our names (and hence reputations) are on the line here, I think that it should be us, the scientists. I think that it is simply common courtesy to check back during final production and make sure that we are being accurately represented, as often we are providing this information also as a courtesy. Maybe it is simply best just not to answer the phone, but really that is against all we stand for as scientists. Science is meant to be shared and discussed and tested; however, it's often pretty rough to have to defend yourself for something someone else actually said.

By the way this also happens in exhibits and interpretive media for museums, National Parks, etc... As the specialist you really have to make sure you are involved in every step of production or you probably are not going to be happy with the end result. The question now is, what collectively as a group we can do about this to make sure it doesn't keep happening (there is actually some detailed discussion of such options going on right now on the various vertebrate paleontology list servers)? How do you get yourself involved in on the final production when simple common courtesy isn't happening?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bill,

    Interesting idea. That's too bad about the misquoting that happens with those shows. I've often wondered about that.

    As far as proofing the proofs, some of that has to do with the publication cycle. Some journals are going to press faster than others, so it's not always a possibility, but, at least with GSA's journals, I would encourage you to request a second proof. I usually give these out whenever figure changes have been requested, but I don't usually give them out for text corrections. That said, I am happy to supply them when authors request them.


    Matt Hudson
    Managing Editor, Lithosphere


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