November 19, 2016

Bring Out Yer Dead - 2016 AAA Presentation

In case you don't happen to be at the American Anthropological Association meeting in Minneapolis this week, you can still catch my short talk on how everyone (yes, everyone) can help bring bioarchaeology into the public eye:





November 18, 2016

You guys, I got an *award* for this whole blogging thing!

Tonight at the American Anthropological Association conference, I received the New Directions Award from the General Anthropology Division. Per their website, which I saw early in the summer:
The GAD New Directions Award recognizes accomplishments of individuals or groups across diverse media and formats as forms of public anthropology. Common to these is the responsible presentation of anthropological information for a larger public beyond the academy as well as a demonstrated commitment to ethical considerations and methodological rigor.
President-elect of the GAD, Bob Myers, told me that I'd gotten the award because "Your energetic style and informative articles across several media and sites is the kind of public anthropology essential for presenting the discipline to a larger world."

Bob Myers giving me the award!

Faaaaancy! And with nice words on it!

They had a rotating slide show of the award winners, and I found
it endlessly hilarious that on this giant slide that says I won, there
is a big ol' pic of me mugging for the camera. Always.

No award would be complete without a list of thank-yous. In addition to the GAD folks, thanks go to Jennifer Raff for nominating me and saying such awesome things about my work.  And thanks to my editor at Forbes, Alex Knapp, for giving me this amazing international platform to begin with. Thanks to Carlina de la Cova for cheerleading for me at the ceremony and taking pictures. And last but definitely not least, thanks to all my readers here at PbO, as well as at Forbes and mental_floss. I'm glad you're all liking what I do, because I sure like doing it!

November 13, 2016

As an anthropologist, I can't move on.


My first time teaching anthropology was in 2002. Recently MA'ed, I took on a summer course teaching general anthropology at a local community college. My students were diverse in race, age, life stage, and socioeconomic background, and I was excited.

I taught the course typically -- four fields (bio, archaeo, cultural, and linguistics) -- with associated readings and an ethnography outside of the textbook. I chose Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman by Marjorie Shostak. A classic, the work chronicles years in the life of a female member of a southern African hunter-gatherer tribe. It was a safe choice, I thought, and fit in well with the themes of the course. But during the class discussion, a 20-something white male, a guy who always had opinions about everything, offered simply: "Nisa is a whore. She has multiple partners. Leaves one guy for another. She's nothing but a dirty whore."

I mumbled something about cultural relativism, a concept we'd just gone over for a week, and... well, moved on. I moved on because I didn't know how to deal with his racist and misogynist comment in the context of fruitful discussion. I moved on because I saw my female students of color shift uncomfortably in their seats. I moved on because I was, honestly, a bit scared of him and his vitriol.

As a newly-minted PhD in early 2011, I taught general anthropology, this time at a large public university. Instead of a traditional ethnography, I assigned The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This was before other universities were assigning it as summer reading, in the days when it felt a bit subversive to choose it for class. Since many of my students were planning careers in the medical and allied health fields, I thought that book would be eye-opening: a commingling of culture, (lack of) privilege, race, class, and scientific advances.

And then in the discussion, the same thing happened. White male vitriol about how Lacks was a slut, how she should have rebuffed the "advances" of the family member who sexually assaulted her, how her family was trying to profit from her death. Again, I asked the students to think critically and empathically, to look at the larger structure (and structural violence) in which we were reading the book. But again, I moved on because I didn't know what else to do. Because I saw my female students shift uncomfortably in their seats. Because I was a bit scared of the 20-something male college students who clearly were physically larger and stronger than I.

And as a professor here in 2016, I teach biological anthropology to both undergraduate and graduate students who don't "believe" in evolution. Those students do not read as violent as the misogynists and racists, thankfully, but still tend to disrupt class. I tell them that it's not my job to reconcile their faith and science, and that the course requires them to know the correct answers to scientific questions. And I move on.

While I have been thinking about how to write an "anthropologists react to the election" post for Forbes, I haven't yet figured out how. The responses right now are still too disparate for me to see a thread -- that is, the archaeologists are doing one thing (like working to understand and make policy to safeguard sites) and the cultural folk are doing another (preparing to gather for the AAAs, where hopefully there will be some brainstorming). The bio folk haven't officially weighed in, and I don't know if there is a larger response from the linguists. But it's early yet.

Right now, we need not just committees that take weeks to get an official statement out, but a real push towards public outreach, the creation of free webinars on science policymaking and lobbying, and re-training of anthropologists like me so we can better teach all four fields and be activists in educating. Because I feel at least a little complicit in the creation of today's public -- in 14 years of teaching anthropology, I have not done my best to reach my students and have shied away from difficult conversations.

But I want to change and to confront these issues in class -- with the students who need to learn and, more importantly, for the students who need to see an ally.

I can't move on anymore.



For other anthropological takes that I've been reading this week, check out:



October 21, 2016

Creepy & Funny Skeletons - An illustrated poem by my 7-year-old

Frequently at bedtime, my 7-year-old, Cecilia, asks me to read her something I've written for Forbes. At first, I think she was just trying to extend bedtime by a few minutes, but now she asks a thoughtful question or two about the topic. I was reading her the "Medieval giantess" story yesterday, and we had this exchange:

C: "Mama, look at that number. Your story has a lot of views!"
Me: "I know. It's great because it means people are enjoying it."
C: "And Forbes has to pay you more money, right?"
Me: "That's true as well."
C: "Can I write something for Forbes? I want to earn money to buy more Legos!"

While on the one hand, I want my kids to learn legitimate skills and not become famous/rich because of being on the internet, on the other hand, I want to encourage her to write and to show her that writing is a skill that people can make money doing.  So, I made her a deal: if she wrote something for Powered by Osteons, I would give her the money from the ad revenue on the page.  She decided to write and illustrate a poem.  Without further ado...

Creepy and Funny Skeletons
by Cecilia R.

Skeletons give me quite a scare!

So enter the Halloween if you dare!

We skulls are very bare.

But we don't have any hair!

We skeletons aren't very rare.

Of course, they don't eat a pear!

Skeletons don't live near an oak.

They also don't drink coke!

The skeletons don't wear pants.

They definitely don't dance!

October 15, 2016

Greeks, Terracotta Soldiers, and Research by Documentary

Terracotta army, via wikimedia commons
Since folks so loved the media-exaggerated report of Chinese in Roman London (which is not, as I've mentioned, what the data actually say), it's no surprise that an upcoming documentary has been getting press, since it appears to tie the ancient Greeks to the first Qin emperor in China.

The claim, in an upcoming BBC/Nat Geo documentary airing tomorrow(?) is that the sudden artistic realism of the terracotta army can be explained by early contact between Greeks and Chinese. It doesn't seem to matter which outlet you read; they all say basically the same thing. The Guardian might have a slight edge in terms of facts, so here's a link.

Since there's nothing on which I can base a critique, here are my disparate thoughts about it:

1) This appears to be research-by-documentary. At least, that's the way the media are covering it. There's no link to a peer-reviewed study (but allusions to some; see below), just musings by a small number of purported experts in the field (who I assume appear in the documentary). For a primer on why research-by-documentary is incredibly problematic, here's a recent peer-reviewed article, which uses as an example the "finding" of syphilis in pre-Columbian Europe -- that "finding", which has never been tested, proven, or peer-reviewed, has made its way into research literature.

[ETA: There is research on which this is based, according to multiple sources on Twitter. I'm glad to hear it. The fact that the media is covering a documentary, though, still makes it sound like research-by-documentary, which is unfortunate if the evidence is solid.]

2) The articles refer to "European" DNA as one of the lines of evidence that there may have been Greeks in China. This DNA comes from the studies of the Xinjiang (Tarim) mummies from central China (Uighur Autonomous Region), which was a melting-pot 4,000 years ago. I have read the DNA studies on these remains, and they're quite interesting, as I've written about before. While most of the haplogroups correspond with South Siberia, there were two western Eurasia ones. Thousands of years before the supposed Greek-Chinese contact, then, the DNA shows admixture in the maternal line.  But this is not terribly surprising - I mean, the more DNA analyses we do, the more we learn about admixture throughout Europe and Asia, going back to Neandertals, Denisovans, and the like. It's not surprising to find western European DNA in the Tarim Basin. What the DNA doesn't say is that Greeks were in Xi'an China in the 2nd century BC... because it can't. Isotopes from skeletons could, but I'm unaware of any evidence to this effect.

[ETA: There are also a few other articles on DNA from the Tarim basin, all of which seem to have the same basic conclusions.]

3) But honestly, my main problem with the documentary -- or, rather, with media reports of it -- is that it sounds unbelievably racist. A hook that's repeated in many of these articles is that there was contact between East and West "before Marco Polo." This is only revolutionary to the folks who think that Europeans discovered and invented everything and that we're the best because... ethnocentrism, I guess. Seriously, who actually thinks a dude whose namesake is a lame kids' pool game was the first European to contact China?

Initially, the most compelling evidence for me was the finding in ancient China of some bronze objects made with the lost-wax casting technique that the Greeks are relatively famous for.  But a quick search in the literature shows that this technique long predates them, going back as early as 5,700 BC. I'm not sure why we wouldn't expect the technique to migrate from Israel through the Tarim basin into central China within five millennia.

But finally and most importantly, why are we assuming that the Chinese didn't independently invent the idea of realism in art? That maybe emperor Qin wanted realistic warriors for his tomb, so they were made? I mean, it's not like the Greeks sauntered into central China and said, 'Look here, folks, these statues don't look exactly like you. Let us teach you what you actually look like.' And who says that realism is the pinnacle of the artistic tradition anyway? Oh, right, Western art history scholars over the centuries because of course "we" have the "best" art. (Don't believe me?  Check out the Independent, which says of Greek art "their work has rarely been bettered.")

[ETA: I've read a buuuuunch of media coverage of the documentary, and really all of it [the media coverage] sounds like Western exceptionalism. That's why I'm skeptical of a proposal of "Greeks teaching the Chinese to make sculptures" -- because years of graduate education in classics and anthro made me question romanization, Western exceptionalism, artistic realism, and a multitude of other concepts that we're pretty much taught from childhood here in the U.S. at least.]

At any rate, maybe the documentary addresses all of these issues.  Or maybe the media is not fairly reporting what's in the documentary.  But the "news" items I've read are all deeply problematic, stringing together a flawed understanding of biology with a flawed understanding of art history to arrive at a conclusion that makes for clickable headlines but that is far from the last word on the matter.

---
10/19/16 update -- According to a headline at Shanghai Daily, "Chinese archaeologist refutes BBC report on Terracotta Warriors":
"I think the terracotta warriors may be inspired by Western culture, but were uniquely made by the Chinese. BBC overstated my remarks about Western inspiration and ignored main points I made during the interview," Li told Xinhua. ... "I am an archaeologist, and I value evidence. I've found no Greek names on the backs of Terracotta Warriors, which supports my idea that there was no Greek artisan training the local sculptors," Li said.
These quotes are exactly what I'd expect from an archaeologist. As I've said in the Chinese-in-London piece, I don't doubt the premise that there were significant east-west connections during the time of the Greeks and Romans. But, as Carl Sagan was fond of saying, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That evidence - specifically for individual people found far from home - has not yet piled up, although I suspect it will soon through DNA and isotopes, bolstered by archaeological context (such as the central Asian person found in southeastern Imperial Italy).

September 27, 2016

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 42)

In this installment, we continue our theme from last week of kids' books with incorrect anatomy.  This image comes from Dr. Heather Bonney, the human remains collections manager at the National History Museum in London, who notes it's from a cut-out-and-build skeleton book:


For anyone keeping score, those are the metatarsals, not the carpals. I don't know about you, but I'm glad my wrist isn't attached to my ankle!

---
Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

August 29, 2016

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 41)

Today's contribution comes from Megan Sharpe, a forensic anthropology graduate student in Boston.  She found this error in a kids' book called Skeleton from the DK Eyewitness series... and it's a very prominent one:


Can you spot what's wrong? :-)

---
Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

August 18, 2016

Using Twitter to Advance Your Research Career -- My new online short course!

Modified from Kooroshication's Flickr image "Twitter Head" (CC-BY)
Are you an academic, researcher, alt-ac, scientist, NGO worker, digital humanities geek, or really anyone who wants to more effectively use Twitter in a professional capacity? Check out this three-week online course, starring me!  I mean... co-taught by yours truly! :-)

It costs just $25, and you'll learn a whole range of things, from how to use hashtags to how to integrate your social media profiles to more effectively harness the internet to further your research goals. (More info on topics at the link.)

The course runs from Sept 18-Oct 8.  It's largely self-paced, with regular weekly check-ins with the instructors and your classmates, so that you can help one another succeed in making the most out of Twitter.  Each week gets more in depth, but you can pop in and out to get what you need.  

Please share this widely -- although this is being run through #SciFund (which I joined way back when for help with my successful crowdfunding campaign), we're not just targeting scientists.  We'd love to have you social science and digital humanities folks, as skills in social media are crazy important for academic and alt-ac jobs these days.  Grad students are more than welcome, and even undergrads could benefit.

If you're interested in signing up -- have I mentioned it's just $25??? -- do click here. Don't be like the bird on the right...


July 18, 2016

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 40)

Today's contribution was sent in by long-time reader Kori Filipek-Ogden, a bioarchaeologist at Durham University and Director of the Transylvania Bioarchaeology Project. She sent me this picture from Corvin Castle, which is apparently one of the seven wonders of Romania.  But even though it's one of the largest castles in Europe, it still needs an osteologist:


Whoopsies on those humeri.  At least, my elbows don't bend that way.  Odd too, since they took pains to cross the radius and ulna, as they would be if the hands were folded on the belly.  I'm also not convinced the right scapula is a right scapula, but it's hard to tell from the photo, especially since the scapulae are broken.  Kori, for her part, was "impressed" with the glue job on the skull.

---
Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

July 8, 2016

What I wrote @Forbes and @mental_floss in June

I just finished writing a book chapter and was feeling pretty flipping good about myself until I realized I've been falling down terribly on my PbO blogging.  The Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival is... well, non-existent, it seems.  I just can't ever remember to pull together the links from my PbO Facebook page (click on over and "like" it to get all the news as it happens) to create a regular post anymore.  The reason, of course, is both the pop-sci book I'm writing on Roman bioarchaeology and my regular blogging gigs... in that vein, here's what I wrote for them in the month of June:

mental_floss




Will I ever resurrect the Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival, you might be asking?  Chances are slim, unless I magically get an intern or research assistant who can do it for me.  So again, enjoy the Forbes and mental_floss posts, and click over to Powered by Osteons on Facebook for the latest skeleton news from around the world!

July 1, 2016

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 39, Celebrity Edition!)

Maybe you've seen this, since it's now all over even the American news this morning? Some skeletal and intestinal remains along the shores of Loch Ness...


Yes, that Loch Ness.

It is, of course, a prank.  And a funny one.  But not a very anatomically correct one.  

Now, I'm not a zooarchaeologist, or a paleontologist, or a cryptozoologist, so take this opinion for what it is... but that looks like a pig skull (going based on the teeth here), three vertebral columns stuck together as if one long neck, probably some cow legs, a bunch of rib cages stuck together (again, probably cow judging by the size and by people's ability to get it easily).  And then a whole bunch of intestines and other offal.

If you have a better idea of what those animal bones are, do feel free to comment.

What would the Loch Ness Monster's actual skeleton look like, though, you ask?  I imagine, since it's supposed to be some sort of holdover from past epochs, it'd look more like a dinosaur -- maybe a diplodocus or, even better, the semi-aquatic nothosaurus that's been found all over Europe and Asia.

Diplodocus
Nothosaurus
   
 So while I appreciate the elaborate nature of this prank, the frankenstein quality of the Nessie "skeleton" could have been better staged.

---
Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?

June 24, 2016

Bones - Season 11, Episode 20 (Review)

Here's a link to my review over at Forbes of:

'Bones' Season 11, Episode 20 Review: 

The Stiff in the Cliff



June 20, 2016

Bones - Season 11, Episode 19 (Review)

June 10, 2016

Don't share that Daily Mail link about archaeology. Just... Don't.

Longtime readers know that I'm not a fan of the Daily Mail's archaeological reporting.  In fact, I cut my international blogging teeth when I dismantled a piece they ran on the "gay caveman" five years ago.  But in light of seeing several archaeological news organizations/social media feeds post Daily Mail (and MailOnline, same thing) links in the last month, I figured I should outline the reasons that this seriously compromises the public's understanding of archaeology and makes us as professionals complicit in the progressive dumbification of science news.

So maybe dumbification is not a real word, but it's pretty apt for what the Mail does.

The insidiousness of the Mail goes beyond simply low-grade reporting or sensationalism.  It affects and infects journalism and public outreach in ways that compromise those legitimate attempts to disseminate facts.  And the only thing we can really do about it is to not share, not engage, and express outrage.

Here's a nice listicle from which you can pick one or more reasons that you should not -- and that your organization's/department's/etc social media manager should not -- ever share links to the Daily Mail, particularly with students or the public.

Why You Shouldn't Share The Mail

1. What you're linking to is probably plagiarized.

I'll lead off with my pet peeve.  The Mail reporters do not do their own research.  They "repackage" --which is a nice way of saying either they rewrite press releases (which is shitty journalism, but not unethical) or they outright plagiarize (which is definitely unethical).  Here's one example of a recent piece I wrote, side-by-side. This happens a lot. No really, A LOT.


In the rare case, the Mail links to my original reporting (which is the very least they could do to be ethical journalists), but mostly they don't.  In the rare case, the Mail contacts my sources (the academics who wrote the articles) for additional information or to secure image rights, but mostly they don't.

This means that when you read the Mail, you're reading a version of archaeology news filtered through the telephone game.  The Mail condenses, rephrases, and sometimes totally makes crap up.  This is problematic for people who want to learn more about the story (the general public), for people who wrote the original research article (and have to answer questions about something they never said), and for people who write popular science pieces (and have their traffic taken away from them, which loses them money and may cost them their job).

Why don't I (and other science journalists) complain to someone?, you might wonder, if this really is plagiarism.  Yeah, good luck.  This is the state of online journalism today, and what am I going to do, issue a DMCA take-down notice every time the Mail or a blog or whatnot steals my stuff?  You better believe the Mail would laugh at me. The best I could hope for would be that they take down the article -- it's not like they'll issue an apology or fire anyone over it.

2. What you're linking to is probably poorly reported.

Drawing on the above, the Mail writers have no time to leisurely read research articles and no training to make sense of what's in them, as they reportedly have to write numerous stories each day (see #4 for more on this). So what you're seeing in a Mail piece is someone's abstract of a popular science post that is abstracted from a research article -- who am I kidding, from the research article's abstract usually.  It's a rare journalist today who has the time and inclination to read academic articles (see below for more on this as well), but the Mail folks don't even try.  They whip up a clickbait title based on key words sprinkled throughout someone else's reporting. So instead of sharing this and showing students and the public that it's OK to shittily report archaeological news, why not promote the work of the journalists and bloggers who are on the level? (Again, see below for a list.)

3. What you're linking to probably has stolen images.

The Mail is famous as a picture-heavy tabloid, and they always seem to get the most and best images to go with a given story.  How do they do this?, you might ask, considering journalists (and, yes, bloggers too) have to get permission to run each individual image in a story.  How do they convince scholars or press departments or other news organizations to share all their hard-earned photo permissions?  The answer is that they don't.  By and large, they take the images and run them without permission. (See above - the image was taken from the authors' journal publication; crediting "researchgate.net" does not get them around the Wenner Gren Foundation's/Current Anthropology's legitimate copyright claims.) At least, that's been the experience of several colleagues whose work I wrote about in Forbes and whose images were simply "repurposed" illegitimately by the Mail. They weren't asked for permission and didn't give it -- but since reporting by the Mail brings some amount of interest in their work, and since academics are unused to making money on their work anyway, they're unlikely to claim copyright theft. So it goes.

4. What you're linking to was probably written by someone who was poorly paid and poorly treated.

There are a number of true-confessions type posts by former Mail reporters out on the big ol' WWW. If you're interested in the specifics, this one at Gawker is thorough and well-written.  The short of it is, these former staffers report poor working conditions and often poor pay.  Working at the Mail seems somewhat similar to adjuncting in academia -- I imagine many of the reporters want better jobs, but the market for journalism is already small and narrowing even as I type this, so they get the gigs they can get. I fault the tabloid structure and loose ethics of the Mail for that, not necessarily the journalists who don't have much of a choice but to do what they're asked to earn a living.

So, if I've convinced you, you may be wondering what you can do to prevent scientific misinformation dissemination and curb ethically dubious reporting tactics?  Here you go:

Don't Share the Mail -- Do This Instead

1. Share any legitimate news source instead of this tabloid.  This includes outlets like LiveScience (which is often picked up by Yahoo News), Discovery News (which now seems to have rebranded as Seeker.com for some reason), Forbes (hi, that's me!), The Atlantic, Nature News, National Geographic News, Ars Technica, and longstanding national newspapers -- Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Independent, Le Monde, El PaĆ­s, La Repubblica, etc.

At the very least, if you see a Daily Mail piece on archaeology that you think is interesting, take a few minutes to type in the title or key words to Google News.  Is there another, more fully reported story with an earlier date?  Or in a more reputable source?  Share that one around. This small amount of research will keep you up to date on the harebrained ideas the Mail is peddling as news so that you can be prepared to counter them when asked by members of the public.

2. Link to blogs curated through high-profile organizations -- Sapiens.org, NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture, Scientific American, Western Digs, Past Horizons -- or through universities/by academics (e.g., John Hawks' weblog, Katy Meyers Emery's "Bones Don't Lie"). Huffington Post is unfortunately very uneven in its coverage; some blogger/contributors are good, but I generally avoid sharing HuffPo science stories unless I know the author. See this post for some more bloggers you can follow.

3. Promote the work of amazing science journalists like Rossella Lorenzi, Carl Zimmer, Tia Ghose, Ed Yong, Stephanie Pappas, Owen Jarus, Maria Godoy, and Brian Switek. They do their homework.  They write good pieces.  There are others like them, so seek them out.  In the end, it helps to know the science journalism ecology when you need to promote your own research, to become a public anthropologist, or to transition to an alt-ac job.  It's worth your time as a 21st century anthropologist to learn how science journalism works.

4. Write your own post on interesting research or press releases.  But first, learn the difference between a press release and a science news story.  Press releases come from places like Phys.org and Eurekalert!, but also from university PR departments and from peer-reviewed journals like PLOS. Press releases are great, as they essentially abstract a new article or finding.  But they don't provide in-depth analysis, counterpoints, or, well... reporting.  They're one-sided and braggy, whereas pieces from real journalists tend to involve multiple experts and competing interpretations because, you know, that's what science is. Sharing a press release is fine (I do it plenty when it seems to accurately encapsulate the story), but writing up your own professional opinion of the original article is even better. That's how I and other bloggers got started -- by seeing a hole in the coverage of a particular field (bioarchaeology) and stepping up to fill it. Start a blog with a colleague, help students create a collaborative blog, or write guest-posts for others. Here are some tips if you want to go that route.

So please, if you are an anthropologist, if you run a blog, if you have a social media presence, if you teach students, if you do public outreach, please don't share the Mail's stories about archaeology or anthropology. They may be one of the most highly read news sites in the world, but they are to journalism what Wikipedia is to academic research.  No, that's not fair to Wikipedia, which is curated by people who care about facts and sources. The Mail is to journalism what essay mills are to academic research.

Sharing a Mail piece does more harm than good, so let's show students and the public that we do our background research, even in outreach.

----
Update: 6/26/16 - Last night, Kris Hirst, an archaeologist who writes great things at About.com, shared this post.  And I got a Saturday night Twitter troll in the form of a science journalist saying that a "high number" of my Forbes posts are "simply rewritten PR's from Eurkalert" and also accusing me of not being a journalist (that's right, I'm not!) and not reporting properly (again, see the fact I'm an academic and not a reporter!).

I have had occasion to rely on press releases for information (see my recent piece on the Pompeii skeletons, for which I used a press release in Italian from the archaeological superintendency; I covered this because I'm a Roman bioarchaeologist and am cheesy excited that there are new skeletons), but if an article is available, I always read it.  I wouldn't be an academic if I didn't.

As an example of how science reporting often works, there was a press release recently about the oldest Chinese beer.  I read the PNAS article and covered it here, without talking to other experts -- but I pulled in a quote from the first author from the AFP press release and cited it as such.  My detractor also read the article and covered it here, without talking to other experts -- but got a quote directly from the author.  That's the difference between "real" reporting and mine -- I don't have press credentials, so I can't say that I'm "reporting for Forbes" and can't write "as X told Forbes" in my pieces (I'm a contributor and not a full-time journalist, so that makes sense). I rely on my professional, academic relationship with people to get quotes and opinions, which also means that I don't do things that can screw up that professional relationship.

So our Twitter convo last night involved my explaining that I'm not a journalist but that I certainly don't rewrite press releases.  In fact, if I can't get an original article or can't talk to someone about it or can't figure out an angle of my own, I don't write it up.  Besides, I strongly prefer to make my colleagues' articles news by identifying interesting stories like this article on vultures and decapitation or this one on vampire burials. If there's a press release, chances are someone else is writing it up already, so I don't need to pile on unless I have something different to say. My goal with blogging is to help my colleagues get recognition for their work in bio/archaeology and to communicate their findings to the general public. It's not traditional journalism; it's non-traditional outreach.

Interestingly, after this exchange, he deleted his tweets.  Twitter doesn't notify me of all tweets and replies, unfortunately, so I only have about half of them, from the middle of the convo, which started out with his saying I shouldn't be writing a screed about the Mail because I'm not doing any better.

But the following should give you some context if you're interested (and if you only saw my half of the convo)...






Here's where I stopped getting emails from Twitter with the replies, so I've only got my replies to his now-deleted tweets about how I'm a hack:


Not proud of all the things I tweeted, but I did not call into question his journalistic credentials and only fired off a "sorry-not-sorry" tweet after a dozen tweets about how much I suck.

At any rate... the face of journalism is changing with a move to online-only formats, especially for science reporting, and while this is opening up opportunities for me, I get that it's troublesome for trained journalists.  But to have such vitriol directed at me rather than at the proper target -- the horrible Daily Mail -- surprised me.

This original post was about throwing praise at the community of science journalists, science news outlets, and science bloggers, all of whom you should read rather than the Daily Mail. Even if my coverage isn't the best (news flash: it's not always the best), something is better than the Mail. This sort of ad hominem attack doesn't help advance science journalism or outreach.

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