Boy Corrects NASA. Man bites dog. Science journalism fails.
In yet another international whoops for science journalism, a fantastic hoax has been spread around the globe thanks to Agence France-Presse getting their foot royally wedged in their mouth.
According to AFP, and parrotted around the world:
A 13-year-old German schoolboy corrected Nasa’s estimates on the chances of an asteroid colliding with the Earth, a German newspaper reported on Tuesday, after spotting the boffins had miscalculated.
Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam to calculate that there is a one-in-450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.
Nasa had previously estimated the chances at only one in 45 000, but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency, that the young whizz kid had got it right.
Here’s NASA’s press release refuting the stupid story. And here’s a blogger who actually bothered to contact NASA’s NEO department, and the German scientist mentioned in the article. Yet again, the international press leaps at your typical ‘man bites dog’ story with gay abandon and a wanton disregard for the facts. Since when did it become ‘journalism’ to simply take whatever Reuters or Associated Press or AFP spits out of their papermill and repeate it verbatim as if you actually did some work? And how does a journalistic giant like AFP spew out such a pile of garbage without checking the facts themselves? Not a single person along this sad, sad trail of journalistic failure bothered to contact anyone involved, until the blogosphere up and schooled them yet again.
I just have two words for every paper that perpetuated this ridiculous piece: EPIC FAIL.