I’m probably dating myself here, but I remember when many mainstream magazines, and TV or print news organizations, had actual scientists working for them. Some of them even had “science desks,” which fact-checked and explained science-based stories. That was before two or three megacorporations bought most of the American news infrastructure and began “streamlining” the staff, and before magazines started desperately downsizing to remain profitable.
Now we have embarrassments like this one, in which TIME magazine has nominated the Higgs Boson for its 2012 Person of the Year (in which case they’d have to rename it to Particle of the Year) with the following 5-sentence paragraph:
Take a moment to thank this little particle for all the work it does, because without it, you’d be just inchoate energy without so much as a bit of mass. What’s more, the same would be true for the entire universe. It was in the 1960s that Scottish physicist Peter Higgs first posited the existence of a particle that causes energy to make the jump to matter. But it was not until last summer that a team of researchers at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider — Rolf Heuer, Joseph Incandela and Fabiola Gianotti — at last sealed the deal and in so doing finally fully confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The Higgs — as particles do — immediately decayed to more-fundamental particles, but the scientists would surely be happy to collect any honors or awards in its stead.
Every single sentence in this paragraph contains at least one error. The third sentence has three. The fourth sentence leads Michael Moyer, writing for Scientific American, to sigh, “Where to begin?”
Moyer’s line-by-line explanation of where TIME went wrong and what the facts really are is worth a read. This was my favorite part:
The photon is the poster child for behaving as both wave (energy) and particle (matter) at the same time.
And Peter Higgs was neither the first nor the only physicist to posit the existence of the particle that bears his name.
And he’s English (born in Newcastle), not Scottish.
You can practically hear the exasperation.