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From the Editor: The Art of Storytelling
Driving Dogs During the Golden Era of Antarctic Exploration
A Bridge of Ice
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“Arctic-adapted dogs emerged at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition”
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photo by Carsten Egevang
"Arctic-adapted dogs emerged at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition"
Mikkel-Holger S. Sinding et. al., Science 368, 1495–1499, 26 June 2020
by Sue Hamilton
This QIMMEQ Project research appeared in the June 26, 2020 issue of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) publication, Science Magazine, with supplemental information here. Not more than a day later, hordes of mainstream media jumped all over this news with their own interpretations of the paper’s findings.
I am not ashamed to admit that most scientific research – as originally published – tends to hurt my brain as I don’t fully comprehend it. And in seeking a lay (explained in non-scientific terms) analysis, I tend to summarily reject mainstream media interpretations largely because I strongly suspect their takes are often a version of the myth of the Tower of Babel or perhaps the Hindu fable The Blind Men and the Elephant. My skepticism about such “hit and run journalism” is supported in part by the obvious and disappointing red flags accompanying their text: photographs that adorn the stories. As I had some time on my hands, I decided to track the number of media outlets reporting on this research paper by the number and type of images they used.
Images used by media outlets reporting on
‘Arctic-adapted dogs emerged at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition’
Sigh…I am surprised one of the editors didn’t insert a photo of his exophthalmic Cocker Spaniel posing on a sofa and call it good enough.*Carsten Egevang is the photographer for the QIMMEQ Project and three of his images are part of the file available to use by media outlets for reporting on this research paper.
Sorry folks, I didn’t bother to keep track of the web addresses, but I can say that there was mostly below the tree line stuff: a team of (fat) Siberian Huskies, Iditarod dogs, Alaskan Malamutes, more Siberian Huskies (with blue eyes)…the kind of images “science writers” grab from the usual photo repositories available to journalists seeking a quick and dirty way to entertain their readers, not to educate them with relevancy. To their credit, some of the news releases, such as the one offered by the AAAS, the publisher of record for the original research (their reporting, of course, can be considered credible), used legitimate Inuit Dog images. Also, I did find one review of ‘Arctic-adapted dogs emerged at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition’ which appeared in the June 26, 2020 issue of the not exactly mainstream media The Siberian Times. You should definitely check this one out if only for the fabulous graphics!
There is someone else who shares my cynicism about typical media reporting on scientific studies. The research paper’s lead author Dr. Mikkel Sinding empathized,
“The most frustrating misunderstandings I see on the web related to the study are:Fortunately for all of us Dr. Sinding has graciously provided The Fan Hitch a summary of ‘Arctic-adapted dogs emerged at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition’. So here you have, from the source, a version of the published research for we non-scientist to understand and believe.
In a separate entry in this issue of PostScript you will find the transcript of a podcast interview with Dr Sinding discussing ‘Arctic-adapted dogs emerged at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition’.