I feel a little bit mean posting this, but it’s such a perfect example of why journalists have lost respect with the public (in this case anyone with basic science knowledge) that I’m going to post it.

I had an email from This magazine, asking for donations to fund This’s investigative journalism. An excerpt:

Dear Friend,

Bad guys beware. This Magazine is well on its way to raising enough money to blow some serious scandals out of the water.

This spring, we launched a new investigative journalism fund to expose
the bad deeds that harm our communities, and we asked you for help.
Thanks to the generous support of people like you, we are well on our
way to reaching our fundraising goal of $7,000. But we’re not there yet.

Fear not. There’s still time to whip out your credit card and provide
the ammunition we need to tell the stories the corporate media are
afraid to touch. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably getting a
little sick of papers filled with celebrity news and lifestyle fluff.
Paris Hilton’s latest antics may be a titillating diversion, but
they’re bringing little to the debates we really need to be a part of

So far so good. But an example of work This wants the public to fund is cringe-inducing. In response, I sent This the following email:

Your recent plea for funds was just embarrassing to anyone who cares about good journalism and has even a smidgeon of science education.

As an example of stories that you want to investigate you wrote:

“(A journalist’s)s hard-hitting investigation into the near absent regulation of the bio-tech industry. The rise of drug-resistant viruses has been blamed on overuse of antibiotics, but the real culprit may be the routine use of genetically modified bacteria in laboratories worldwide.*”

Viruses are different organisms from bacteria. Viruses are largely immune to what are commonly called antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are thought to evolve from overuse of antibiotics. You have mixed up basic apples and oranges, in a way that any C-average grade 11 science student would spot. And then you ask for money for this kind of work. Donors must wonder what other blunders you would make if they gave you money.

What’s truly a shame is there’s a crying need for a good, independent magazine like This —  and blunders like this degrade the truly great work This has done. Perhaps your funding plea should be in aid of remedial courses in scientific literacy for your staff, and to pay for fact-checkers for campaign material.

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(*emphasis is mine. And I removed the name of the journalist because I’d expect, since he’s writing about science, he was not responsible for the blunder.)