From Reddit, to Digg, to the facebook walls and e-mail inboxes of millions–this photogenic creature has gone from deep sea oddity to internet viral story in a matter of days. It was originally shared on the social bookmarking site Reddit with the following description: “I work for a Sub-sea Survey Company, recently this beast came […]
From Reddit, to Digg, to the facebook walls and e-mail inboxes of millions–this photogenic creature has gone from deep sea oddity to internet viral story in a matter of days. It was originally shared on the social bookmarking site Reddit with the following description:
“I work for a Sub-sea Survey Company, recently this beast came up attached to one of our ROVs. It measures a wee bit over 2.5 feet head to tail, and we expect it latched onto the ROV at roughly 8,500 feet depth. Unfortunately, the e-mail that these pictures were attached to came from a contractor, and the ship he was operating from (and therefore location) is unknown, so I can’t tell you what part of the Earth this beast was living.”
The animal in question was quickly identified as a Giant Isopod (Bathynomus giganteus), but unfortunately the misinformation grew from there. Fox News shockingly glorified and misreported the story and animal which was then sadly followed upon by National Geographic and other media outlets. Thankfully the sci bloggers at Deep Sea News (DSN) have all of the information, slip ups and goofs covered in what they are calling Isopocalypse 2010. I won’t retell their story, but in short: quotes and information were carelessly taken from DSN and misinterpreted by the big media. I encourage you to see why they, and the greater science community, are rightfully upset.
I spoke briefly with Kevin Zelnio one of the great minds behind the educational blog Deep Sea News, that was subject to this media gaffe. Kevin is a researcher at the Marine Conservation Molecular Facility at Duke University’s Marine Lab, where he sudies population structures of deep sea inverts. Case in point, he’s a cool guy with the experience and knowledge to truly comment on B. giganteus. Check out our dialogue below to see why the media’s misquotes are so disheartening, why linking is so important among online communities and news, and Kevin’s challenge to aquarists around the world.
ES: As the dust settles out, what main point would you like readers to take away from Isopocalypse 2010?
KZ: I think the main point is that I don’t care if you are under deadlines or capitalizing on a spur of the moment viral photo or video, check your facts and feel free to contact a blogger and get the scoop. We’re a friendly bunch and we know some shit! What is really disconcerting is cherry picking quotes from blog posts. For instance Craig is reported as saying the isopod’s gigantism is because of temperature. If you read his post he clearly believes it is food limitation (http://deepseanews.com/2007/04/why-is-the-giant-isopod-giant/). This is his research and he has a written record of studying body size evolution in deep sea animals.
When misinformation and misquoting us happens. We get really pissed. We do what we do for free. We write prolifically, we feel it is our responsibility as educators and scientists to talk about all this great stuff in our natural world. We don’t ask for much, just some links, comments, subscribe to us, let us know your there and reading, donate to some of our fantastic causes that we promote occasionally. We appreciate the linking, our hit rate skyrocketed (mostly from MSNBC and Discovery News) for several days and has settled into something that appears a bit higher than what it was before hand. We love have an active website, thats what keeps us going. The fact that some of the mainstream media makes money off of our content and gets it wrong on top of that is not only offensive but a slap in the face. They aren’t very interested in correcting their mistakes or responding to our criticism. Some mistakes are also beyond being nitpicky, such as our professional affiliations.
ES: There is plenty reason to suspect the Reddit reported size is incorrect. Can you set the record straight regarding the size of giant isopods?
KZ: The fact of the matter is, a couple thousand Bathynomus giganteus specimens have been collected for over 120 years and reported in the literature. The largest specimen is 50cm, about 20 inches. Could one be larger than that? I doubt based on probability alone. The mid-range appears to be 26-37 cm, anything in the forties is an outlier in all the studies I’ve looked at.
ES: What are your feelings on AOL News using your blog comment as support in their article, without citing DSN to boot?
KZ: The way the internet works is through linking. It is a very efficient and easy thing to do! It is a virtual paper trail that anyone can follow to track down sources. To quote me in a comment on a blog post Craig wrote 3 years ago is unprofessional at best. It took me a bit of time to actually track down where I actually said and lo and behold, taken completely out of context. They quote me saying that the max size is “likely an artifact of our sampling”. If you read the next sentence (1st comment on http://deepseanews.com/2007/04/why-is-the-giant-isopod-giant/), it starts “On the contrary…” and I give some good data on why it is isn’t.
ES: Lastly while we have you, as a marine scientists what are your thoughts on aquariums? You can be honest…
KZ: I must separate my love for aquarium and the aquarium trade. I think aquariums have a special place in developing an appreciation of the aquatic and marine environment. They are excellent learning and teaching tools and large professional aquaria often do conservation and science communication and outreach a tremendous service. I support everyone having their own small aquarium. I think it instills an appreciation for the diversity of life out there. But I am vehemently opposed to some of the practices of the aquarium trade. You don’t need to poison or blast a reef to get some rare animals. This is where the aquarium enthusiast can really make a difference. Don’t support those businesses that damage the environment. Do you need that rare fish? Is it more important than having a healthy ocean? I believe in the power of the people to put their dollars where their values are and make a difference. I challenge the readers of Glassbox Design to improve how they acquire new inhabitants and know where their material comes from and how it was obtained.
A special thanks to Kevin and DSN–your insights and deep sea knowledge sharing are much appreciated.