More on science reporting: tracking the spread of a story

David Hone, a British paleontologist working in China who blogs at Archosaur Musings, has a fascinating post on tracking the reporting of a paper he recently published. Among other things, he was able to follow the ‘Chinese whispers’ or ‘telephone game’ transmission of the news stories by tracking errors that crept into the story as it was published here and picked up there:

Thus science stories can really pick up and spread this way, so although 24 hours after my press release I had only one mention in one paper, after 48 hours this was more than five and another 24 hours later this was more than twenty. One week later it’s up to about fifty and I am still getting new e-mails about this.

This spreading though is especially interesting as between the original press release(s), the paper itself and the blog post (and later interviews) I know which quotes and which information came from where and thus which errors or changes have come in at which stage and which media have picked them up from which other. It is noticeable therefore that one can track errors from report to report as they originate in one and then are copied to others (I tracked a spelling mistake of Tyrannosaurus as Tyrannosaurs across three generations of articles, and each time it appeared in basically the same sentence in the second paragraph of the report, each, theoretically written by a different journalist).

Shades of pseudogene phylogenies! Go and read it and enjoy it there, and comment there if you feel moved to do so to encourage him to keep ‘em coming.