Monthly Archives: August 2009

Laziest journalism?

Today I noticed lots of flying ants in my garden, so looked them up to see how they work. I remembered there was a bit of a panic recently in Glasgow and Edinburgh when they were around, so I knew what they were, but didn’t know why they swarm as they do.

The wikipedia article was most useful:

In most species, the male ants also fly alongside them, although they are smaller and less noticeable… The queens fly for a while – sometimes being dispersed very long distances, and sometimes going only a few meters – then mate, and drop to the ground where they lose their wings, and attempt to start a colony[1]… The mass of flying insects often attracts the attention of predators such as birds, and it is common to see flocks of feeding birds gorging on the readily available food… This phenomenon occurs in many colonies simultaneously when the local weather conditions are appropriate, to reduce the effectiveness of predation and to ensure that the queens and males from different colonies stand a chance of meeting and interbreeding.

However, I’m sure that the journalist who wrote about the ants for the Bucks Herald found it more useful:

Wednesday saw millions of the insects crawl up from out of the ground to follow their larger, more noticable queens…the queens fly for a while – sometimes being dispersed very long distances, and sometimes going only a few metres – before mating and dropping to the ground where they lose their wings, and attempt to start a colony… The mass of flying insects often attracts the attention of predators such as birds, and it is common to see flocks of feeding birds gorging on the readily available food. The annual phenomenon occurs in many colonies simultaneously when the local weather conditions are appropriate as they were with temperattures (sic) hitting as high as 27 degrees in the Vale today.

Does this count as plagiarism?

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PhDs in texting

Even academia is going in for the ‘marketing hype’ route of getting across a message. And just as in the world of government and commerce, there’s no point letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

My dad’s wife told me today that a woman from Birmingham was on TV last night… “she’s got a PhD in texting”, and as I’d been reading an article in the current issue of Sociology on much the same I wondered if it were the same person.

Anyhow, the story in the papers is that ‘A student has become the first person in Britain to get a degree in texting.’ (Mirror) and ‘CLEVER Caroline Tagg has become the first person in Britain to get a degree in text messaging.’ (Express)

Now this seemed unlikely… texts have been around for a while, and the Ruth Rettie article in Sociology looked like it would have been based on her PhD. Luckily you can check a database of theses called EThOS at the British Library. And of course, the Rettie PhD on mobile phone calls and texts is listed there (2006) and a search on text messaging reveals two PhDs from 2007 (one on messages in Greek, and another on the social and psychological effects of SMS. So Caroline Tagg has not become the first person to get a degree in text messaging.

So where was the mistake made?

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