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The Myth of the Mammoth Hunt

Recently there have been a large number of media stories concerning the cloning of a mammoth. Very few of the reports I have encountered have made much sense though, instead they've generally leaned towards being rather Jurassic ridden and devoid of actual data.

Growing rapidly weary of people accosting me to wax lyrical about how Harvard will soon have a pet mammoth, I therefore decided to check the excitement out in a little more detail. Only a small amount of digging later and, lo and behold, I encountered the article below, by John Hawks.

Unlike almost every other commentary I have read on this topic so far, Hawks tackles both the reality of the research and also the reality-creation of a public/media collusion of this kind. It doesn't take much critical thinking to encounter problems with mainstream accounts of Clarke's research, it also doesn't take much to feel some disquiet regarding just how readily people hang up their thinking in order to parrot alternative facts. Including people who are, themselves, in a position of (scientific) authority. This is not to criticise Clarke in any way, all power to the endeavour; rather it is to draw attention to yet another example of how scientific narratives can be (mis) communicated - and subsequently believed.

For those of us who speak about science to the public, be that as actual scientists or through marketing, art or storytelling, there is an ethical implication. This ethical implication is, essentially, to fact check.

"What is needed is some basic respect for the facts, and better investigative questions" (Hawks).

A respect for facts would be a grand place to start. To treat fact and fiction with equal dignity, to build upon knowing who is a reliable source of information - to never mislead by deliberate artifice or covert trickery - we have enough of that in the World News as it is. Research such as this is exciting all by itself, it doesn't need pretend tinsel. Thus, let us not waste time chasing imaginary tails and lazily swallowing sound bites; instead, let us remember how to think - before we're all led over the cliff's edge by shiny sticks of alternative facts.


science is an art form, pay heed

to what you believe.


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