Having your study publicized by the media is nice. Having your study misrepresented and misinterpreted in the process is not. The media coverage of my paper on physical attractiveness and having children had a bad start and even worse follow-up. The origin of the problem: Times Online news article sexing up the finding a bit too much (I wasn’t interviewed for this article at all and heard about it only after it had been published). Then things got worse with other journalists copying & slightly modifying the Times Online piece. Naturally, things were further muddled by the If-I-were-a-movie-critic-I-would-rate-movies-without-seeing-them-and-just-by-relying-on-discussions-overheard-in-a-pub columnists, the I-haven’t-read-the-paper-but-here’s-my-take-on-it-anyway bloggers and the ever so alert This-research-is-nonsense-I-want-my-tax-money-back-even-if-the-research-was-not-funded-by-my-tax-money readers.
On the more amusing side, the media flurry did have one funny unintended consequence. The Fox News covered the story by telling the viewers that evolution is driving women to become even more beautiful. A note to future historians: when tracing back the turning point at which conservatives begun to believe in the theory of evolution, please cite my article.
Oh well, my article had its 15 minutes of fame. Not the fame it would have deserved, but anyway. My guess is that nobody remembers the article anymore; it has already been 7 days since the Times Online report. I don’t believe this commentary will be read even by 1% of those who have read the news articles of Times Online and others. It is merely damage control targeted to people who come across my study in blog & newspaper archives sometime in the future. At the moment, there seems to be more pressing news in the horizon, reported with the accuracy and moderation so characteristic to professional journalism:
The original paper is here. Jokela says that the Forbes piece was accurate. The rest of it, not so much, and he points out that the Times Online story spread virally and was the original source of the misinformation.
Since I got carried away and didn’t read the paper before commenting, I apologize. I have a general rule, “beware of tales told in British newspapers” (most because of all the made up stuff they printed after 9/11), but I forgot that here. Live & learn. Jokela’s response is thorough, so please check it out. Or, read his paper, which he has placed on his website.