Monday, August 15, 2005

Second-person ledes: Tool of the clueless

Bad science collides with bad writing like a Reese's Cup with a Bud Light. Numbers in the text refer to notes below:

Can you rub hippo sweat on my back?
Fresno Bee(1)

FRESNO, Calif. - Someday, you might smear gooey hippo sweat all over your body.(2)

You'll be using a sunscreen with the chemically manufactured sweat of a hippopotamus. Not only will it prevent sunburn, but it will ward off bugs and protect you from skin infection.

As creepy (3) as it sounds, slippery(4) hippo sweat could become the toast of the skin care industry.(5)

But first science must unlock the secret of this massive mammal's(6) secretions: What makes them work?

In that vein, research on hippo sweat marches forward at the University of California, Merced. (7)Professor Christopher Viney soon will publish what could be(8) a key study on the molecular structure of the secretions.

He studied samples of the reddish fluid(9) over the past year after gathering samples from Bulgy, the venerable hippo at Fresno's Chaffee Zoo.

1) Tank-town paper alert! Why publish other folks' bad writing when you produce so much of your own?
2) Think so, eh?
3) Random adjective alert.
4) What, "gooey" wasn't enough for you?
5) And then again ...
6) Elongated Yellow Fruit alert.
7) Dive! Dive! Localitis alert.
8) And then again ...
9) Elongated Yellow Fruit alert II.

There's a reason this is more than just another chunk of grate-your-back-teeth-awful feature writing from America's Newspapers. Look again at the fifth graf: "Soon will publish" has all the journalistic value of "plans to sue." Does this mean he has an article under review? Accepted for publication? What journal? What's the acceptance rate? What does the hippo-sweat-research community think about his work?

Those are the questions that help us start to determine whether this "could be a key study" -- not the reporter's opinion, not the researcher's sharing a Zip code with the paper, not the adjective overload. If the article doesn't include at least some of the evidence, the odds are good that it's blowing smoke.

Surely something out there had a better claim on your newshole than this slippery reddish fluid.


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