Corrections Not Necessary in Botched Atlantic Story?

If the writer of a magazine story admits to significant errors in his piece, shouldn’t the publication then acknowledge this with an editor’s note, providing corrections?

I ask because there are new developments to the story about that botched article in The Atlantic, which, as I wrote here,

used this study as a springboard to raise concerns about GMO foods.

Before I delve into the new twists, here’s the backstory from Christie Wilcox at her Scientific American blog:

Recently, food columnist Ari Levaux wrote what can only be described as a completely unscientific article in The Atlantic claiming that microRNAs (miRNAs) are a “very real danger of GMOs.” I won’t go point by point through the horrendous inaccuracies in his piece, as Emily Willingham has more than hacked them to bits.

In the comments thread of Wilcox’s post, LeVaux defends himself while also admitting:

I acknowledge there were some significant scientific errors in my Atlantic piece, and my argument could have been stronger. With a lot of help from great thinkers, some of whom didn’t agree with me, my rewrite posted yesterday on Alternet.

Interestingly, the rewrite at Alternet does not mention that it’s been adapted from an error-riddled article at The Atlantic. Okay, maybe the Alternet editors don’t want to mention the part about the author’s original inaccuracies, but I’m surprised there is no acknowledgment of the piece being adapted from something LeVaux published earlier in the week at The Atlantic.

Meanwhile, if you revisit the original piece at The Atlantic, you’ll notice this below the subhead:

Update 1/12: AlterNet has posted Ari LeVaux’s expanded and updated version of this column.

That’s it! No acknowledgment that the Atlantic article contains “significant scientific errors,” as the author himself admits. The magazine’s editors, in whatever language they deem appropriate, should acknowledge in their update what the author himself acknowledges. The Atlantic story will have a long shelf life online and new readers coming to it in the future should be made aware of its errors.

Besides, isn’t this all part of the normal journalistic process when major mistakes are found in a newspaper or magazine story?

UPDATE: Several hours after publishing my post, The Atlantic did exactly what I suggested they should do: acknowledge the errors in the article. Here is the revised editors note:

Update 1/12: Thanks to science and biology bloggers, Christie Wilcox and Emily Willingham at the Scientific American blog network and The Biology Files, respectively, we’ve learned of the scientific errors made in Ari LeVaux’s most recent Flash in the Pan column, which is syndicated by a number of newspapers and magazine websites. This column has been expanded and updated, with LeVaux discussing specific changes in the comments. We regret the errors.


Category: Journalism