April 15, 2009

I got to learn a lot about the press this week. The short version is this: an intern for the New York Times interviewed me in December of 2008 and confused Brooklyn (where I had proven the entire training process with captive crows) with Binghamton (where we tested whether crows would approach the box in the wild), thus taking my plan to test the crow box with a Binghamton professor at a zoo there as history. The NY Times then failed to fact check with the zoo and published the intern’s article in the Top Ideas of 2008 issue.

As a result, the professor I was working with there had her tenure and funding threatened, which resulted in her severing her relationship with me, which has led to terminating any further progress on the project in either Binghamton or Ithaca.

edit: This was my best guess; I never got a satisfactory explanation for why the professor decided my work was no longer viable once the NY Times published their correction (see below). All I know is that they decided not to continue to participate.

The NY Times later told me that the request for a retraction which I submitted via the NY Times’ website had been lost by their system, leading to the professor’s phone call reaching them first, with the result that I appeared errant in suggesting there was an error.

Four months later, the NY Times published a correction that was 100 words longer than the original piece which said that the experiment in Binghamton was a failure and that corvid experts felt that the machine was unlikely to work. This was contradictory to the enthusiastic emails and phone conversations I had previously had with said experts, and, when I asked the NY Times about this on April 15, 2009, their fact checker told me that “I can totally understand why you’d be annoyed that people would say they wouldn’t touch your project with a ten foot pole when they had clearly been involved with it before.”

I pointed out that several other folks took the correction to mean that I had lied to the NY Times. While their fact checker agreed that in terms of this article, “everything went wrong that possibly could go wrong,” he also told me directly that the NY Times was not going to publish a correction to their correction to address my concerns.

He also told me they had gone to great lengths to assure that the correction was fair and balanced and made it clear that the NY Times took responsibility for their mistakes, and that he was surprised I felt injured by it.


Here is the original article, and here is the correction. This is my web page where I’ve had my thesis and all the other information you see there up since 2007. You decide, and let me know what you think.