Regarding the News with Skepticism

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported on an interesting topic. It was quickly picked up by other news outlets and, in many cases, they simply shared the AP story without much else. Although the topic itself is interesting, it’s also not one with vast consequence. (After all, this past week saw Egypt descend into chaos, the sentencing of the person known (at the time) as Bradley Manning, and the subsequent revelation that she is actually transgendered and wishes to be known as Chelsea Manning, and the end of the arguments in the trial over the Fort Hood shooting.)

What was this news item, you might ask? The revelation that a man living in Bolivia by the name of Carmelo Flores Laura may be the oldest person ever. He apparently turned 123 last month. NBC News, Fox News, and The Washington Post merely reprinted the AP story, which, to be polite, believed the claim, which is based upon a single baptism record that probably was not filed anywhere outside of the church in which it happened until decades after it happened. (I also checked The New York Times, The BBC, and AlJazeera, but none of them reported anything on the man…)

Only CNN displayed even a hint of skepticism at the claim. The AP article reported that Misao Okawa is the current oldest recognized living person in the world and that Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, had the longest verified lifespan of any person in history. CNN contacted the head of the Gerontology Research Group, who displayed the skepticism I felt the moment I saw the headline. Earlier this year, the only man ever documented to live to the age of 116, died. Seeing a man who lived a full seven years longer is difficult to accept, to say the least. In a country like Bolivia no less. (And that’s not even getting into the fact that the reports indicated that he’s got a grandson who’s 96 years his junior. That’s a ridiculously long amount of time if you ask me…

That’s really disappointing about the news. It doesn’t matter how old he is, in the grand scheme of things. There’s no question that he’s long-lived.

A lot of scientists and skeptics bemoan the quality of journalism when a new discovery is made or when a study is released that has an interesting hypothesis, that they print it credulously and without questioning, well, anything about it.

The people who read the news deserve better. It’s sad that Wikipedia probably has the best article on the whole thing. And they’re not really a news site…


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