The semester is over, and I can now share some of my assignments. Usually, I try to write posts that are written with the blog in mind, in a more conversational language, less uptight, and more.. well, flowing.
So CNN was its usual alarmist-self yesterday, and published a full-blown story about a weird-looking animal that washed ashore in Montauk, Long Island. The alarmist-tone they shared wasn’t surprising – CNN tends to go to the extreme whenever a bee flatulates in the far east. What could have been amusing (if only people wouldn’t be so eager to fall for it) but wasn’t (because they do), was their pick of a title for the segment:
“Montauk Monster” Discovered
Leathery Beast Washed Ashore
Ignoring the claim for a ‘discovery’ (Nobel prize, anyone?) of a Montauk Monster (is ‘monster’ the species and ‘montauk’ the subspecies?) I had one big issue here that jumped to my mind and wouldn’t let go:
What in the name of all that is science’y, is a “leathery beast?” I couldn’t find an explanation or definition for “Leathery Beast,” so I decided I should do what the editors should have done, and research. After all, when in doubt, try it out – or in this case, when in doubt, check it out.
So, some quick google-searches revealed interesting correlation between these similar terms:
The common thread here is obvious, and can only lead to one conclusion: A Leathery animal is an animal that is covered with leather. Like this one.
But unlike fur, scales and feathers, animals do not naturally have leather. They have skin. Animal skin (or ‘hide’) can be stripped and processed to produce leather. It isn’t something an animal wants to have, I’d gather, seeing as it needs to die and be skinned to produce it.
There is no such thing as a leathery animal, just like there is no such thing as a carpet’y animal.
So, CNN, and all ye other mega-news-agencies out there – please try and remember to check your definitions, if not your proper facts. A semi-decomposed corpse of an unidentified animal (note: unidentified does not mean unidentifiable) washes out to shore and someone takes a picture of it. That is — really — the entire story. Maybe if you confuse your viewers enough with weird, incomprehensible and alarming titles like “Montauk Monster!” and “Leathery Beast Washed Ashore!”, they will forget that this story isn’t actually very interesting.
As far as rational thinking in the fear-driven media is concerned, I think we will all do best to remember that when in doubt, we should first check it out.
And as for the “leathery corpse,” well, I wouldn’t expect any experiment videos about it anytime soon.
The human body is an incredible machine. Though far from being perfect, we have evolved to what we are today through a process that took millions of years of mutation and natural selection.
There is one little piece of us, though, that holds the secret to our existence, and the history of our species: The DNA.