Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rediscovery and Bad Journalism

A small treefrog, Isthmohyla rivularis, has been rediscovered by a researcher in Monteverde, Costa Rica, after not having been seen since the 80's. These kinds of discoveries are always pleasing to hear. This one, however, was accompanied by an amusing bit of bad journalism.

I first saw the link on (hat tip to this thread). Here it is:

I started reading, and my heart was racing -

An endangered frog – thought to have become extinct – has just been rediscovered by a Blackpool amphibian expert.
Andrew Gray came across the Golden Toad – or Bufo pereglines – when trekking in Costa Rica.

The Golden Toad is one of the hallmark cases in herpetology about amphibian declines and extinction. A good overview can be found on wikipedia. So, naturally, I was excited. Then things didn't add up. This is the description this article gave:

"One look at the frog in my hand and I knew it was something very special."

The brown and metallic green tree frog, a nocturnal species, had not been seen for almost 20 years and was believed to be extinct.

Wait a minute... that in no way describes Golden Toad. It describes the little treefrog in the accompanying picture. Light is shed on the issue when someone posted a link to a respectable version of the press release:

Comparing this article with the messed up one, you can clearly see where the first article minced and mangled the press release in ridiculous ways. The correct article mentions Golden Toad here:

His discovery has excited zoologists, biologists and conservationists around the globe as it raises new hope that other species considered to have become extinct as a result of climate change may have survived.

These include the fabled Golden Toad of Costa Rica, believed to be one of the first casualties of global warming.

This is a case example of why I find science journalism extremely lacking. The story does have a happy ending - it is a rediscovery, after all! - from the correct article:

Although Andrew could have collected the prize specimen, he decided it would only be right to leave it in the wild. After taking several photos, he released the little frog where he had found it.

He now plans to publish his findings in a Costa Rican scientific journal before returning to the country next year with the goal of setting up a breeding programme.


  1. how exciting that they found this frog but crazy how everything else followed!

  2. Yeah - rediscoveries are always great. I just wish it really WAS the Golden Toad :)