Media Stupidity Watch: No, it’s not Atlantis

British Papers have just managed to outdo themselves in terms of scientifically illiterate reporting. The Sun: Is this Atlantis?


The Telegraph: Google Ocean: Has Atlantis been found off Africa?


For the record, here is the spot in Google Maps:

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So what is the structure? Actually, there is no structure there. It’s merely a grid of higher resolution sounding data amid a lower-resolution dataset, taken from a ship surveying the area.

The new Oceans dataset for Google Earth is the SRTM30_PLUS dataset, whose homepage clearly states:

Ocean data are based on the Smith and Sandwell global 1-minute grid between latitudes +/- 81 degrees. Higher resolution grids have been added from the LDEO Ridge Multibeam Synthesis Project, the JAMSTEC Data Site for Research Cruises, and the NGDC Coastal Relief Model. Arctic bathymetry is from the International Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (IBCAO) [Jakobsson et al., 2003].

You can see higher-resolution sounding ship paths in many places on the new dataset, especially around Antarctica, where the default resolution bathymetry is quite coarse. For example:

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Especially outrageous is that for the articles in question, the only interviewed person is an Atlantis “expert” who finds the findings “fascinating”, whereas one phone-call to a serious marine scientist would have sufficed to pour cold water on this story.

I don’t know whether the Sun’s Virginia Wheeler and Rhodri Phillips are merely stupid, lazy and scientifically illiterate reporters, or whether they set out to deceive their readership. The fact that Matthew Moore at the Telegraph rewrote the story uncritically is just incredibly embarrassing.

11 thoughts on “Media Stupidity Watch: No, it’s not Atlantis”

  1. I recently listened to Ben Goldacre (of the excellent bad science column in the guardian ) talk about the UK media on radio 4’s start the week. His experience of talking to science journos working for UK papers is that they themselves aren’t idiots but their arts graduate editors are so they get told to cover stories they know are downright stupid.

  2. The grid is not a sonar scan artifact; the grid lines are disrupted by the (clearly natural) terrain, which would not affect a scan pattern. It looks to me like the spoor of a huge a search operation that dragged a cabled sensor looking for some high-value target. There are over a thousand miles of drag marks. Big operation.

  3. No. these are high resolution sonar measurements amid lower resolution terrain (which is why it looks smooth — fewer datapoints will do that for you.) The reason why the high resolution grid is recessed in the low resolution grid is because the high resolution imagery has a higher average depth.

  4. And now they are updating their articles, without marking the update. The last paragraphs weren’t there at first…

  5. We did sign up at digital urban but our post was hopefully viewed as tongue in cheek :) It would of been great, just a shame it was the size of Wales so the roads would of been roughly the size of a city…

  6. The Sun reporters and editors stupid or scientifically illiterate?

    I don’t think so – their readership is.

    One would think that everyone with EEG already knows that The Sun is just another instance of yellow press which has the most prominent feature of sucking money from suckers.



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