UPI caught lifting from Science News articles

Knight Science Journalism

UPI's science writers have borrowed liberally from Science News in several instances, Paul Raeburn writes.

Here's one example. On July 23rd, 2012, Nadia Drake of Science News wrote the following, in a story entitled "Crowd Sourcing Comes to Astronomy":

After performing a Yahoo! image search for photos of Comet Holmes, which whizzed by Earth in 2007, a team of astronomers used the returned images to reconstruct the comet’s orbit in three dimensions — proving that astronomers can take advantage of data provided by an unwitting group of participants.

“I think it’s the beginning of something really, really important,” says Harvard University’s Alyssa Goodman of the study, which appears in the August Astronomical Journal. “The biggest deal is the availability of all this data that isn’t being collected for the purpose it was used.”

On July 25, two days later, UPI wrote this:

A team of astronomers used a Yahoo! search to find images of Comet Homes, then combined them to determine the comet's orbit in three dimensions, proving data provided by an large but unwitting group of participants can advance scientific knowledge.

"I think it's the beginning of something really, really important," Harvard University's Alyssa Goodman said of the study. "The biggest deal is the availability of all this data that isn't being collected for the purpose it was used."

Raeburn, who's too polite to note that UPI's article misspells the name of the comet, gives four more examples of echoing copy. UPI Executive Editor John Hendel told Raeburn that UPI would rewrite one of the items he questioned. "Please be assured there was no intention of not crediting another writer's work," Hendel wrote. Raeburn followed up with Hendel, who told him "we have spoken with the writer to stress that that is not our practice and we strive to make it so such issues don't arise again."

He has expressed remorse, which we believe is genuine.

If we find there is a trend of continuing violations along this line (generally if they happen, they are found in the editing process), we sever relationships with that stringer.

We do try very hard to avoid this and our writers are reminded often to appropriately attribute the source of the information, whether a journal, news release or another publication. It is an ongoing process for us to watch for this.

"That's not enough," Raeburn writes. "Science News articles are not press releases to be lightly rewritten by UPI reporters and passed off as original."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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