Friday, March 30, 2007

Soy milk, New York Times, and Wikipedia

The New York Times ran an article earlier this week on beverages and health. It turns out to have contained wildly inaccurate statements about soy milk, as volunteers at the Wikipedia Reference Desks have established. Did the Times acknowledge its errors? No. Instead, the article was silently amended.

Before:

"Fortified soy milk is a good alternative for individuals who prefer not to consume cow milk,” the panel said, but cautioned that soy milk cannot be legally fortified with vitamin D and provides only 75 percent of the calcium the body obtains from cow’s milk.
After:
"Fortified soy milk is a good alternative for individuals who prefer not to consume cow milk," the panel said.
I remember reading the original sentence and thinking "That can't be right." Sure enough: the soy milk and "cow milk" in my fridge, as I just discovered, have the same amount of calcium, and the soy milk has more vitamin D. (And who, aside from "the panel," calls it "cow milk"?)

It's difficult to disagree with Wikipedia contributor Jfarber, who brought these errors to the attention of the Times (and has received no acknowledgement from the paper): "for all the bad press about Wikipedia, there are some ways in which it works very well indeed."
Soy milk + Vitamin D? (Wikipedia Reference Desk)
NYT changes, back-dates article (Boing Boing)
You Are Also What You Drink (New York Times)

Related posts

I've spotted two significant errors in the Times, both involving recording technology:

Correction
VINYL GAFFE, LEDDY CHARGES

comments: 2

boyhowdy said...

Some follow up to report: as of sometime early this morning, the Times article now includes a formal notice of correction...but no clear acknowledgment of the delay between the article changes and the correction text. This certaionly completes the process of addressing our original concerns about the article, but I'm not sure it truly provides resolution this late in the game. As I wrote in Wikipedia:

On a side note: this seems to be turning into a story about journalist ethics, which is interesting to me. Our original concerns about the story, IMHO, seemed to point to the panel recommendations, not to the reporter, as being responsible for reporting outdated information. It is only since the article was emended silently, with no accompanying correction or acknowledgement, that the Times' journalism has been called into question. One might say that this wasn't about the Times, until the Times made it about themselves. Unfortunately for them, as the BoingBoing acceptance may suggest, in a world where blogger-journalists pass discovery around like lightning, the Times may be a juicer target than a study about the nutritional applications of beverages, no matter how popular the original article may have been.

Thanks for helping pass this along!

-Jfarber

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the update!