Now, they give it the same weight as what happened in the Middle East or around the world. The discovery of the Higgs boson was a banner headline in The New York Times—as was the story when we demoted Pluto from planet status [in 2000, in an exhibit at the then-recently opened Rose Center for Earth and Sciences at the Museum of Natural History], although it was below the fold. That’s a case where the media created a news story where there wasn’t one.

What do you mean?

It had been a year since we had demoted Pluto. The exhibit was sitting there. No one had talked about it. People saw that Pluto was not among the planets and said, ‘Oh, that must be the movement of science, and okay, fine.’ Then a journalist from the Times overhears a woman looking for Pluto who couldn’t find it, and the reporter calls that in to the Science desk and they do the story with the headline, “Pluto’s Not a Planet? Only in New York.” [The International Astronomical Union did not demote Pluto for another five years.] The headline was accusatory. We all learned about Pluto as kids. It was the underdog planet, and it’s in our culture, so they wrote this story. I don’t have a problem with it, other than it ate two years of my life fielding inquiries, and I got branded as the evil planet killer.

 

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.