Thursday, March 1, 2012


Interesting little brouhaha going on at – one of my favorite Internet reads – though you won’t get a sense of much interest out of Slate.

A little Googling tells me that on Feb. 17, Slate published an article written by Carl Elliott, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, calling into question the ethicality of a stem-cell researcher and businessman also serving as editor of a journal on bioethics. Slate retracted the article – which I had not read until today – offering as its only explanation a terse editorial statement stating the article didn’t meet its standards for verification and fairness. Slate stripped the article from its website and apparently did a pretty good job of scrubbing the web, as I can’t find a link to the article on anywhere.

The article’s author, and several other experts in the bioethics and stem cell community, seem to think Slate caved in to the threat of a lawsuit over an article that contained only minor factual inaccuracies. Ed Silverman, writing at, has a good rundown of the situation.

Sez Elliott, per Silverman:
I disagreed strongly with Slate’s decision to withdraw the article. McGee had threatened them with a lawsuit, and their editorial decision seemed driven entirely by fear. For a journalistic organization to allow itself to be bullied in this way is shameful.
As is probable, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, though Slate’s terse statement and complete scrubbing of the article does lend itself to some odd questions, as up until now, Slate’s corrective efforts have been much more open and traceable than this.

So being the curious little fellow that I am, I did some more Googling and, thanks to the Center for Genetics and Society, I got to read the full article (still tagged as being published by Slate). Read it here.

One has to wonder by Slate didn’t come to bat for Elliott, who seems to raise legitimate conflict of interest claims and relies – as do most journalists – on careful research into the subject. And given the ease in which I was able to find the full article, still credited to Slate, on the web, you have to wonder why they thought they could make this article go away. Elliott himself tells Silverman that the subject of the article seemed most upset about Elliott’s repeating of already-reported facts – found in articles and at sources that are in the public record and aren’t going to go away, no matter who he calls.

Having made terriffically bad mistakes myself in newspaper articles, I know the pain this causes. I also know that editors owe it to the public to explain up front what happened and what the consequences are and, frankly, what the mistakes were, in order to clear the air and move forward. hasn’t done this at all.

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