Monday, March 13, 2006

Flying saucer flap

Extraordinary front page story in the Guardian today on the 'discovery' of a British Rail patent from the early 1970s for a nuclear-powered flying saucer. The Telegraph, Times, Independent and Sun also ran with the story, albeit in a less prominent position, while the BBC, Register and sundry other sources have picked up on it today.

It's extraordinary mainly because this really isn't news. This same patent, far from being suddenly 'discovered on the website of the European Patent Office by a student', received wide press coverage just a few years ago (I think as part of a Patents Office publicity push, or something similar - annoyingly, I can't find anything in the various archives). It's been in books. A simple google on 'flying saucer' and 'British Rail' turns up references, such as this one from UFO journal Magonia, going back to at least the mid-80s.

Presumably this is in the papers today because someone, somewhere, has put out an agency story or a press release - many of the stories feature the same quotes from people like Colin Pillinger. But are national newspaper journalists - even science specialists like the Guardian's Alok Jha - really too lazy, ignorant or short of time to do the smallest piece of background research? It's stuff like this that gives journos a bad name.

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Blogger Tim Chapman said...

The Guardian's corrections and clarifications to the semi-rescue again -

"Discovery" was perhaps not the word to apply to our noticing on the website of the European Patent Office plans for the development of a nuclear-powered flying saucer, page 1, March 13. The story first appeared in the Guardian on May 31 1978, courtesy of Adrian Hope of New Scientist who had shown the patent to a conference in aid of British inventors the previous day.

9:39 am, March 15, 2006  

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