On Wednesday, we published an article about animal welfare in research experiments. It was biased, factually incorrect, and should not have appeared on io9 in that form. As io9's editor-in-chief, I'm the one who screwed up, and I'm sorry. Here's how this mess happened, and what we're doing about it.
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I assigned this article to George Dvorsky, in part because he has a lot of experience advocating for animal rights. We sometimes allow writers to publish their work without editing on io9. And it was the day before a holiday, so I allowed the article to go up with little oversight. That was where I went wrong. Some stories should fall under rigorous editorial scrutiny, and animal welfare in the laboratory is an incendiary and complicated issue. I should have spent a lot of time editing the article to make sure we had our facts straight. But I didn't.
Because most of George's contacts in the animal research community are activists and advocates, he spoke exclusively to them. As a result, the article was a one-sided presentation of views from controversial groups like PETA and scientists who have worked closely with that organization. I have no regrets that we included PETA's perspective, but unfortunately their opinions were represented as facts. Much worse, we included no comments from people in the research community or from ethics oversight committees who regulate animal research. The article did not represent animal research accurately, nor did it include the perspective of scientists working in the field.
I am deeply sorry that I allowed the article to be published as it was. It was a major mistake — and I take responsibility for it as George's editor.
That said, I want to point out a few things about how you, our readers, responded to this article and what we did as a result. There was an immediate outcry in comments and on Twitter from people who were outraged, puzzled or concerned about the bias in the article. Scientists and ethicists came forward to correct errors (often angrily, but justifiably so). As a result, George and I spent Thanksgiving and Black Friday working on revisions to the published article, correcting factual errors and adding extensive comments from researchers and oversight board members. No, the article is still not perfect. The headline is inaccurate, but I elected to keep it because so many people have linked to the article at this point with that headline. I think it is more transparent to retain it so that there's a record of what happened.
As awful as this situation was, this is how social media journalism is supposed to work in its ideal form. I screwed up as an editor, and you caught it — within minutes. Of course this mistake should never have happened, but I'm grateful that you called io9 on it and did more than just tell us we were wrong. Several scientists and philosophers spent time on their holidays to talk to George, and to write long, eloquent explanations of their perspectives in email. Thanks to your help, and our edits, the article as it stands does represent many sides of the issue. And PETA is credited as the source of opinions, rather than facts.
Again, I want to emphasize that you guys deserve an apology for our mistake. Put simply: I fucked up. But if I had to fail (and no doubt I will again), I'm grateful to fail in this community, which is full of smart, informed readers who are here to educate, respond meaningfully, and engage with the topics we cover. Even though it sucks to screw up, I couldn't ask for a better group to tell me where I went wrong.