Wrongium, the Media’s Favourite Element

Everyone likes a good beat-up. On May 31, Nature magazine—the world’s most prestigious scientific journal—published a news article under the headline “India Cuts Periodic Table and Evolution from School Textbooks”. Do notice that,according to Nature, they cut evolution too.

Why would such a science-obsessed country as India do something so stupid? The standard take across Western media is that a religiously conservative government has declared war on rationality. Richard Dawkins went so far as to belittle Hinduism an “idiotic religion”.

The actual answer is all of this is fake news. Neither the periodic table nor evolution has been dropped. The periodic table was moved from Year 9 to Year 11, and evolution was moved from Year 9 to Year 12.

The main reason for the change was to ensure that university-bound students who missed out on in-class instruction during the coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t be disadvantaged in their higher education studies. In other words, India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) thought that evolution and the periodic table were so important that no university-bound student should miss them, though early school-leavers might reasonably live without them.

Nonetheless, search “India” and “periodic table” or “evolution” and you’ll find that Nature‘s (unretracted) fake news narrative is now the received truth. And with all due respect to Nature‘s Melbourne-based science writer Dyani Lewis, who authored the piece, her article is technically accurate. She wrote that “children under 16 returning to school this month at the start of the school year will no longer be taught about evolution, the periodic table of elements or sources of energy”. Her report simply omitted that students over 16 would.

While one might see a lack of proper journalistic skepticism in the report, Ms Lewis is perhaps not to blame for creating the fake news. She may have simply been a dupe of credible-sounding sources in India: activist academics and op-ed writers who spare no opportunity to besmirch the reputation of a religiously conservative government that they personally loathe. It is quite possible that none of the eminent Indians she interviewed for the article bothered to mention that the subjects were simply being rescheduled, not removed.

It is all too easy for Western media organisations to be co-opted into political battles they don’t understand, especially when they are all too willing to believe narratives that seem consistent with their own world-views. This is how fake news is created, spread, and made authoritative. Indian and other Third World intellectuals routinely dupe credulous Western reporters with stories like these. And in most cases those Western reporters not only don’t correct their stories, but never even come to know they’ve been used.

Most developing countries aren’t important enough to be the targets of fake news like this. Fewer still are liberal democracies, where opponents of the sitting government are actually free to spread anti-government lies without fear of reprisals. And only one has a vibrant English-language media, which facilitates the leakage of stories like this out of the national press and into the international media.

That one country is India.

Whenever you read a scathing report out of India, stop and ask yourself “is that really likely to be true?” You can no longer trust the likes of newspaper editors or television producers to ask that question on  your behalf. After all, if Nature has reported it, it must be true, right? Anyone who has lived through COVID should know the answer to that. Unfortunately, the editors and producers who curate our news lived through COVID too, and they learned the opposite lesson: if they reported it, it must be true. Even if it isn’t.

Salvatore Babones is an associate professor at the University of Sydney and the executive director of the Indian Century Roundtable

7 thoughts on “Wrongium, the Media’s Favourite Element

  • brennan1950 says:

    Wrongium prefaced by lazium.

  • ianl says:

    >” … if they [MSM] reported it, it must be true. Even if it isn’t.”

    Thank you Salvatore S. This too is my long experience. Not only the journos and sub-editors think that, a great deal of the general public do as well. The reverse too, since if something remains unreported, then it cannot be true.

    Such as: “That can’t be true, or else we would have been told”.

    Example ? Last winter when the electricity market fell over, power to the Newcastle aluminium smelter was cut off over 35 times in one month to try and keep domestic housing powered. The smelter is subsidised (tax) of course, so the workforce was paid, and the power cuts were timed to avoid potlines freezing. But no MSM reports of this were played up, so most people simply say “I don’t believe that”.

    The MSM – despised, even on its’ best day. The incumbents don’t mind that, of course.


    Ayn Rand said:
    “The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by precedent, by implication, by erosion, by default, by dint of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other – until the day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology.”
    Thanks to you Salvatore, that tripey news article from Nature has been contested: for us to read and disseminate to other thinkers. Hopefully the fallout will circulate widely and fly back in the faces of Nature magazine publishers.

  • brandee says:

    Thanks Salvatore for defending India. It is mostly a very tolerant Anglophile country that loves cricket.
    Khajuraho is a wonderful place to visit and the Mohammedan invaders missed the temples there as they headed to plunder the riches of Varanasi. The tolerant colonial Christian Britons protected and restored the temple sites.
    Hindus tend to have monogamous marriages perhaps because their gods were mostly monogamous. They showed their fascination with sexual congruency on the explicit temple statues at Khajuraho. There is nothing rainbow about the male/female attraction shown in the statues so that may be another reason why India comes under ideological attack. Mohammedans maintain their 1500 year antipathy to infidels as demonstrate by Pakistan hiving off during the Partition.

Leave a Reply