The Guardian screws up a science article

August 7, 2022 • 7:30 am

After Matthew corrected this story via Twitter, it’s still up prominently on the Guardian website (at least as of 6:30 this morning Chicago time).  Click to read:

The relevant bit from the story is this:

Thousands of venomous crabs converged on the beaches of Cornwall due to rising sea temperatures caused by the climate crisis. The migratory creatures swarmed in the shallow water in St Ives, shedding their shells before returning to depths of up to 300ft.

The crustaceans are instantly recognisable for their long legs and pincers and have a venomous bite that is poisonous to their prey but harmless to humans.

Oy! What clickbait: guaranteed to drive the swimmers out of the Cornwall seas! And it did!

Their presence at Porthgwidden Beach was enough to put many bathers off entering the sea.

However, Kate Lowe, a marine photographer captured the event just days after a snorkeler was bitten by a blue shark during an excursion off Penzance.


Remember, this has happened “just days after a snorkeler was bitten by a blue shark” – like that has anything to do with anything except alarming people!

Furthermore, it’s wrong: this species, Hyas araneus, the giant spider crab, is not venomous. As far as I know, while some crabs are poisonous (their bodies contain toxins that could kill you), no crabs are venomous, i.e., injecting venom into their prey.

These crabs are innocuous unless they nip you.  But how did the Guardian get it wrong?  Matthew explains:

The article is about spider crabs, which are indeed crabs. They are coming into shallow, warm waters in Cornwall to moult together. About two days ago, the tabloids here had the story, and said these crabs were venomous but this was harmless to humans. The Guardian freelancer  basically cut and pasted the story, including this phrase, which comes from a Google hit for “crab spider” (which is a spider, and is obviously venomous). They also headlined it “Venomous visitors”. There is only one known venomous crustacean, it is a remipedian (more closely related to a fly than to a crab).

Matthew even tweeted to the Guardian to get them to correct this (we petulant biologists dislike these errors, especially if they can panic the public):

This was over four hours ago, and the headline stays. (I also tweeted them.) As Matthew emailed me:

They won’t chnage it… Any more than any of the tabloids did. Google this
are spider crabs venomous
And you get about a dozen identical articles – from all the leading UK media – with the same crap cut and pasted…
Come on, Guardian, get someone who knows to vet your science articles!

17 thoughts on “The Guardian screws up a science article

  1. I gave up on the Guardian some time ago. The worthwhile writers have left or been sanctioned because they don’t follow the woke reflex. The Guardian is now the journalistic equivalent of Lysenkoism, in my opinion.

  2. If the article was primarly about the impact of global warming on the behavior of the spider crab, I found that angle unclear (in addition to the inaccurate info noted by Cobb.) If global warming causes crabs to moult more often, what is the ramification of that? Is it putting them at greater risk to their predators? Are they gathering in larger numbers, if so, what does that mean for their survival? I am put off by the fact that the Guardian promoted their paper as a champion of truth about global warming at the end of the article, but it had no insights that I could discern. Just a scary story about venomous crabs ruining peoples day at the beach. The world needs better science reporting. This isn’t it.

  3. I think there is a big notice in every newsroom that all stories about animals or nature must contain a statement about how the even is attributed to man-made climate change.

    The root of the problem, I suspect, is that the latest generation of journalists have been taught whatever the universities are teaching instead of giving them a well rounded education. They don’t even know or care to do basic research. And they lack ethics.

  4. I think there is a big notice in every newsroom

    There is a “newsroom”? Which freelancers get into the same building as?
    I think it’s much more likely that this writer works from home, possibly for 10 different publications per day (using aliases when banned from working for others), and her (his, it’s, their, whatever) pay is dominated by the number of clicks it generates on the embedded adverts.

    The root of the problem, I suspect,

    is that every scintilla of research they do costs them time and pays them zero. Plus, of course, they’re probably “English”, “History”, or “Media Studies” graduates and very literally do not have the slightest knowledge of what they’re trying to generate income using.
    What can you do about it? Not a lot. Install and operate advert-blockers at your router ; never click an advert, and eventually the business model will fail, leaving the news industry to find some other funding model. (Which the Grauniad does at least attempt, unlike some other news outlets.)

  5. I’d just like to add that crab spiders, like other spiders, do indeed inject venom into their prey but are generally tiny and pose no threat whatsoever to people!

  6. As others have pointed out, this is worse than mere click bait. This is misrepresentation of climate change and Leftist outlets are as guilty of politicization of climate change, as this example shows, as is Fox News.

  7. A sign posted at a local hiking trail warns of “poisonous snakes.” Oh well, at least it keeps people from eating the wildlife.

  8. I’ve already seen that there’s a post in my RSS feed about the Guardian retracting this article but I’d like to point out that this is where a lot of the misinformation in wikipedia comes from. It’s likely that the Wikipedia article will pick it up “spider crabs are venomous [citation: the Guardian etc]” and then “journalists” will recycle it as if it were fact leading to more citations for the Wikipedia article and so on.

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