How the entire world's media got a Nature cover story totally, utterly wrong

Moran Cerf, the Israeli military hacker turned good-guy bank-robber turned neuroscientist, tells the hilarious stories about how the best day of his scientific career -- when he got the cover of Nature -- was ruined by press sensationalism. He and his colleagues invented a machine that let him show people pictures of what they were thinking about. A BBC news producer misconstrued this as meaning that he'd invented a machine that could record dreams. They ran with it, and the story spread all over the world, morphing into an account of how scientists could record your dreams and soon there will be product on the market that does this. When he stopped talking to the press, they ganked photos of him in a Freud Hallowe'en costume and dubbed him "the new Sigmund Freud." He continued to be the top news story on Google News, only slipping to number two when the US midterms results were published. He got calls from Apple asking to buy the dream recorder; from Inception's producer asking to go on tour with him, and so on. The story's pretty amazing, and a great commentary on how science stories spin out of control.

The Moth Presents Moran Cerf: On Human (and) Nature (Thanks, Moran!)



      1. Isn’t it mostly a storage facility for students who still want to be supported by their parents but can’t really decide on a major?

      1. “Journalists aren’t supposed to praise things. It’s a violation of work rules almost as serious as buying drinks with our own money or absolving the CIA of something.”
        – P.J. O’Rourke

  1. I stopped trusting the BBC when I noticed that their “quotes” from US rednecks consistently used words like “yob” and “peckish”.

    1. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
      –  Mark Twain (…or maybe Thomas Jefferson)

      1.  “I never said any of the stuff that gets quoted as being from me, including this sentence.”
        — Mark Twain (…or maybe Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln or Groucho Marx or Karl Marx or Woody Allen)

    2. For me, I stopped trusting (no, ‘started despising’) any news organization (and it’s a looong list) that headlined the OJ Simpson trial as “The Trial of the Century”.

      Nuremberg, anyone?

  2. The one-upmanship reminds me of the scene in The Newsroom when they’re covering the Gabbie Giffords story, everyone desperately trying to provide unique information. I guess this situation is what happens if noone with any authority cares about what the truth is, they only care about the biggest headline and the most eyeballs. 

  3. Moran Cerf doesn’t need to rob a bank. All he has to do is take advance orders on the Dream Recorder. The next time you have an out of control science story just send it to Maggie to publish on Boing Boing. Then at least all the important people will know the facts.

  4. Watching the link; They *didn’t* get the front cover story of Nature wrong; they watched a video that the guy made as a promo before the Nature article came out, and he made the mistake of speculating in that video he made – and *that’s* why it happened; not because of a misunderstanding of Nature.

  5. I’ve had specious dream recording for years. I would happily sell you a marketing license if you wish.

  6. How crazy that everyone imagined he had a machine that could read dreams, when really it could only reconstruct what you were seeing in your visual field. I don’t know if there’s a ‘law’ for this, but any time something that seems science-fictiony comes true, it becomes ordinary and boring instead of golly-gee-whiz.

    How futuristic it seemed to read in Omni in 1982 that by the turn of the century we might easily have a worldwide computer system into which you could type any question and get an answer. Now… [yawn]

  7. The “entire world’s media” includes almost everyone with Internet access nowadays.  And we all, collectively and frequently, prove that we can get things just as wrong as the Big Boys.  Via exaggeration, embellishment, over-excitement, self-aggrandizing, and the desire to give the impression we knew about something cool long before everyone else.

  8. I remember seeing this story come out! I remember finding the original source and noticing that it had nothing at all in common with what the press was writing about it. I pointed this fact out to people too excited to listen to me.

     Glad he had a chance to explain to the public how utterly inaccurate the coverage actually was.

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