For Christmas, schadenfreude:
We badly blew our story on the Earth's longest night ever. Here's what we got wrong: http://t.co/sHMNQniz0b
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) December 23, 2014
This lie was all over my Facebook and Twitter for days. Vox is, ahem, “trusted,” the fact was weird enough to be interesting, add some seasonal flavor, and boom. Viral. Too bad it wasn’t true. The longest day on record was in 1912, not 2014. Oops:
On Sunday, I published a story claiming that the 2014 winter solstice would feature the longest night in earth’s history. That claim was absolutely incorrect.
How did I get this wrong? My reasoning was that the days on earth are gradually lengthening over time due to a phenomenon known as tidal friction, which slows down the planet’s rotation. That would mean that every new winter solstice — the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere — would also be the longest night of all time.
But as readers pointed out, this was far too simplistic — and I’d missed some important factors. Yes, tidal friction does slow down the earth’s rotation over extremely long periods of time. But other factors — including geological activity and shifting ice caps — can also slow it down or speed it up by a few milliseconds over the course of many years. If you take all of these factors into account, the 2014 winter solstice was not actually the longest night in history.
I apologize for this. My primary job as a reporter — and my biggest responsibility to readers — is to get the facts right. In this case, I failed spectacularly.
Sonny Bunch notes Vox has been wrong about pretty much everything it published that was interesting this year, including the intriguing notion that Israel was blocking construction of a literal bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza. Seriously, they really published that.
It really is remarkable. Literally every time someone has tweeted something interesting from Vox into my timeline, it has almost immediately fallen apart under even the most modest amount of scrutiny.
Who among us hasn’t been duped by a VOX DOT COM hit? I remember being intrigued by the fact that Vox—by no means a primary source for pop culture news—was able to solve a mystery haunting premium cable fans for the last several years. One of their writers boldly claimed that David Chase had, finally, confirmed that, yes, Tony died at the end of The Sopranos.
Except, oops, Vox’s writer had more or less totally made it up.
Then there is their expert explaining of the Middle East, where it was voxplained to us that the dastardly Israelis were considering shutting down an actual bridge connecting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in order to mess with the Palestinians.
Except, oops, no such bridge exists, as anyone who knows anything about the geography of that area could have told you.
Read Sonny’s whole run-down of Vox’s triumphs in explaining life to the rest of us. Look, people get stuff wrong. It’s going to happen and it’s honorable to correct oneself. But there’s something galling about the site positioned as the one that will explain the world to all the rest of us, the site so high on its own intellectualism, getting so very much obvious stuff completely, totally wrong. Good luck in the new year. I hear 2015 is going to be the longest year on record. Ever. On Earth.
Thanks for the explanation, guys.
Update: Speaking of corrections, I changed day to night in my headline.