A while ago I wrote about Carl Zimmer‘s use of the colloquial name daddy-longlegs when referring to harvestmen, and how it hurt the international accessibility of his writing. Honestly, it wasn’t a big deal at the time (although it did bring in a celebrity commenter!) and it looks utterly insignificant compared to this. I’m going to assume that Dr Andrew Ross is as competent as his position of collection manager of fossil invertebrates and plants at the Natural History Museum in London would suggest—which is very—and that he simply wasn’t careful enough about his use of words in interview. During the course of the article, he refers to this harvestman specimen both as a spider and in a roundabout way as an insect as well. Not only are both incorrect, but they’re also mutually exclusive. It’s a real shame that given the opportunity to get the word out and educate the public a little, a senior employee of the Natural History Museum managed, instead, to misinform the public through something as simple as poor word choice.
Luckily there was a safety net this time; the BBC’s journalist, Rebecca Morelle, clearly knows her stuff, and she pre-empts his comments with the correct definition; that harvestmen are arachnids that are closely related to, without actually being, spiders. I just can’t help feeling that it shouldn’t fall to a journalist to correct the expert she quotes.