Affidavit of Frog Name: Judging of Science Reporting

It was 2014. And the news broke. Fourteen species of dancing frogs were discovered from the western ghat of southern India. The study was led by The University of Delhi’s well-known amphibian biologist, professor Dr. Satyabhama Das Biju. He heads Systematic Lab of the Department of Environmental Studies, there. He is a celebrated Indian frog discover-in-chief and wildlife conversationalist. Later media coined him the “Frog man of India.” He was interviewed in Sanctuary Asia magazine.  He has been featured in National Geographic. If you see this article, you will find how to report a science news when it belongs to biology. Because it is well articulated with captioned images (frogs’ scientific names are there in the caption) and a nice audiovisual documentation. Links are there. And it is a universal rule that Genus name should be Italic, the first letter in upper case and species name would be Italic and start with lower case. Sometimes species name may start with bold that have a new modernised rules of nomenclature simply naming of animals or plants.

Let’s now come back to this year. In February he has discovered seven tiny frog species. The Hindu headlined (dated 22th Feb 2017) , “Tiny frog species found in Western Ghat.” It was bylined T. Nandakumar. These tiny frogs belong to endemic Nyctibatrachus genus. It reports simplified, named four of the species in just frog name i.e., Athirappilly Night Frog ( close to Kerala’s Athirappilly waterfalls) inspired, Radcliffe’s Night Frog, Sabrimala Night Frog, Kadalar Night Frog. Other two frogs’ name was missing. Article has single frog image sans caption. It also reported quoting scientists, “Five of the seven new ‘Night Frogs’ have small ranges and their habitat is under threat.” But there was no scientific names. They mentioned only four names out of the seven.

This discovery was reported on Dailymail headlined “The fingernail frogs: Seven tiny new species of amphibians” dated 21st February 2017, bylined Shivali Best. Seven frogs name were reported. These are Vijayana’s Night Frog, Manalar Night Frog and Robin Moores’s Night frog along with  previously mentioned four in this article. In The Dailymail copy there were all these seven frogs’ names accompanying captioned images. There the author has written the common names, so there is no problem with the italic or capitalisation in scientific genus and species name.

Dailymail: image with specific frog’s common name.

Dr. Biju’s team has been discovered new more four frogs species recently which was reported in June. The Hindustantimes (by line Malavika Vyawahare) headlined (dated 20th June 2017) “Indian scientists discover four new frog species in Western Ghat.” These are: 1. Fejervarya kadar (in the name Kadar tribe of Kerala), 2. Fejervarya monoharani (in the name of T. M. Moniharan, former chief conservator of forests of Kerala, who extended his wholehearted support to Prof Biju during the early years of his amphibian career), 3. Fejervarya cepfi (named after the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund abbreviated CEPF), 4. Fejervarya neilcoxi (in name of Neil Cox, the manager of the biodiversity assessment unit at the International Union for Conversation of Nature, IUCN). All these infos are nicely mentioned in the HT’s article. They use images too of the specific species. There was no species named CEPFI, it’s a species name called cepfi. The third image was captioned, “The newly-identified Neil Coxi species. That species name is nielcoxi. Interestingly all Fejervarya genus-species name were non-italic. Is it for looking nice or editorial policy that’s a universal scientific name appears in that manner?

HT : image captioned would be cepfi in scientific name or CEPF in common name

HT: image captioned Neil Coxi. It would be neilcoxi in scientific name or Neil Cox’s frog in common name. And all scientific name were written in non-italic in the article.

Huffingtonpost did Spelling mistake on frog name by same bylined author earlier on February’s discovery (dated 22th Feb 2017) which headlined, “Four New Species of World’s Smallest Frog Discovered In The Western Ghats.” One species they called Athirappally Night Frog in the name of Athirappally waterfalls, which should be Athirappilly Night Frog. We do change village or city spelling sometime but do we change generic name of medicine or PSLV rocket spelling? And with same captioning SD BIJU..SD BIJU. Everything in science should be proper spelled when it deals with name.

HP: genus name Fejervarya not “Fejerarya.”
HP: species name is athirappilly not athirappally.
HP: image without proper caption or credit: SD Biju 
HP: Monoharan’s Burrowing Frog not Maohrahan’s and Neil Cox’s not Neil’s Cox. 

Scroll also reported this discovery bylined Vinita Govindarajan, dated 21st June 2017 headlined “In pictures: Four new species of burrowing frogs discovered in the Western Ghats.” Did one spelling mistake Fejerverya genus which would be Fejervarya. But they correctly spelled in Fejervarya as scientific name with the common name and well captioned images with the common name i.e., Nielcox, Monoharan’s Burrowing frog. But do have mistaken in scientific genus-species writing. All Genus name are italic but species are non-italic.

Scroll: genus name is Fejervarya not Fejerverya
Scroll: genus names are italic but species name are non-italic.

Newspapers or digital media for news are not research journals. These are supposed to inform a layman or all people from different non-scientific and other educational backgrounds. BBC did a simplified reporting on frog species discovery just mentioning genus name without distortion of spelling and representative captioned images. Indian science writers grow up! We don’t have Shiv Aroor who do tweet thread of warplanes or defence craft by correcting mainstream media’s spurious images. It’s not frogged.

Sk Badiruddin is a writer & independent journalist. He can be contacted on twitter @skbadiruddin