Nature: Yes We Stole Yr Altenberg-Woodstock Theme

Now that Nature magazine — pants down — has admitted its theft and has partially and begrudgingly corrected the record regarding my first coverage of the Altenberg story, let’s put blame where blame is due. In a breach of public trust, the coordinator(s) …

Nature: Yes We Stole Yr Altenberg-Woodstock Theme

By Suzan Mazur

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Corrections (Nature magazine October 2, 2008)
“In the News Feature ‘Postmodern evolution?’ (Nature 455,281-284; 2008), we should have identified Susan [sic] Mazur as the first to use the term ‘The Woodstock of Evolution’ to describe the Altenberg meeting.”

Now that Nature magazine pants downhas admitted its theft and has partially and begrudgingly corrected the record regarding my first coverage of the Altenberg story, let’s put blame where blame is due. In a breach of public trust, the coordinator(s) of the Altenberg 16 meeting to remix evolutionary theory announced that the July conference would be private — despite tremendous public interest — and then invited one reporter to attend and file a story (it’s unclear if there was a confidentiality agreement). That somewhat timid and clearly anticlimactic article appeared in Nature magazine September 18, 2008, over six months after I broke the story “Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?” carried by Scoop Media, March 4, 2008, followed by my ongoing coverage of the historic symposium. The September 18 issue of Nature not only lifts my theme but leads with it on the cover — “Evolutionary Theory: Echoes from ‘Woodstock’” — to sell its $10 magazine, failing to mention me or Scoop Media anywhere in the four-page piece, saying instead:

“The meeting has received a fair amount of hype – in the blogosphere it was dubbed ‘The Woodstock of Evolution’.”

Nature also failed to say that I coined “the Altenberg 16” name, but used the term to identify the Altenberg 16 scientists in a group portrait, spelling out the figure 16 rather than giving credit for the coinage. Nature has yet to officially correct the record on this, although Nature‘s managing editor assured me in a phone conversation that it would be done. Equally bizarre is that the Nature piece came two months after AAAS Science magazine ran a two-page Altenberg article by Elizabeth Pennisi (not reported from Altenberg) which did credit me with naming the Altenberg 16, saying my March 4 story “reverberated throughout the evolutionary biology community”.

I first confronted predatory and “sloppy journalistic practices” (New York Times Magazine Editor Gerald Marzorati’s term for his paper’s tactics) like Nature‘s four years ago when the NYT Magazine lifted my celebrated story “Bush Bounced From Carlyle Board”published in Progressive Review July 1, 2003. That story wound up without attribution as the centerpiece of Ron Suskind’s October 2004 election cover story for the Times Magazine ($3.50@ copy). Suskind and the Times were forced to apologize corrected the record and linked my story online to Suskind’s.

We’ve come to expect such “sloppiness” from the Times – pushing WMD stories, sitting on NSA stories, etc. whereas Nature magazine has been perceived as having a higher tone, as being a serious, exacting science magazine. But can scientists “throughout the evolutionary biology community” who read Nature still have confidence in it and the research it presents when its editors apparently don’t even read Science magazine, took six months to report the Altenberg story, stole a theme for the mag’s $10 cover and then ran a partial correction — postage-size — misspelling the offended party’s name?

Let’s face it — instant scratch game inserts cannot be far behind.

In order to alert the public to Nature’s predatory and sloppy journalistic practices, I include here my correspondence with the magazine following my initial phone call to its managing editor Nick Campbell, advising him of my grievance.

(September 23, 2008)

Nick Campbell
Managing Editor
Nature Magazine

Dear Nick Campbell

As we discussed just now, there has been a theft of my original reporting by your magazine. No attribution to me in your September 18, 2008 cover story “Evolutionary Theory: Echoes from ‘Woodstock’” is a problem! Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?, March 4, 2008 story had an origin – ME – not the blogosphere. I broke that story which created a sensation and has now become a classic. It was carried first by Scoop Media. Science magazine in its July 11, 2008 issue described my work (I was named a half dozen times) as reverberating “throughout the evolutionary biology community”. Anybody read Science there? I first called the group of scientists the Altenberg 16 in that March 4 story. Now proceed to Click here: UNDERNEWS: BLATANT SELF PROMOTION to see how the media is reacting to your Nature cover story. Then try my E-book Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry, which has been posted since July 6, 2008 on Scoop Media. I will be back in touch to discuss what needs to be done to remedy this sleazy situation.

Suzan Mazur

(September 23, 2008)

Nick Campbell
Managing Editor
Nature Magazine
Dear Nick Campbell

Regarding our communication earlier today (see email below), I’d like to further establish that the Nature Publishing Group web site [] linked my March 4, 2008 story on March 5, 2008 via Pharyngula, Sandwalk and Laelaps. I subsequently linked that same NPG url in my March 25, 2008 story carried by Scoop: “Theory of Form to Evolution Center Stage”.

Then on March 19, 2008, I received an email from your West Coast correspondent Rex Dalton asking for my telephone number. I did not respond to the Dalton email, which reads:

got your name from several folks in the antiquities arena
have enjoyed reading and learning from your scoop posts
they were very helpful in recent article I did on nyu’s white-funded institute. we referred to them in metadata as link.

wanted to ask a journalistic courtesy if possible, what number can you be reached at this week?

rex dalton
west coast correspondent
san diego ca
w xxx xxx xxxx
c xxx xxx xxxx

And on July 24, 2008, a series of anonymous posts appeared on John Whitfield’s [Nature‘s Altenberg author] El Gentraso web site with a link with my E-book: Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry; my “Altenberg 16, AAAS & The Dorak Affair story; and Sam Smith’s Undernews/Progressive Review story about me and the AAAS Altenberg 16 story.

There is no wiggle room for Nature. My work on Altenberg is known throughout the evolutionary biology community, to John Whitfield, Nature and The Nature Publishing Group.
You are charging $10 @ magazine, leading on the cover and with material inside taken from me and used without attribution. As compensation I will accept . . . plus a correction in print and an apology.

I await your response

Yours sincerely
Suzan Mazur”

(September 24, 2008)

Dear Suzan Mazur

Nick Campbell passed your email on to me.

John [the reporter] went to Altenberg, a meeting we were aware of from a wide range of sources, spoke to people there and elsewhere and reported on what he heard and thought. I don’t see this as requiring any attribution to you. [emphasis added] I don’t think his conclusions were yours.

Your hype-y phrase “The Woodstock of Evolution” has, as we said, become a much used tag by bloggers. But in citing it just in that context while not pointing out that your article was the first to use the term in this context . . . we didn’t serve you or the curious reader as well as we should have. I will put a corrigendum acknowledging your first use of that phrase up online and into a subsequent issue of the printed magazine, and link to your original piece through our metadata.

Oliver Morton
Chief News and Features Editor

Unable to reach Oliver Morton by phone, I again called Nick Campbell reminding him that I coined “the Altenberg 16” and wanted further credit in the correction. He agreed and to link the March 4 story in the corrigendum. I followed up with this email to Campbell confirming our conversation:

(Sept. 26, 2008)

Dear Nick Campbell

Thank you for the correction and apology regarding the September 18, 2008 Nature cover story: “Evolutionary Theory: Echoes from ‘Woodstock'”. As we just agreed by phone, I will also be credited for first naming the scientists “the Altenberg 16” — which you spell out under the group photo — and a link to my original March 4, 2008 story carried by Scoop Media: “Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution” will go into the corrigendum.

Here’s the opening paragraph of the March 4 story where I dub the group the Altenberg 16:

“It not Yasgur’s Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock. What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature — let’s call them “the Altenberg 16″. . .”

Yours sincerely

Suzan Mazur

I then wrote back to Oliver Morton including a copy of the above email and telling him about my conversation with Campbell:

(September 26, 2008)

Dear Oliver Morton

Thank you for your apology and correction regarding the September 18, 2008 Nature cover story: “Evolutionary Theory: Echoes from ‘Woodstock’”. Nick Campbell has also agreed to credit me in the corrigendum with first naming the group “the Altenberg 16”, which Nature spells out under the group photo on page 283, and to link my original March 4, 2008 story “Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?” carried by Scoop Media.

Yours sincerely

Suzan Mazur

Morton responded with this email:

(Sept. 30, 2008)

Dear Suzan Mazur

Nick tells me that this email misrepresents your conversation with him. Our correction has been printed as previously described it to you.



Suzan Mazur is the author of Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry. Her interest in evolution began with a flight from Nairobi into Olduvai Gorge to interview the late paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey. Because of ideological struggles, the Kenyan-Tanzanian border was closed, and Leakey was the only reason authorities in Dar es Salaam agreed to give landing clearance. The meeting followed discovery by Leakey and her team of the 3.6 million-year-old hominid footprints at Laetoli. Suzan Mazur’s reports have since appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Email: sznmzr @

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