Palm visible on Google Earth shock

Today I was planning to write about a BBC News story on a species of giant palm recently discovered in Madagascar. The reason I chose this particular story was because it described the palm as being 'so large it could be seen by satellite', or something to that effect. Odd, because I know you can see quite small things by satellite – certainly things much smaller than a reasonably sized palm.

However, when I went back to the BBC News site to check the story today, I found that the offending copy had been rewritten to remove any mention of satellites. Just when I was thinking that I would have to come up with a new subject to write about, I spotted that one of the captions read:

The palm is said to be so big it can be seen on Google Earth

Brilliant! I have three problems with this. Firstly, I've checked on Google Earth and it is quite possible to make out the sunroof on the car parked outside my flat – not a very large object at all. Admittedly the satellite coverage of Madagascar may be worse than that of South London, but without knowing whether this is true it is impossible to use the caption to gauge the size of the palm. And since when has an object's visibility or otherwise on Google Earth been used as a common indicator of its size anyway? Or is the BBC suggesting that the scientists were lax for missing something that could quite easily be seen by satellite?

Secondly, 'is said to be'? Can't the BBC check? Presumably it could find out whereabouts in Madagascar the palm tree has been discovered and then use Google Earth to verify the claim. Said by whom, anyway?

Thirdly, why rewrite the body copy to make up for your mistake and then leave the caption? That's just shoddy... it would never happen on our publication (ahem).

(And now I am off to eat a biscuit so big it is said that someone in the building opposite looking through a telescope would be able to see it with one eye shut – as long as the weather was fine and I was holding it at a certain angle...)

Some other palm tree that may
be visible on Google Earth,
if that helps you in any way


The Ridger, FCD said...

Well, Google Earth isn't live (my sister's house doesn't show the addition they put on several years ago), so perhaps the palm was too small back then?

Jacqueline said...

I have to say that your blog is hilarious. I started to laugh so hard I got teary-eyed when you mentioned your biscuit.

And I have to say that when you took your first bite I could see it clearly from my binoculars on the roof of the building next to yours when the sun was slightly obscured due to the blimp passing for the noon-time parade.

Thanks for the great laugh! Cheers.

TootsNYC said...

Several versions of this story talked about the palm being "discovered," and then mentioned that the locals had known about it all along.

"Local villagers have known about it for years although none had seen it in flower until last year."

from Newsday (Long Island, NY)

One specific botanist was described as having "discovered" it--bad verb. Perhaps "documented," or "described," or "cataloged" or something.

Gez said...

I once told a colleague that the "Google satellite" went over England every other day at 7pm and the website was updated every 3 days. She then spent the next two evenings in her garden waving at the sky and the following four days checking Google earth for updates.

I spent a week laughing at her.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

TootsNYC, yes I believe the BBC story did the same thing. Strange, isn't it?

Gez, you're a cruel man. Funny, but cruel...

Nobody picked up on my 'deliberate' mistake in the picture caption on the blog – referring to a 'palm tree' rather than just a palm. (I believe a palm is a type of plant rather than a tree, although I may be wrong.)

Andrew Orange said...

Size comparators are a rich seam of fascination, aren't they?

Double decker buses and football pitches are commonplace but I like it when eyewitnesses come up with something more imaginative.

I seem to recall a story about a block of ice which had fallen from an aircraft onto a house and was described by an eyewitness as being "about the size of a small pig".

Wish I could find it on Google but I can't, so perhaps I just imagined it.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

A common one seems to be Wales... 'An area of rainforest twice the size of Wales is cut down every year' or somesuch.

I'm sure there must be an American equivalent because I can't imagine they use Wales as a size comparator. Maybe one of the smaller states?

Anonymous said...

The US equivalent is the State of Rhode Island.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Interesting... I just checked and the State of Rhode Island has a much smaller land area than Wales. I had assumed they would be similar, seeing as they are both used as size comparators. Don't know what conclusions I can draw from this!