According to an article in the Friday edition of Gannett (NYSE: GCI ) -owned USA Today, the Taser (Nasdaq: TASR ) X26 stun gun delivers a jolt of 2,100 to 3,600 amperes. In an accompanying chart, the newspaper explained that a Taser's charge is far more powerful than the current that runs through an electric chair.
Dramatic story. Great headline. Incredibly inaccurate.
The strength of a Taser X26 is only .0021 to .0036 amperes, a point Taser makes in a press release in response to the article. That's about 1,000 times less than an electric chair.
The paper realized the gaffe over the weekend and published a retraction: "Due to a mathematical error, a graphic Friday significantly overstated the amount of electricity delivered by a Taser. The correct numbers are .0021 to .0036 amperes -- a minuscule fraction of the electricity used by subway trains and the electric chair. The electricity produced by a Taser is less than that delivered by electroshock therapy used to treat pain and depression."
This morning, the data was removed from the Web version of the original article, and a retraction was published on page 2A of the print version.
More eyes, however, need to see the facts about Tasers before reaching judgment. For every thousand people who read the chart and passed along that amazing tidbit of information to friends at weekend barbecues and cocktail parties, only a small percentage will know of the follow-up truth behind the story.
I wrote an article on Friday about the ways Rule Breaking companies often help make the world a better place, and one of my lead examples was Taser. I wrote: "The company has been attacked by the media, Amnesty International, and others who claim that stun guns can be unduly lethal." Such bad press has hurt the product, hurt the company, and hurt investors.
Trust me. I didn't even have to ask USA Today to help me make my point.
This was assuredly an honest mistake made in the rush to publish, but this kind of reporting affects public opinion and individual investors, and further hampers the spread of a product that I believe can save lives.
Taser CEO Rick Smith did not mince words in his response to the error. "This latest story, including its egregious mathematical error and horrendous analogies to blatantly lethal electrical sources written by USA Today, is an affront to science and an insult to Taser International employees and the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers and military personnel who develop and deploy Taser technology with the goal of saving lives."
Not to be a mouthpiece, but I think Mr. Smith has a point.
Fool co-founder David Gardner is the lead analyst of theMotley Fool Rule Breakersnewsletter. Taser was a Rule Breakers recommendation in December 2004. To find out other Rule Breaking companies we like, David is offering a free 30-day trial to the service. Click here to learn more.
David owns shares of Taser. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.