People read headlines and think they are reading the News. That may have worked in the 20th Century, but that was before we learned about click bait. Today, even sites that used to offer actual news have taken to making outrageous headlines that link to articles that in no way support what the headline would have you think the story said. As people lack any attention span, they usually give up and assume that somewhere in the article they get to the point made in the headline, but since the purpose of the headline was not to describe the article, but to get you to open the page full of ads with the expectation of an article that may or may not be interesting enough to warrant the click, the headline often completely misstates the content of the article. One example that comes to mind was in the formerly reputable Chron.com. The headline said “Study finds Porn Shrinks Your Brain”, but the article literally says “these results in no way imply that viewing porn causes your brain to shrink”. This was not isolated. The headlines all over the internet have similar flaws. They will claim a politician said something quite different than what was said, and then add “xyz is Furious!” with absolutely no indication that any response was actually made.
As people who aspire to honesty, including intellectual honesty, we must refuse to ever treat a headline as news. I often see comments in forums in which people post links to articles that are supposed to prove a point, only to follow the link and find that the article actually belies the point they were trying to make, or the article was nothing but a blog post or op-ed piece, not a fact-checked report. If we want to call what we do “debate” then we must follow the Mission Statement of the Heretics:
Listen, Learn, Think, Discern.
Read the articles people who would shout you down offer. At the very least, you will know that kind of thinking they identify with. Fact check. If the Article cites a study or report, follow through. Quite often, the truth is far more nuanced than the position the article takes, or the so-called study was done by a group that brags about their own conflict of interest on their home page. A fairly neutral example of this I ran across is a Heart Association article touting the wonders of statins with a link claiming to be to a study showing statins save lives. The study actually says fewer people die from heart related issues, but also says that overall mortality is unaffected. Got that? Their own study showed that statins do not on average save any lives at all. It says it right in the abstract. My point is not to bash statins. I take them myself. Statins are usually taken along with increased exercise. Since I started to take statins and walk a lot, I have nearly been killed by inattentive drivers at least three times. At least in my experience, taking statins has a correlation rather than causation to a higher rate of pedestrian mortality. I only know what the study was about because I ignored the headlines and read the content and even fact checked the content, even on a highly reputable source like the American Heart Association. In this case, I also found numerous other articles in places like WebMD that cited the AHA article as evidence (not even the study itself) repeating the claims. This shows how insidious the problem of taking references to references as authoritative in themselves can be even when the author is trying to be accurate, and how much worse it can get when the author is using references to obfuscate rather than educate.
Anyway, In case it is not yet clear, this is more of a blog post than an article, it cites no authority nore does it suggest in any way that the headline is remotely correct. I don’t even have a clue as to what group I am inclined to dislike that I could say was furious about it. Surprise! Or maybe no surprise.