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Don't Judge an Article By Its Title PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

I've been seeing this more and more, and it's getting downright silly. A journalist writes an article for a newssource, and then somewhere along the line a title is added to the piece that completely misrepresents the article beneath it.

Today's example: On Darwin's 200th, a theory still in controversy by Gregory Katz. I opened the article expecting to see something about so-called intelligent design, creationism, or maybe something about Ben Stein's problems in Vermont. But no, the article doesn't mention any of those things.

Instead, it's a decent article about Darwin's life, including some interesting tidbits (Darwin invented the office chair?).

So what's with the title?

Does it even make sense? Of course titles need to be short, but what does it mean? It seems to say, "On Darwin's 200th birthday, his theory is still controversial." That sentence is (sadly) accurate, but it only reflects a single line in the article, and its not at all the main point of the author. Darwin's theory is barely mentioned, let alone discussed, and the only "controversy" seems to be between him and his wife. I doubt that controversy is "still" taking place.

As a syndicated piece, I suspect that an editor at the AP added "controversy" to the title in order to get more papers to pick it up. People are more likely to read "Controversy!" than "Darwin's 200th birthday is coming up." But they're doing us all a disservice by hyping titles that don't match their articles. It's a deceptive practice designed to manipulate people.

You could argue that at least the title got the article in front of people who might not otherwise read about Darwin's private life, but it does so with the wrong expectations. A title like that changes the way you read the article and how you interpret its contents.

I think a little creativity could have created an interesting yet compelling title. Have one? Please submit it in the comments.

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written by Willy K, February 08, 2009
"On Darwin's 200th, the epitome of scientific theories"

Darwin's scientific theory is the best example of how a theory is made. Observation, modeling and experiment. My proposed title would might draw in readers from all sides. The truly intellectually curious would want to know why Charles's theory is such a good example and the doubters will learn why there is no scientific controversy about it.

P.S. One of the reasons I don't like reading newspapers anymore is the same problem Jeff describes. The headline is often very misleading. A friend of mine showed me a story about the place where he worked. The headline said something like "Power Company's Big Land Grab." The story was about one of the prospective buyers of the land the power company was selling. The buyers were suspected of shady dealings, not the power company. The headline implied, at least to me, that the power company was the bad guy.
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Darwin: dead and loving it
written by MadScientist, February 08, 2009
Charles Darwin hasn't been seen in public for the past 127 years but his adherents are planning one whale of a party for his 200th birthday. The party is not so much notable for who is there but for who is not; the birthday boy is more than likely to be a no-show despite the best efforts of the nation's mediums and the slightly-less-dubious national media. Groups of biologists, herpetologists, entomologists, ornithologists, and other -ologists are gathering to give tribute to the man ultimately responsible for their jobs. Homeopaths, Naturopaths, Psychopaths, and Fundamentalists however are protesting at the party which they claim to be controversial. The most vocal critic, the Reverend Anal Roberts, says: "Two thousand years of rabid bible-thumping has proven that evolution is a lie. Just ask anyone here if their uncle's a monkey; everyone will tell you 'no' because it just ain't true that our ancestors were monkeys. No two so-called scientists on the planet agree with Darwin; it's obviously a conspiracy inspired by no less than Satan hisself."
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After 200 years, still celebrating Darwin.
written by BillyJoe, February 08, 2009
Well, that's slightly inaccurate. Darwin would be 200 this week, but his theory is only 150 years old. But, hey, we're celebrating both, so let's not quibble.

BJ
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Darwin probably invented the modern office chair
written by TS, February 09, 2009
(Darwin invented the office chair?)


I would say probably yes, without having done any deep research other than seeing the above mentioned chair in Down House, Darwin's home and now museum, in Downe, UK.
It's an excellent place for a day out from London.

http://www.downehouse.berks.sch.uk
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Misleading headlines
written by Holmstrom, February 09, 2009
I have sometimes written for newspapers over the years and have found that in most cases, the author of the article has no control over the headline or subheads.
As a theater artist, this has also affected me as a director/performer.
A few years ago, I played a role in 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane.' While the review in the paper was a rave, the headline read: 'Fine Drama, Difficult to Watch.'
Jeez!
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Darwin Was a Monkey's Uncle
written by Son of Rea, February 09, 2009
Deceptive titles??

C'mon, man. This is hardly a revelation. It's common sense.

Next you'll be telling us that commercials are purposely deceptive in order to make products appear more appealing to consumers.
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written by Amos M., February 09, 2009
Even though it's no revelation, pointing it out is a good idea. Evolution, for example, is common sense, given what is known today about Biology. This does not mean that the truth of biological evolution should go unmentioned: a lot of people, by lack of education or willful ignorance, still don't get it. There are a lot of little lies and manipulations that we live with every day, and while we may all know about them, if they go unmentioned too long they fall below our attention. It would be nice to see something along this vein with a little more to it, though: perhaps a look at specific tactics used in media (commercials, news, etc.) to manipulate people. They get mentioned here and there in various articles, but one specifically focused on them could be interesting.
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written by pxatkins, February 09, 2009
Well, you suckered me into reading THIS article, Jeff, which, frankly ...
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On Darwin's 200th, Theory Still Drives Scientific Discovery
written by Jim Shaver, February 09, 2009
Discovery is what science is all about, and the Theory of Evolution has had a huge part in driving research in biology, genetics, paleontology, medicine, psychology, and even artificial intelligence. I think if Darwin could see the state of science today, he would ignore the "controversy" and be thrilled by the extent to which his work has influenced science and improved the lives of people the world over.
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written by Cuddy Joe, February 09, 2009
Long ago, and I mean decades ago, I read a great treatise on Darwin, not about evolution per se, but on how the emerging implications of what he was learning impacted his deep religious beliefs. It was a wonderful piece, but I'll be damned if I could ever find it again. Perhaps some poster will know what I'm talking about. I read it in the late 60s or early 70s. It wasn't a traditional book, but a sizable... pamphlet I guess you'd call it, thin, paper cover, magazine-sized, perhaps the equivalent in material of a 75-100 page standard paperback book. No clue as to the author.
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Was Darwin Wrong?!
written by tctheunbeliever, February 09, 2009
This puts me in mind of a recent cover story in National Geographic---on the cover in big letters was "Was Darwin Wrong?". The issue was wrapped in plastic so you had to desecrate the wrapper or buy the magazine to discover their conclusion. I bought one and turned to the page of the article, to find "NO" in lettering almost a half-page tall (followed by an article explaining why). I actually did lol when I saw it.

I guess a lot of the publisher's motive probably had to do with sales, but it was also a humorous and fitting reply to the Creationist "skeptics" of "Darwinism".
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written by Cuddy Joe, February 10, 2009
Hah! That's funny. I bet they suckered a lot of creationists into buying the issue with that one.
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FREE MONEY! ALL NUDE GIRLS!
written by SheldonHelms, February 10, 2009
Jeff is ABSOLUTELY, 100% correct about this, by the way. I noticed it a while back, too, and it's the reason I stopped clicking on ANY links provided by Comcast on their homepage. I'm stuck with them for my high speed Internet service, but I don't have to click their stupid links. I also noticed that 90% of their articles and videos come from Fox News, yet another reason to ignore them.

P.S. Why is everyone going on and on about newspapers? The article in question (and the problem in general) is web site articles, not newspapers. You're all scoring points for the other team with your ramblings on this.
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written by Cuddy Joe, February 11, 2009
Because many newspapers have online versions identical to the print version and because the practice of using sensational or evocative headlines that don't match the article content is ubiquitous to both print and web articles - as well as print magazines and TV news lead-ins and teaser bites they offer just before they break for commercials (Is your child's life at risk at school? Stay with us after the break for a report from City Beat Correspondent Mary Hoohaw! When they return, it's a banal story about old scholl buildings that 'might' still have lead or asbestos onsite, or some other such pale version of the evocative teaser).
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re: madscientist
written by tjenks, February 11, 2009
'Reverend Anal Roberts' lmfao! smilies/cheesy.gif
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Any Linerging Controversy...
written by Chris Long, February 13, 2009
...about Darwin exists only among the religious.

Mainly the "controversy" is an MSM-driven phenomenon...they have a big stake in perpetuating such...

In Phoenix, AZ, it's almost that time of year for the "Phoenix Lights" UFO 'controversy' to surface again, lashed to the forefront of the public consciousness by a pathetic local yokel media that collectively believes the biggest stories during any given week are about 'celebs'...
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Typical Headline Nonsense
written by Chris Long, February 13, 2009
"Are your children in danger at school ? Details at ten..."

"Did Madonna diss Bruce Willis ?"

"How do experts rate the likelihood of nuclear war ?"

"IS Global Warming threatening floods in Denver ?"

"Has life been found on Mars ?"

"Is there new evidence that confirms the existence of the Bermuda triangle ?"

"A new medical breakthrough ! Details at eleven..."
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written by LuigiNovi, February 13, 2009
You'd think someone at that paper would have enough of a grasp of good writing and presentation to know about the importance of selecting a title that reflects the article's content.
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