Monday, November 1, 2010

This Was the Lead Story Today on

More dangerous: Alcohol or heroin?

A new study says drinking alcohol is deadly for you than even heroin or crack cocaine.

And just for kicks, here's the photo illustration that went along with it, in case you needed some help picturing which one is the alcohol and which is the heroin (the one with the citrus wedge is not the heroin, although fruity cocktails taken intravenously may not be a bad idea.)

AJC file photos

The reason I'm sharing this little piece of journalism FAIL from the website of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not my outrage over the missing modifier in the subhead (this sort of typo is all too common) or the lack of imagination evident in the illustration (I would have gone with Ewan McGregor done up like Renton in Trainspotting with a needle hanging out of one arm while he hoists a bottle of Glenfiddich with the other, because if there's one thing that movie taught me, it's that Scottish people know their narcotics and their alcohol. And also to choose life, or something.)

Nay, the reason I find this moderately infuriating is this: THIS IS NOT AT ALL WHAT THE STUDY FOUND. The study they are referring to looked at the varying effects of drugs on both the individual and society at large. Not surprisingly, it found (among other things) that while drugs like heroin and crack are incredibly damaging to individual users, their cost to the rest of society pales in comparison to that of alcohol. Duh. That's because far more people consume alcohol than heroin and overconsumption of it generally kills you slowly (with all the medical costs, traffic accidents, and idiot streakers interrupting sporting events that entails.)

But again, that's not my point, although I do find any scholarly work that furthers our understanding of substance abuse generally interesting, especially as it relates to our ongoing failure to address the issue with logic or compassion. What bothers me today is the simple and obvious misreporting of facts, right there in a headline. Of course alcohol is not more deadly than heroin! I had two beers just last night, and I feel great!

There are three possible reasons why the AJC would run an erroneous headline like this:
A) The writer and/or editor who wrote the head is stupid.
B) The writer and/or editor who wrote the head didn't really read the study, which is irresponsible and stupid.
C) The writer and/or editor who wrote the head knows what the study findings are and decided to mash up the facts a bit to get a juicier headline, which is stupid, irresponsible and maybe a little bit evil.

I didn't even read the AJC article because I'd already read one that covered the same study on Salon, where they managed to be both accurate and devoid of sensationalism, which is all I want out of my news, which reminds me of another plea I've been dying to make, and this is aimed at every single media outlet there is: Can we please stop reporting the findings of polls as news? Every day I see splashed across the internet the latest numbers indicating the Democrats are in trouble, or they're not, or the president's approval ratings are up or down, or 9 out of 10 dentists recommend Oral-B. At best, a well-conducted, comprehensive poll can give you an idea; at worst, they give you the wrong idea. The questions asked of respondents can be and often are worded in such a way as to guarantee the outcome the pollster is seeking. They are never definitive and should not be reported as such, and because of this I don't think they should be reported by mainstream media at all because I don't believe most of us know the difference. Also, I have never been contacted for a poll. This is suspicious.

And with this rant I begin NaBloPoMo. I keep meaning to get back to the blog and what better way than to post every day for a month.


Courtney said...

I'm guessing it was option B. Most journalists I've known have the best of intentions, but sadly just don't understand what they're talking about half the time.

Aaaaaand that's why I think I'd support a licensing or bar exam-type system for journalists to help weed out the dumb ones. The First Amendment kind of prohibits that from happening, though.

The Modern Gal said...

Like Courtney, my experience with people who write headlines and edit things is that people who write headlines and edit things rarely do more work than is necessary. Which means in the case of writing headlines reading one sentence and writing a headline based on that one sentence.

In my company we tend to get around that by having the writers who write the stories also write the headlines. We still end up with stupid headlines, but they almost always accurately represent the story.

I'm embarrassed for my profession, but this also is not surprising considering how much work so few journalists are having to do in light of all of their co-workers have been laid off. Who has time for accuracy when there are pages to fill? You people want your news for free, you can't have it accurate too. Or something.

On an unrelated note: do you and the lady have cable and if so did you watch Walking Dead last night? Zombies + Atlanta = Good Stuff.

nancypearlwannabe said...

Oh, yay, NaBlo! Even though I'm far too lazy to do it this month (and also I forgot, and now it's kind of too late), I'm glad some good writers are out there plugging away.

Jacob said...

Yay! More reading for me.

Sid said...

Recently read 'Trainspotting' and holy crap is it gruesome.

Can't wait to see what you have in store for us.

Julie said...

Oral-B? Crap. Now I guess I have to throw out my Colgate toothpaste.

A Free Man said...

Now you've stumbled on one of my pet peeves - dodgy science 'journalism'. It's rampant. Consistently misunderstanding scientific studies with the goal of putting up a sexy headline. To the AJC's credit, this is a relatively mild one.