As far as misleading headlines go, I would say (immodestly) that the title of this blog post isn’t a bad attempt. I’m not as experienced as professional journalists though, so I apologise if my efforts pale into insignificance when compared with the creative headlines appearing in the Daily Fail on a seemingly daily basis.
The Fail this week wrote about some fMRI scans that apparently required the headline “Scientists discover the brain’s ‘God spot’… and show that faith helps human survival“. This headline was seemingly contradicted in the text of the Fail’s report when one of the scientists who authored the paper told the Fail that “Religion doesn’t have a ‘God spot’ as such, instead it’s embedded in a whole range of other belief systems in the brain that we use every day”. According to the Fail, scientists have discovered the brain’s ‘God spot’; according to the scientists whose work the Fail are writing about, religion doesn’t really have a ‘God spot’.
The second part of the headline tacks on the idea that scientists have shown that faith helps human survival. This idea, though, seems to have come not from the research that the headline and story are purporting to inform us about, but is an opinion held by ‘some evolutionary theorists’:
Some evolutionary theorists believe a belief in a religious power may have helped our ancestors to survive great hardship compared to those with no such convictions. Others argue that it arises from the structure of the highly adaptable brain itself
There is no indication that the paper being written about ever actually discusses the idea that belief in religion is an aid to survival. It’s behind a paywall, however, so I can’t see any more than is in the abstract and supporting documents (or is misreported by the Fail) without coughing up cash I can’t really afford to spend.
So, while the Fail’s headline asserts that scientists have discovered the brain’s God spot, and that they have also shown that religious faith aids survival, it appears this may not be the case after all. It appears to be misleading as to the nature of the research and as to the nature of the conclusions the authors came to. The Fail has taken a research paper and has misreported it, using a misleading headline and some tacked-on opinions held by unnamed evolutionary theorists to assist in doing so. There are mendacity quotes around the ‘God spot’ part of the headline but, frankly, they should be wrapped around the whole thing.
Other Failures From The Past Seven Days
I blogged about a Daily Mail story on the HPV/cervical cancer vaccine, as did JQH of the Letting Off Steam blog. JQH has now written a letter to the Daily Mail regarding their coverage of the vaccine.
Last Friday, meanwhile, Holford Watch brought us the news that the Mail believes that Holford is an holistic doctor. The Holford in question is Mr Patrick Holford – neither an holistic doctor nor a qualified nutritionist. He is, of course, an ex-Professor though.