A common occurrence that we commonly encounter on Skeptics is when the headline of a newsaper or magazine article contains a claim that is not supported by the rest of the article.

That clause would be far more powerful if I included real examples. Let me make up a fictional example:

  • A scientific paper notes a correlation between longevity and investing in diamonds. The paper expressly points out it merely a correlation, and confounding factors such a wealth probably account for it.

  • A journalist writes-up the journal article in a much smaller newspaper article. The journalist is careful never to claim causation.

  • An editor writes the headline for the paper. (I am told it is rarely the original journalist who writes headlines - it is assigned to an editor someone who specialises.) The editor skims the article, and writes a click-baity headline: "Buying diamonds is healthy!" or "Could your fiancĂ© save your life with a diamond ring?"

If we accept such headlines as notable claims, we get the silly situation of just pointing to the carefully-written article underneath the headline to debunk it.

Should we accept headlines that don't match their articles as notable claims?


2 Answers 2


A single instance of a claim is not quite notable: why would a lot of people believe it, and yet stubbornly avoid to repeat the claim elsewhere on the internet? Repetition and virality of claims is of great importance when deciding how to invest our attention.

We allow mass media articles as automatically notable because we presume that a certain slice of the readers will be convinced by a claim and believe it. Of course, this is a shortcut: some mass media claims are not interesting enough, or believable enough or even clear enough to be believed by many readers.

The case you bring is clearly of this sort: since the correction to the claim is written right under the title, we can presume that many readers will not have been convinced by the claim. For this reason I think that a clickbait title, if corrected in the article body, is not automatically notable.

However, if other notable sources repeat the claim, then they establish notability as always. If on the other hand, no one repeats the claim, we should assume it is not notable and avoid repeating it here.

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    Re: "the correction to the claim is written right under the title, we can presume that many readers will not have been convinced by the claim": I'm not so sure. Articles rarely directly contradict headlines, and because most people don't realize that the headline-writer had no more information than what's in the article, they often erroneously interpret the article in light of the headline. [continued]
    – ruakh
    Dec 21, 2017 at 21:23
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    [continued] (Imagine that I told you, "X is the best baseball player ever. He hit Y home runs last season." Now, I know, and my savvy listeners know, that it wasn't actually me who said that X is the best baseball player ever, but rather a mysterious magical gremlin who lives on my tongue, has a loud voice, and always gets to speak before I do; but you could be excused for thinking I'm telling you that hitting Y home runs is some sort of world record or something.)
    – ruakh
    Dec 21, 2017 at 21:23

It matters here which section of the paper the article appears, if its an opinion piece or a paid for op-ed piece then the title is usually some dudes idea and can be as click baity as they want, even within a trusted newspaper.

Example "A Step Toward Scientific Integrity at the EPA"
How to deal with it: the author of the article is making the claim.

For a regular article the title have some truth to it or the paper will loose its trustworthiness, so they will use some weaselly methods to use headline that has less truth to it such as "sources say" or "study finds". This means even if the headline is false the newspaper brand is not damaged, just who they are quoting. Scare quotes might be used here to do the same thing.

Example that may have started this question "Electric cars emit 50% less greenhouse gas than diesel, study finds"
How to deal with it: the guardians source is making an unsubstantiated claim, so check any study that might be relevant. This one is annoying because no one found a link to a scientific paper and the article pretends there is (and the guardian should feel bad about this).

Scare quote example "Nestlé, Hershey and Mars 'breaking promises over palm oil use'"
How to deal with it: eat more chocolate made by other brands.

The problem is universally journalistic standards are dropping and brands that used to be trustworthy are now being called out as fake news. I personally used to trust Reuters, the BBC and the Guardian until questionable youtube footage of the white helmets in Syria came out, now I think everyone is Info Wars level of trustworthiness.

Another example of these 'single quotation mark for a biased summary not a quotation', I just saw change in front of my eyes the BBCs "Ex-Trump aide Paul Manafort 'faces charges over Russia'" which now reads "Ex-Trump aide Manafort charged with US tax fraud over Ukraine work". Interesting times.

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    I think this answer misses the point. It isn't about opinion pieces. It isn't about journalistic standards, really. It is about a common problem where the claim in the headline doesn't match the claim in article - because the headline writer didn't read the story carefully enough. . The EPA example doesn't match this, because there isn't a claim in the headline. Your chocolate example doesn't demonstrate this, because the headline claim appears in the article.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Oct 30, 2017 at 11:35
  • The chocolate article may be using another dodge. Some headline editors consider it acceptable to use single quotation marks to mean the quote is paraphrased, where double means it is an accurate quote. Ref.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Oct 30, 2017 at 11:39
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    @Oddthinking All good points, I was trying to say that some news sources have headlines making some crazy claims that would be bad questions, then I realized even the good news sources are guilty of this, and not even just the op eds or opinion pieces. I think you still need to accept them even if its a sign of bad journalism.
    – daniel
    Oct 30, 2017 at 12:18

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