My research suggests they might be baiting you


Wishes were horses, proverb suggests

Something I’ve noticed on the increase in headlines is the formulation “[Thing] was/is/will be true, research/study/analysis suggests.” More often than not, that weakest yet most important word, ‘suggests’, is dead last. That’s not a mistake – they need you to click through and read the thing so they can get their advert microcredits.

As is demonstrated every few days on More or Less, too frequently the story behind the clickbait is a wilful exaggeration or misinterpretation of the results of a study for the sake of a sexier headline, or, worse, it reports on a flimsy study that no one should be giving credence to in the first place, one with, say, only a handful of test subjects or sloppy methodology or a questionable premise – or all of those. These days, if such an item gets mentioned by one news agency, that almost automatically means dozens if not hundreds of other agencies will reword and republish the same sloppy, questionable story with a similarly misleading or completely mistaken headline. Sheer numbers add up to credence, or at least quasi-credence, because they’re going to appear that much higher in news feeds and search results regardless of their basic veracity.

This formulation reminds me of high-bogosity archaeological programmes that expound things like “This ragged hole in the wall over here where the sun shines through on the vernal equinox suggests this building was almost certainly a highly-advanced astronomical observatory!” Later the structure might be mentioned more simply as ‘the astronomical observatory’, not a suggestion of one. Uh-huh.

Director: “Cut! Look, don’t just say ‘uh-huh’ or ‘yes’ when the presenter says something to you. We prefer you say ‘absolutely’ to make it sound extra true, but you could also say ‘precisely’, ‘exactly’, ‘definitely’, or ‘of course’ in a pinch. Generally speaking, the more syllables for ‘yes’ the better.”

In any case, the tentative ‘suggests’ just doesn’t match with the concrete ‘is’/’was’/’will be’. The proper usage is “Research/study/analysis suggests X might have been/could be/might in future be true”, but I suppose few would click through on my headlines.

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