Monday, February 26, 2007

Return of the Stupid Question

It's back! It's ready for more! It's on the front page! It's the question mark posing as attribution, or whatever it's posing as today.

To recap: Use the question mark only on stories that are about questions. Don't use it as a form of attribution, and don't use it to stack the deck.

And, as in the example at right, don't use it to change the subject. That might be the way the story was pitched in the budget meeting, and that might be what the copy editor thought, but it's not the point the story makes. As it turns out -- well, let's hear from the study's lead author:

What's not clear is whether industry support skews the research, said Peppercorn, the paper's lead author.

"Just because the results are positive, I don't think we can assume that the results are biased," he said.

So the question mark isn't just a shortcut around the standard of attribution, it purports to raise a question the story can't answer. So you're cheating both the reader and the writer.

Here's the hed from the originating paper, which appears to have played the story in 1B rather than 1A (such judgments aren't always right -- witness the Post's misplay of Walter Pincus's skeptical tales before the Iraq invasion -- but they're always worth attending):

Industry role in research analyzed

A little on the boring side, but better a bit dull than a bit dishonest.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home