Journalism warning labels

« previous post | next post »

From Tom Scott, a set of useful warning labels to stick on newspaper articles.

Now, to be fair, we need a set of similar warning labels for scientific papers and their presentation to the press.

I'll suggest a few after the jump. I'm sure that you'll be able to think of others, or better wording for mine.

WARNING: This article contains conclusions about human subgroups drawn from small differences between small and unrepresentative samples. The observed differences are not not likely to be characteristic of individual members of those subgroups in the general population. More representative samples may not even replicate these findings as small differences in group means. (Example)

WARNING: This article's conclusions go far beyond what can be inferred from its empirical findings. (Example)

WARNING: Estimates of predictive accuracy were derived by testing on the training data, and are therefore quantitatively worthless except as an upper bound. (Example)

WARNING: The press release advertising this article is delusional. (Example)


  1. Mark P said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 10:04 am

    I think warning labels should be short and easily understood by a non-technical audience. Maybe something like these:

    WARNING: The conclusions in this article may be misleading and inconsistent with the actual data.

    WARNING: Do not use this article to make any important decisions.

    WARNING: Other studies may result in completely different results.

    WARNING: Dense technical jargon may obscure actual results.

  2. Dougal Stanton said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 10:15 am

    WARNING: The abstract does not accurately describe the results of this study.

  3. UK lawyer said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    Far too polite!

    WARNING: The journalist didn't understand the research. This article is complete crap.

    WARNING: The journalist didn't read the research and doesn't care that this article is complete crap.

    WARNING: Do not read this article if you want to learn anything.

  4. Outis said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    WARNING: This picture contains dramatic imagery that is dramatically more dramatic than the actual event.

    WARNING: The quotations may not reflect what the quoted actually meant to say.

    WARNING: The grammatical terms used in this article are not used as grammatical terms.

    @Mark P
    WARNING: The dense technical jargon in this article is intended to obscure actual results.

  5. Matthew Scouten said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 10:48 am

    WARNING: This mainstream media article is based on a single scientific study that has not yet be replicated. May be full of unjustifiable conclusions.

  6. Leonardo Boiko said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 10:57 am

    I’d favor the simple and direct:

    WARNING: Selection bias.

    WARNING: Confirmation bias.

    WARNING: This paper confuses correlation with causation.

    WARNING: Sample size too small to draw any conclusions.

    WARNING: Wording is intentionally obscured.

    WARNING: Laboratory conditions differ from actual phenomena.

  7. NW said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    WARNING: Article was written by a journalist, not a scientist. Contains no understanding of science.

  8. Dominik Lukes said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

    WARNING: Evolutionary justification invoked without any foundation based purely on misguided story-telling about the lives of hunter gatherers.

    WARNING: Genetic explanation sought to give the article a patina of scientificity.

  9. MattF said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

    WARNING: Correlation does not imply cause.
    WARNING: Selection bias.
    WARNING: Hidden variables.
    WARNING: Everybody dies of something.

  10. Lili Velez said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    WARNING: Funding source publication bias
    WARNING: The person who wrote this document is not the official Author, due to journal preferences
    WARNING: No mention of Number Needed to Treat for actual benefits
    WARNING: Significant stock was dumped by company CEO prior to publication of these results

  11. CBK said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    For articles written by journalists:

    What Chabris and Simons call the "illusion of narrative" in The Invisible Gorilla:

    The illusion of narrative can indeed be a powerful tool for authors and speakers. By arranging purely factual statements in different orders, or by omitting or inserting relevant information, they can control what inferences their audiences will make, without explicitly arguing for and defending those inferences themselves.

    This can contribute to the "illusion of cause."

  12. Blake Stacey said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

    WARNING: Actual story too complicated, so David-v.-Goliath fable used instead.

    WARNING: Refers to parts of brain which do not exist.

  13. Blake Stacey said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

    WARNING: Data plotted in a misleading way.

  14. Stephen Nicholson said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

    WARNING: The statistics were carefully crafted to make things sound worse than they really are. (Example:

  15. dwmacg said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

    WARNING: These results apply only to the population of undergraduate students who show up for this sort of study.

  16. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    Please don't let subeditors see this post. We reporters will never hear the end of it. I am quite tempted to produce a set for myself though.

  17. Justin L. said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

    Warning: Stock photo only marginally related to story.

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    Warning: Academics do not get tenure by confirming previous beliefs.

  19. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

    Warning: If you could look at the video, you wouldn't see the monkeys doing what we said they were doing.

  20. Kapitano said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    WARNING: This article is cut and pasted from a press release by a christian group with the word "Family" in the name.

    WARNING: This article uses the terms "Homosexualism", "Homosexual Lifestyle" and "Homosexual Agenda" as though they mean something.

    WARNING: PZ Myers and Orac have already shredded this article. And Mark Lieberman is about to.

    WARNING: The author of this article will soon by suspended for faking data…on precognition.

    WARNING: The author of this stream of words really does have a PhD. In a completely unrelated field.

  21. ken lakritz said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

    WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that use of this article may be hazardous to your health.

  22. Janice Byer said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

    Warning: Information contained herein is for entertainment purposes only. Any other use violates common sense. In case of irritation, discontinue use. Prolonged exposure may cause paranoia. For your safety, do not store in long-term memory. Keep out of reach of children who can read. All facts are subject to change without prior notice. Contradictions and errors are not manufacturing flaws but normal variations of human thought that stimulate and heighten the reader experience.

  23. Will Steed said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

    WARNING: Facts in this article are falser than they appear.

    WARNING: May contain traces of truth and/or original thought.

  24. Dan S said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 12:27 am

    I just read two of these:

    WARNING: Article's conclusions are not supported by the results. Reader skepticism is advised.

  25. Terry Collmann said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 6:11 am

    Ginger Yellow: too late.

  26. ambrosen said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 6:42 am

    Warning: This paper uses evolutionary psychology to prove that 1950s gender roles are the only natural way to be.

  27. richard said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    Warning: References to "passive voice" entirely spurious and may cause hypertension among linguistic specialists.

  28. Tangurena said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    WARNING: For Rectal Use Only.

  29. Xmun said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

    Anal, I think you mean, not rectal.

  30. Will said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

    Janice Byer wins

  31. andrew c said,

    August 21, 2010 @ 10:01 am

    warning; may contain traces of or may simply be, nuts.

  32. Janice Byer said,

    August 21, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    Will, thank you.


  33. John Cowan said,

    August 21, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    Don't read this: break the news addiction!

  34. Debbie said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    'Warning: IMHO' or perhaps just, 'Warning: IMO'
    Please allow me to cast a second vote for Janice Byer.

  35. Feynmaniac said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

    Warning: The headline of this article was meant to get your attention and is grossly misleading.

  36. Tangurena said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    Xmun, the labels do indeed say "rectal" not "anal."


    Which I found mentioned elsewhere, and the top 2 comments were:
    >Because of this thread, I will never honestly know if something is indeed for rectal use only.
    >Half the fun is finding out… I don't like to talk about the other half

  37. AJ Hall said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:49 am

    WARNING: author of this article is up the grey, green greasy Limpopo river without a paddle and thinks Kipling's Just-So Stories were a seminal text in the field of evolutionary psychology.

  38. Richard Wein said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 7:50 am

    WARNING: Don't believe everything you read. Think for yourself.

  39. Lizzz said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

    This study represents another overgeneralizaion from statistical to individual results.

    This paper was published because it substantiates the prejudices of the reviewers.

    Arrow of causality may point in the opposite direction than interpreted by authors.

RSS feed for comments on this post