Our Brains Didn’t Evolve – the problem with headlines

Our Brains Didn’t Evolve – the problem with headlines

I read a very interesting article about the development of the human brain in the Observer recently. But there was one very big problem with it - the headline.

Briefly, the article describes Professor Colin Blakemore's idea that the human brain may have increased in size suddenly due to a single mutation. Later that mutation was selected for in a world where lean resources required smarter thinking.

This is of course evolution. So why does the headline say otherwise?

I emailed Colin to find out what was going on. He was kind enough to send a reply. It was humorous, fascinating and depressing.

Here's an excerpt:

the commissioning editors... always refer to the headline writers as if they are endowed with some kind of divine authority, against which the people who actually write the text... have no right to appeal.

You will have gathered that I wasn't happy with the headline.

He clarifies the situation:

Of course the process was evolutionary, and of course it involved selection.

In fact the story had to go out without corrections because of deadlines so some of the content is a bit off too.

But it's sad that a perfectly good article can be misrepresented by an autonomous third party in big bold letters at the top of the page.

I suspect their autonomy comes from the fact that headlines sell papers. A provocative title is worth the deception, or so the logic goes.

Do you know any more examples of this? Let me know in the comments.

Here's the lecture by Colin Blakemore that led to a telephone interview that lead to the Observer article.

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  • Nday

    “that lead to a telephone interview that lead to the Observer article” — actually, “led” not “lead”.
    Great article.

  • steventhebrave

    Thank!

  • Anonymous

    Why do I suspect the headline writer was a member of the religious reich and used this opportunity to parade his ignorance? These creationists never mind telling lies and distortions to try to “prove” their insanity. But their religion was founded upon lies so why stop now?