ARTICLE: Science journalism headlines over-the-top

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The headlines of science stories are often excessively emotive and exeggeratory, writes Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska, of Opole University. The author studied the headlines of 400 most-read stories published on the website of the science magazine New Scientist.

According to Molek-Kozakowska, the headlines mostly resemble the popular journalistic style rather than scientific style. This entails eye-catching, enthusing, and imagination sparking linguistic choices, such as the use of words like “most”, “first”, or “oldest”.

From a journalistic point of view, the catchy style is defensible, but it may be harmful for the public’s understanding of science, the author suggests. Overly enthusiastic and discovery focused news might make the audience forget that in reality science is slow, laborious, and inherently fallable. Excessive popularization can also direct readers away from hard science content, by making them accustomed to an entertaining and undemanding style of presentation.

The article Stylistic analysis of headlines in science journalism was published by the journal Public Understanding of Science. It is available online (abstract free).

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