Yes, I'm probably slightly obsessed by the vicissitudes of headline writing. But I'm not the only one! A great piece on ABC's website points out that there is truth in even the trashiest tabloid headline — it just takes a little critical thought (in the supermarket line!) to figure it out. Here's one of the most egregious true — and yet false — headlines:
Thousands to Die After Swine Flu Vaccination
Many public health authorities privately fear that there will be many heart attacks among older people and miscarriages among pregnant women occurring soon after these people are inoculated with the H1N1 vaccine.
The claims in this story are entirely true, but shouldn't be surprising or alarming. Annually there are approximately 1 million heart attacks and 1 million miscarriages in this country. Let's assume there will be 100 million or more people inoculated against the H1N1 flu over a six-month period.
Then, since there are almost 3,000 heart attacks and 3,000 miscarriages daily and there will be at least 200 times that many flu shots daily, it is a certainty that there will be very many people who will have a heart attack or miscarriage shortly after receiving the shot.
How many and how soon depends on further assumptions, but nobody should attribute the medical crises to the shots unless there's real evidence.
There's a reason that tabloids don't get sued for every headline. However, now I need to figure out if aliens really did eat Elvis' baby.