Let’s take a fairly innocuous, in the sense that no one has yet proposed a government program to address the menace of slitty-eyed kitties – emphasis on the ‘yet’ – bit of Science! and see what headline writers have done with it. In the name of Science! and all that, of course.
Here’s what we’re talking about: A couple researchers from UC Berkeley and Durham looked at the shapes of the pupils of a couple hundred species of animals, and drew some conclusions. Vertical pupils indicate largely nocturnal hunters; horizontally elongated pupils tend to be grazing animals, and there are exceptions. Then they speculated on why this might be so. That’s about it.
Google’s Science! news feed leads off with:
“Scientists unravel mystery behind cats’ vertical pupils” from something called Livemint. This one isn’t too bad, apart from ignoring the gist of the study to work cats into the headline. The only bits of fluff are the ‘unravel mystery’. Who, exactly, is lying awake at night wondering why cats have vertical slit pupils? And when are they moving out of their mom’s basement? OK, cheap shot – but not everything is a mystery breathlessly waiting unravelment.
“New Study Looks Into Difference in Pupil Shapes Across Animal Kingdom” From the Pioneer News. This is pretty darn accurate. I’d even propose this as a model for other headline writers writing about science – just the facts, ‘mam. But as clickbait, it’s a total fail – only people actually interested in the topic would click that.
“Goats have horizontal pupils, cats have vertical slits and this is why” from Nature World Report. An observation followed by a TRVTH claim – OK, not too egregious, but do notice that we’ve lost the idea of what the study is generally about, and instead lead with the examples goats and cats. Now, if this editor worked for me, he’d (it would have to be a ‘he’ as no woman would make this mistake (1)) get fired – you had a chance to lead with ‘Cats’ on the Internet, and DIDN’T?!? Even modifying it to read “Screaming Goats have horizontal pupils…” while a vast improvement, wouldn’t save your job.
“Eyes can tell the difference between predator and prey: Research” NYC Today. My eyes sure can! Why, just the other day, I used them to see a ladybug slaughtering aphids, David-like, in their tens of thousands! Or maybe that’s not what they mean. This headline offends not so much Science! as the idea of using English to communicate something.
“Eye Shape Reveals Predatory Nature In Animals – Study” Design & Trend, another never heard of it publication whose name fails to suggest ‘go-to source for breaking Science! news’. But I digress…
Not too click-baity (totally a word!). My complaint: if not going after goat-obsessed kitty worshippers, why reframe the study to talk only about predators?
“OFFICIAL: Evil-eyed cats MORE LIKELY to be SNEAKY PREDATORS – boffins” The Register, as dubious a source as exists in this space-time continuum, unless you’re looking for goofy headlines employing hyperbole, CAPS and the word ‘boffins’. Then, the Register is totally your top source.
Do we even need to talk about this? Evil-eyed, MORE LIKELY, SNEAKY – OFFICIALLY verified by boffins. We have reached the apex of Science! right here… But, as click bait, should have gone with ‘kittens’ or ‘kitties’ instead of ‘cats’, because that would have added a note of poignancy to the whole evil-eyed sneaky predator thing. Then again, other than researchers motivated by the purest scientific motives, such as myself, who would ever click on a link to the Register? On second thought, don’t answer that, I don’t want to know.