Betteridge's law of headlines
Betteridge's law of headlines is one name for an adage that states: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist, although the principle is much older. As with similar "laws" (e.g., Murphy's law), it is intended as a humorous adage rather than always being literally true.
The maxim has been cited by other names since as early as 1991, when a published compilation of Murphy's Law variants called it "Davis's law", a name that also crops up online, without any explanation of who Davis was. It has also been called just the "journalistic principle", and in 2007 was referred to in commentary as "an old truism among journalists".
Ian Betteridge name became associated with the concept after he discussed it in a February 2009 article, which examined a previous TechCrunch article that carried the headline "Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA?":
This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word "no." The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.
A similar observation was made by British newspaper editor Andrew Marr in his 2004 book My Trade, among Marr's suggestions for how a reader should interpret newspaper articles:
If the headline asks a question, try answering 'no'. Is This the True Face of Britain's Young? (Sensible reader: No.) Have We Found the Cure for AIDS? (No; or you wouldn't have put the question mark in.) Does This Map Provide the Key for Peace? (Probably not.) A headline with a question mark at the end means, in the vast majority of cases, that the story is tendentious or over-sold. It is often a scare story, or an attempt to elevate some run-of-the-mill piece of reporting into a national controversy and, preferably, a national panic. To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means 'don't bother reading this bit'.
In the field of particle physics, the concept is known as Hinchliffe's Rule, after physicist Ian Hinchliffe, who stated that if a research paper's title is in the form of a yes–no question, the answer to that question will be "no". The adage was humorously led into a Liar's paradox by a pseudonymous 1988 paper which bore the title "Is Hinchliffe’s Rule True?"
However, at least one article found that the "law" does not apply in research literature.
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- "Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA?"
- Marr, Andrew (2004). My Trade: a short history of British journalism. London: Macmillan. p. 253. ISBN 1-4050-0536-X.
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- Cook, James M.; Plourde, Dawn (2016-06-25). "Do scholars follow Betteridge's Law? The use of questions in journal article titles". Scientometrics. 108 (3): 1119–1128. doi:10.1007/s11192-016-2030-2. ISSN 0138-9130.