Daily Archives: December 29, 2011

‘Verdict out on relativity questioning experiment’

What does the headline above mean? I’m not sure, but it is the title of an article in today’s Irish Times, written by your humble correspondent. (I had suggested ‘Faster than light?’ or ‘Was Einstein wrong?‘, but the above is what appeared).

It’s always nice to have a science article published in a national broadsheet, and I thought it was worth revisiting the OPERA experiment before the end of 2011. I enjoyed writing the article and colleagues tell me the question and answer format worked well.

But what about that title? And the opening line? (see print edition). Both were super-imposed by the sub-editor and I find them quite poor. This keeps happening; I take time and effort to write science pieces for the public as clearly as I can, and a professional writer comes along and superimposes something quite sloppy. It’s a pity because nine out of ten cats will read no further than the title and opening sentence.

If the article and headline were submitted as student work, this would be my verdict:

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The headline used for this article breaks almost every rule of science writing

1. The English is poor  – it is not clear what a ‘relativity questioning experiment’ is

2. ‘Verdict out’ is also not clear – ‘jury out’ would be better, but is still clumsy

3. The title is also intimidating – never use a word like relativity in a headline if you can avoid it.

As a result of points 1-3, the title does not clearly describe the content of the article – hence few readers will read further.

The writer should consider alternate titles such as ‘Faster than light?’ or  ‘Was Einstein wrong?’

These titles are both clear and succinct. Most importantly, they draw in the reader in, rather than drive her away

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Update

There is also a major problem with the opening sentence; luckily, it is only in the print edition

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