Three weeks ago, in a post titled “How freaking stupid do headline writers think we are?“, I decried the tendency of journalists to twist headlines to fit the facts they wished to present. In this second edition of what is sure to devolve into a continuing series, I would like to expand on my previous complaint by presenting the following example of a sensational headline gracing an event that was probably never worth writing about in the first place. Behold:
Well, without knowing more, that certainly sounds interesting. Most babies don’t develop their first tooth until the age of 4-7 months. And it certainly wasn’t their razor-sharp teeth that helped three baby sharks escape the carcass of their beached mother just over a month ago — SPOILER: it was a man with a knife — so it’s unclear what use humans might have for such implements prior to their escape from mummy’s womb.
But whatever the explanation, this is certainly fascinating! Or is it?
The headline, which describes a baby named Alyssa born in a particular location possessing a specific number of teeth, is certainly calculated to give the impression that this is a story about one baby, and one baby alone. The event is rare. It is precious. You should read about it. Except that should you take a moment to read the article, you would quickly discover that such an occurrence is not so unlikely after all:
The rare condition is known as natal teeth, which, according to NIH’s National Library of Medicine, occur in just one in every 2,000 to 3,000 births.
Yes, 2-3,000 is certainly uncommon, and perhaps even “rare”, but is it really worth letting this story take up space on the internet?
I’m aware that “should this article take up space on the internet?” does not seem like a very high bar to clear, but come on: According to the CDC, there were just under 4 million births in the United States in 2012. Even taking the generous end of the 2-3,000 range, that figure suggests that there were approximately 1,300 babies born with teeth that year in the United States alone. That comes out to an average of more than three such American babies born each and every day!* Including, presumably, the day Alyssa was born.
Yet somehow, some journalist, somewhere, learned about this one baby and deemed her alone worthy of an article. Not a paid birth announcement. A goddamn news article. Which s/he thought people might then wish to read. And discover for themselves that what passes for journalism is often nothing more than a desperate attempt to attract eyeballs.
Which, incidentally, gives me an idea for a follow-up article:
Missouri Baby Born With 2 Eyeballs
*Fun fact: 4 million divided by three thousand (2-3,000) divided by 365 (days) comes out to 3.65 (with rounding).