Gateway Drug News

In our break from blogging we learned about an unexplored benefit of writing about news. When we spend free time writing or interpreting news we care about, we interrupt a habit of seeking substantive news amongst the addictive trifle of mainstream media. Trash news is the bread and butter of media companies because apparently readers are addicted to piffle.


Case in point: At Reuters, often a fine outlet, readers devoured the piece "The Hills Are Alive With Haggis". Haggis, you ask? Indeed. Scots consume Haggis a dish made from the lung, liver and heart of a sheep, on Burns night - of course, with lots of whiskey.

An aside: The US banned haggis in 1989 because of the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), but for some reason unexplored by Reuters, the US recently relaxed the ban. Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environmental secretary waxed ecstatic that Americans can now "sample our world-renowned national dish."

But Reuters did not cover the American ban of sheep innards because of BSE. Readers can only learn that "renowned" as it may be, many Scots don't know what haggis is and Brits are even more uninformed. As the report goes, one in five Brits thinks haggis is "an animal that roams the Highlands", another 18% think it's a Scottish instrument, and 4% think its a character from Harry Potter.

Circuses and More

Like the empty calories of cotton candy, apparently, the haggis story leaves readers hungry for more drivel. Because from "The Hills Are Alive With Haggis", they're unlikely to click on a story about the environmental crisis off the Louisiana coast or the implications of Greek financial crisis. No, says Reuters "after reading this article people will most likely read": "Police barred from penis enlargement", about Indonesian police candidate screening, that even I refuse to link to. Rather that exploring the BSE ban, they'll more likely read: "Circus comes to Turkmenistan again after long ban."

Just like any perilous addiction, it seems that reading banal news leads to reading even more rotten gibberish. Of course, as we've just inadvertently demonstrated, bloggers, once heralded as the saviors of news, are JUST AS PRONE to courting readers with the most scurrilous news they can drum up. But we do try to do better. (This post not included). We try to write about science.

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