We Humans Are Terrible Eyewitnesses

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Today’s lesson is about misguided headline writing. A friend just sent me a news article with the following headline:

Drunk eyewitnesses are more reliable than expected

Here’s the story: Some researchers in Sweden rounded up three groups of people. One group was left sober, one got a little tipsy, and the third got a little tipsier still. Then they all watched a video of a kidnapping, and a week later they were asked to ID the kidnapper. The tipsiest group did the best.

So what’s wrong with the headline? It’s backward. Here’s how it should read:

Study says sober eyewitnesses no more reliable than drunkards

The real story here is that eyewitnesses pretty much suck all the time. Ply them with a few drinks and….they’re still terrible. It’s possible that they’re slightly less terrible, though the Swedish study is actually inconclusive on that point thanks to its small sample size. But the main takeaway, as mountains of research have already demonstrated, is that we humans are just no good as eyewitnesses. A little bit of alcohol hardly makes a difference.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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