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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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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