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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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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