Tag Archives: journalistic deficit disorder

Hey, so you know, that Viking study you linked an article about doesn’t actually say half of all Viking warriors were female.

The Economist dubbed this as “journalistic deficit disorder.” Where mainstream media take content from academic research and then mangle it in the reporting, either by presenting preliminary data as facts by screwing up critical details, or by reporting stuff that no one is actually saying.

(Specifically they were talking about presenting preliminary data as final and signing off. But, the other two do occur, and it is a good blanket term for the phenomena.)

Here’s a fantastic example from The Escapist. The article talks about a drive that breaks the laws of physics, and would allow for interstellar travel. Except, it’s from a conference paper; the academic equivalent of, “hey, this thing over here is being weird, anyone know what’s wrong with it?” (I’m singling The Escapist out arbitrarily, a lot of news sites grabbed that same “physics defying engine” story and ran with it.)

The problem is, once one site runs the article, others are inclined to follow, notice the example above links back to an article from Wired. In some cases, these “scientist discovers new thing” end up tracing back to some crazy’s blog, but once it’s in circulation, it’s stays there, with tech sites referring back to each other.

Sadly, it looks like that’s in full effect here, as well.

Digging through the Tor.com and USA Today articles, the actual point of the research was to determine if Vikings traveled to England in the ninth century as raiders or as settlers.

Historically the view has been that they were raiders, and predominantly, male, but the sex identification of corpse suggest there were far more women that migrated, than previously believed.

This includes corpses that were previously misidentified as male because of the grave goods that had been found included weapons but no jewelry. Archeologists were using jewelry (specifically broaches) to identify female burials and weapons to identify male ones, but, unsurprisingly, that methodology is a little flawed when we don’t know what the grave goods actually meant.

We do know that a lot more Viking women were buried with weapons, though, as I just said, we don’t know what that actually means.

So, Stubby the Rocket picked a title that was just this side of clickbait. To be fair to them, I don’t think they did this intentionally, they probably read Viking and assumed Viking Warrior, especially given that women being buried with weapons was an issue the paper was addressing.

The article’s since been updated to point to a post by Andrew W talking about this in more depth. Actually, if you haven’t looked at it yet, go read it, there’s some really great points in there. There’s also this post by Hjalti if you want to see more.

There’s an article here, that talks about the actual implications of the find.

That said, I could swear I’ve seen articles recently that were revisiting battlefield deaths and finding a staggering number of remains were women, though I don’t have a citation on it because random internet browsing is the enemy of coherent research.