Editors choose newspaper headlines, not authors.

Based on the comments on my recent Monkey Cage post (describing a paper Nick Jikomes and I wrote about inconsistent cannabanoid reporting, by lab in Washington’s i502 testing data and several other interesting things about legal cannabis revealed by the state’s testing data), I don’t think so many people realize that editors, not authors, choose headlines.

For the blog post, the Monkey Cage editors chose a not-so-great title: “How will you know if there’s E. coli in your marijuana? No one’s figured out how to test and regulate it yet.” I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with it. Several things come to mind.

  • The word “it” has an ambiguous antecedent (I think that’s the correct phrase). With lots of context and inside knowledge, I think the word “it” is referring to the previous sentence’s marijuana. But there’s no obvious syntactic reason why it wouldn’t refer to E. coli. In the case of the latter interpretation, the suggestion is that no body knows how to detect (regulate?) E. coli in marijuana. This is plainly not true. The point implied by the blog and article is much more subtle, that the kinds of regulatory regimes used by states is fluid and variable.
  • Almost none of the blog post, and absolutely none of the scholarly paper about which the post is written, is about E. coli. The paper is exclusively about THC and CBD, not contaminants. The word E. coli appears once in the blog post as an example of a contaminant.
  • While the title is click-baity by shock value, it is not succinct.

In general, the process of writing for Monkey Cage was exceptionally pleasant and smooth. I wish they chose a better title, but oh well. A silver-lining of all this is that maybe more folks will read our scholarly article, but it’s a shame I don’t feel more enthusiastic about promoting the piece.fig7.png