How to win readers by completely misleading them… Bad Headline Award

Here’s today’s award for the most misleading headline.

Astronomers puzzled by alien planetary construction site

If you’re like me, you opened this eagerly, hoping for a report of the discovery of the first alien artifact somewhere out in space. “Alien” suggests some sort of being, and “construction site” sounds like an intelligence is at work. How nice. That’s not what the story’s about. Have a look at the beginning:

“Europe’s new ALMA observatory, working with the Herschel space telescope, has discovered a new-forming solar system whose confused character has shed new light on current models of planetary formation.

Planets form in swirling disks of gas and dust around new-born stars. But to the surprise of astronomers, the disk around a star called HD 21997 is in a hybrid, intermediate state of evolution.”



Some might excuse this as the work of another out-of-control editor, trying to make things sexy with a groovy headline… I call it a disgrace.


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I am a science writer at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, author of fiction and popular science books, an artist, and a professional musician who performs on the viola da gamba and Medieval and Renaissance stringed instruments. I edit manuscripts of all types and teach the full range of scientific communication skills. I am doing theoretical work in this subject - see for example

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