Washington Post misleads readers with the story title when reporting a study on mass murder, brain injury, and autism
This article analyzes the relationship between autism and mass murders, as discussed by a 2014 review published in Aggression and Violent Behaviour. The author first introduces the Sandy Hook school shooting, discussing how the perpetrator was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age 13. He then segues into the review, Neurodevelopmental and psychosocial risk factors in serial killers and mass murderers. While the author seems to be neutral through the narrative and warns readers that the study is limited in the conclusions one can draw from it, the paper itself may be propagating the wrong idea.
The title of the news article suggests a significant, statistical link; however, the review does not provide readers with any sort of statistical analyses; furthermore, the basis of “probable” or “possible” ASD lacks grounds. The authors diagnose mass murderers based on accounts describing the individuals as being “loners” to suggestions in peer reviewed articles, but only six out of 239 eligible killers had a definite diagnosis of ASD. Thus, for the news article and paper to propagate the idea that at least 10% of serial and mass killers have a diagnosis of autism would be incorrect, based on the findings of the review.
This article aims to summarize a study that observed a link between mass murder and autism or brain injury. The study found that people who had sustained a head injury and people who had some form of autism were over-represented when examining a group of known serial killers. The info between the article and the sourced study are consistent with each other. For many aspects of the study, including variables and statements made by researchers, the article uses direct quotes so as to not inaccurately display the findings and opinions of the researchers. The article does a good job of explaining that the researchers don’t believe having autism leads to a person becoming a mass murderer by finishing the article off with some of their quotes. Another effective way this article informs the reader is by suggesting some areas where the study may have been flawed.
This article also suffers from a few major weaknesses in terms of accuracy, language and accessibility. Although the article itself is not inaccurate with the findings, the title could have been more specific about what was actually discovered. The title claimed that mass murder and autism had a “significant statistical link”, when in reality, people who were not diagnosed, but were thought to probably have fallen under the broad umbrella term of autism, were considered to have autism. Also, the conductors of the study themselves said that they did not want to focus on the link between autism and mass murder, but more so on how a psychological stressor affected a person’s likelihood to commit mass murder. In this way, the title is somewhat misleading. The website also had many popup ads and its sourced journal was not available from the original link they provided.
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