Was Betteridge right?

Betteridge's Constant is not a law! (That is, rather than for mere effect, some writers knowingly use questions-as-titles to introduce a bold, novel, or interesting concept.)
Betteridge’s Constant is not a law! (Some article writers use questions-as-headlines to introduce readers to a bold, novel, or significant concept.)

Betteridge’s law says

Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

If Betteridge was right, then the answer to the headline question should be no, in which case Betteridge was wrong. But Betteridge was wrong, then the answer to the question in the headline is yes.

This isn’t quite like Russell’s paradox. He asked whether the set of sets which contain themselves contains itself. If it does, it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, it does. This logical contradiction led to a more rigorous construction of set theory that avoids the paradox.

Betteridge’s law isn’t a paradox, though it resembles one. If Betteridge was wrong, there’s no contradiction in saying that he was sometimes but not always right.

Betteridge’s law was an aphorism, not a logical absolute, and so was never intended to be a rigorous statement. Betteridge was quite aware that there are exceptions. But as is often the case with yes/no statements that are not always true, it can be turned into a rigorous statement using probability.

Betteridge could have said that if a headline ends in a question mark, the probability that the answer is no is large. Then my headline, added to the vast collection of headlines, would ever-so-slightly lower the proportion of headlines that ask questions that can be answered negatively, without contradicting Betteridge, if was right.

Via The Endeavour.

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s