“Was Zika outbreak caused by release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil?”
That was the headline blaring from an article recently published on Mirror, a publication out of the United Kingdom. The short introduction to the article states: “The genetically engineered insects were designed to stop the spread of dengue fever but critics now fear the programme may have had a deadly consequence.”
Upon seeing the headline, I was a bit confused. What the heck could genetically modified mosquitoes possibly have to do with the Zika outbreak? In fact, I have been hopeful about reports that biotechnology may actually end up providing a vaccine for the virus. Looking more closely at the article, however, revealed that there is evidently no link between GMO mosquitoes and the outbreak.
The articled briefly explained that GMO mosquitoes had been introduced into Brazil and the region to fight the spread of dengue fever and other diseases in 2012. But the article failed to ever offer any answer to the headline’s question. Instead, the author simply states that “critics” say there might be a link. She later states that “experts” expressed concerns about the original program and wanted further studies.
There is no explanation of how the GMO mosquitoes have potentially caused this problem. There is no identification of who the critics are that make these accusations. There was no explanation at all. Nothing. There is nothing at all to substantiate the headline.
I’m guessing that was on purpose.
It turns out that about 8 in every 10 people will only read a headline. The longer an article gets, the less people that will keep reading it. We also know that headlines shape how readers perceive and remember the information being presented. In fact, if a headline’s misleading attributes are more subtle, it’s going to be harder for the average reader to recognize it and correct for the bad information, even after reading the article.
I’m fairly certain the author at Mirror knew this was the case and just wanted to put the idea out there. There was no evidence to support the question in the headline, nor is there still. Rather, she was hoping that the average reader would glance at the headline, assume there was such a link, and move on. In other words, it was just a way to plant the seed connecting GMOs to the cause of the Zika outbreak.
Of course, such a conspiracy theory is now running rampant. By the way, if you’re one of the people that thinks there might be a link (or you’re someone that had an unfortunate encounter with one of these people), here is an excellent article debunking the entire conspiracy.
This was a cheap, low hit piece on the technology that might, ironically, develop the solution to the outbreak.