If you were paying attention last week, you probably read this headline: Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female. I know I did. I think I even passed the link along, without checking the facts behind the claim. Without checking the source, even though the story linked to another story in USA Today’s Science Fair, (which in turn links to the original source, an article by Shane McLeod in the journal Early Medieval Europe for which you need a password unfortunately, so we won’t go there). Interestingly, both the original research and the USAToday piece that the Viking Corpses story relies on, were published over three years ago in July 2011–stop the presses!!! But I digress.
Had I checked the original source–or even just the USA Today story–I would have discovered that the bottom line of this research is not that “half of the warriors were female,” but that, as Tracy V. Willson points out in her piece Raining On Your Parade About Those Women Viking Warriors, quoting from the original source:
‘These results, six female Norse migrants and seven male, should caution against assuming that the great majority of Norse migrants were male, despite the other forms of evidence suggesting the contrary. (Pg. 349 of original story; emphasis and page number supplied by me)
As Wilson stresses: note that, among other errors, the word migrants rather than the word warriors appears in the original story. Kind of minces the meat of the offending story’s headline.
The moral of my tale about this poorly reported-on story is always check the original source–if you can. Especially when it matters. Especially when the author’s name is Stubby the Rocket. Always.
A second moral comes to mind, one that I’ve mentioned multiple times on my blog Partial Posts: always read beyond the headline. In my experience, the headline rarely gets the story straight, even when the story below the headline is accurate.