Daily Mail Finds Scientist’s G-Spot

March 13, 2009 at 10:33 pm (Belief, Media, Religion) (, , )

As far as misleading headlines go, I would say (immodestly) that the title of this blog post isn’t a bad attempt. I’m not as experienced as professional journalists though, so I apologise if my efforts pale into insignificance when compared with the creative headlines appearing in the Daily Fail on a seemingly daily basis.

The Fail this week wrote about some fMRI scans that apparently required the headline “Scientists discover the brain’s ‘God spot’… and show that faith helps human survival“. This headline was seemingly contradicted in the text of the Fail’s report when one of the scientists who authored the paper told the Fail that “Religion doesn’t have a ‘God spot’ as such, instead it’s embedded in a whole range of other belief systems in the brain that we use every day”. According to the Fail, scientists have discovered the brain’s ‘God spot’; according to the scientists whose work the Fail are writing about, religion doesn’t really have a ‘God spot’.

The second part of the headline tacks on the idea that scientists have shown that faith helps human survival. This idea, though, seems to have come not from the research that the headline and story are purporting to inform us about, but is an opinion held by ‘some evolutionary theorists’:

Some evolutionary theorists believe a belief in a religious power may have helped our ancestors to survive great hardship compared to those with no such convictions. Others argue that it arises from the structure of the highly adaptable brain itself

There is no indication that the paper being written about ever actually discusses the idea that belief in religion is an aid to survival. It’s behind a paywall, however, so I can’t see any more than is in the abstract and supporting documents (or is misreported by the Fail) without coughing up cash I can’t really afford to spend.

So, while the Fail’s headline asserts that scientists have discovered the brain’s God spot, and that they have also shown that religious faith aids survival, it appears this may not be the case after all. It appears to be misleading as to the nature of the research and as to the nature of the conclusions the authors came to. The Fail has taken a research paper and has misreported it, using a misleading headline and some tacked-on opinions held by unnamed evolutionary theorists to assist in doing so. There are mendacity quotes around the ‘God spot’ part of the headline but, frankly, they should be wrapped around the whole thing.


Other Failures From The Past Seven Days

I blogged about a Daily Mail story on the HPV/cervical cancer vaccine, as did JQH of the Letting Off Steam blog. JQH has now written a letter to the Daily Mail regarding their coverage of the vaccine.

Last Friday, meanwhile, Holford Watch brought us the news that the Mail believes that Holford is an holistic doctor. The Holford in question is Mr Patrick Holford – neither an holistic doctor nor a qualified nutritionist. He is, of course, an ex-Professor though.



  1. The Gonzo Girl said,

    There was a study in Israel, where they found out, that ultra-orthodox jews had much riskier behaviour in traffic than secular jews.
    Apparently, it’s because the ultra-orthodox have a bigger trust in God to look after them.
    Sorry the link is to one of those science sites, where you have to be a member to read the full report, so I don’t know if you can access that.
    I can’t access it either, so I don’t know if this is disputed, but it’s interesting nevertheless, because it looks like it’s the other way round, blind faith lowers your chance of survival.

  2. dvnutrix said,

    It was March 3 rather than this week but there is the exhaustingly poor Jerome Burne item on chickenpox vaccine and shingles, of course.

    It’s no joke trying to track the Daily Mail’s nincompoopness.

  3. dvnutrix said,

    The 11:46 comment is not from me – it links back to a dubious site.

    But yes, jdc, good post.

  4. Neuroskeptic said,

    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

    Actually this really is me… Or is it? You never know where you stand with spammers nowadays.

  5. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comments everyone, with the exception of the fake dvnutrix. I didn’t click on the site linked to in the 11:46 comment – but I can guess from the url what sort of site it is.

    “It’s no joke trying to track the Daily Mail’s nincompoopness.”
    Yes, I think I may make a MailWatch logo and make it a regular thing.

    Gonzo Girl – thanks for linking to the Israeli accident study. The abstract certainly looks interesting.

    Neuroskeptic – is it really you? Thanks for dropping by.

  6. dvnutrix said,

    Maybe something a tad livelier than the Mail Watch logo which doesn’t quite catch the essence for me…When I think of Daily Mail, it’s a cross between Munch and the cinema posters for Scream

  7. jdc325 said,

    Thanks dvnutrix. I didn’t even know there was already a MailWatch site. I even recognise one of the editor’s names – a certain little black duck.

  8. The Promotion of Counterknowledge « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] Daily Mail are a disgrace. You can read recent Daily Fail posts on this blog here, here, here and here. Not that I’m in any way […]

  9. 3-in-1 PCC Complaint « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] are here. My post about the red meat/blindness story is here and my post on the God spot story is here. JQH recently wrote to the Daily Mail and the PCC regarding the Fail’s abysmal coverage of […]

  10. The Daily Mail and My PCC Complaint « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] The Daily Mail and My PCC Complaint Sorry to leave the thrilling topic of chiropractic, but I’ve had an email today that I thought might interest you. I promise I’ll get back to blogging on chiropractic soon. Now, as some of you may recall, I wrote to the Daily Mail to complain about two articles they wrote: one regarding an increased risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration due to excessive consumption of red meat, and one that was headlined “Scientists discover the brain’s ‘God spot’… and show that faith helps human survival”. The Mail didn’t even bother to respond to my complaint so I contacted the Press Complaints Commission (I also complained to the PCC about the Daily Telegraph at the same time). The PCC has now responded to my complaint about the Daily Mail, which I shall share with you below – although I am still waiting to hear about a similar complaint regarding the Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the red meat story (who, like the Mail, failed even to give me the courtesy of a response when I complained, let alone admit fault with their story or make changes). I think that the PCC has decided that the Telegraph’s headline and coverage are acceptable and I doubt that the Telegraph have even been contacted.You can read my original blog post on the blindness story, the complaint to the Daily Mail, and the PCC complaint via this link. The blog post on the “God Spot” story is here. […]

  11. Man Bites Dog! Or: Daily Mail Manage Fairly Accurate Headline. Eventually. « jdc325's Weblog said,

    […] brain’s ‘God spot’… and show that faith helps human survival” and I blogged about it here. The headline was made up of two assertions – both of which were incorrect. The scientists in […]

  12. James Bower said,

    Great blog, reading it through RSS feed as well

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