Letters to The Editor

March 20, 2009 at 9:47 pm (Media) (, , , , , , , )

[BPSDB] Recently, I’ve written several posts about misleading headlines and poor reporting (primarily from the Daily Mail). Having been encouraged to share my concerns with the newspapers in question, I decided to write to them and copy the correspondence here.

Dear X,

I am writing to you to express my disappointment with a number of recent headlines in the Daily Mail. Most recently, the headline that scientists had warned that too much red meat could leave one blind was an exaggeration and did not properly reflect the statements made by the scientists in question. Your headline writer contrived the warning themselves – there was no such warning from the authors of the study. In fact, the scientists in question stated that red meat could be a risk factor or merely a marker for a group of people with an increased risk from other lifestyle factors – and the spokesperson for the Royal College of Ophthalmology said that ‘The evidence is still not strong enough to merit any advice to the public.’

Previously, there was a headline to the effect that scientists had not only discovered the brain’s God spot, but that they had also proved that faith aids human survival. Again, the headline failed to accurately reflect the findings of the scientists in question. The authors of the paper published in PNAS went so far as to state the opposite to the headline in question – they asserted 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.” The second part of your headline seemed to tack on an idea not covered in the PNAS paper, but seemed reliant instead on the opinions of various unnamed evolutionary theorists.

I am disappointed by the Daily Mail’s use of misleading headlines, particularly those that exaggerate risk or misrepresent scientific findings. Newspapers should exist not to mislead their readers, but to inform them and the Daily Mail is currently failing in this.

Regards,
Y.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1160904/Scientists-discover-brains-God-spot–faith-helps-human-survival.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1162921/Too-red-meat-leave-blind-scientists-warn.html

Having written to the Fail, I also wrote to the Torygraph on the matter of their headline on red meat.

Dear X,

I am writing to you to express my disappointment with a recent headline in the Daily Telegraph. The headline that scientists had warned that too much red meat could leave one blind was an exaggeration and did not properly reflect the statements made by the scientists in question. Your headline writer contrived the warning themselves – there was no such warning from the authors of the study. In fact, the scientists in question stated that red meat could be a risk factor or merely a marker for a group of people with an increased risk from other lifestyle factors – and the spokesperson for the Royal College of Ophthalmology (RCO) said that ‘The evidence is still not strong enough to merit any advice to the public.’

Further, the report contained a claim that may be slightly misleading. The authors of the paper on red meat and AMD seem to have found that the consumption of ten portions of meat a week correlates with a rise in the risk of AMD of around a half. The headline to your piece claims that eating red meat raises the risk of blindness by half. While AMD is a leading cause of blindness in the developed world, it seems dubious to suggest that a 50% increase in risk of AMD equates directly to a 50% increase in blindness when other causes of blindness in the developed world include diabetic maculopathy, hypertensive retinopathy, cataracts, and chronic glaucoma. The RCO state in their guidelines on AMD that “Age related macular degeneration (AMD) accounts for almost 50% of those registered as blind or partially sighted.” If we accept the figures provided by the RCO, a 50% rise in the risk of AMD would not lead to a 50% rise in the risk of blindness.

Regards,
Y.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5013199/Too-much-red-meat-could-lead-to-blindness-claim-scientists.html

More

ARMD Guidlines (.pdf); Blindness#Causes_of_blindness (Wikipedia); Mailwatch.


4 Comments

  1. Teek said,

    did any of the above get published…?
    great letters!

  2. jdc325 said,

    Thanks! As far as I know, neither letter is being/has been published.

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

    […] is ineffective and have called for reform. My letters to the editors of the Mail and Telegraph are here. My post about the red meat/blindness story is here and my post on the God spot story is here. JQH […]

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

    […] wrote to the Mail specifically to complain that their headline made two assertions and both were […]

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