Man Bites Dog! Or: Daily Mail Manage Fairly Accurate Headline. Eventually.

June 24, 2009 at 5:14 pm (Media, Religion) (, , , , , )

I complained to the Daily Mail some time ago about some misleading headlines. They failed to respond. I then complained to the PCC.

I have since received an initial response from the PCC (which I was less than satisfied with) and a further response (which I was rather happier with). One of the headlines was, originally, “Scientists discover the 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 question stated that the brain did not have a “God spot”, so they certainly had not discovered it. The scientists did not show that “faith helps human survival” – their study did not even cover that question.

I wrote to the Mail specifically to complain that their headline made two assertions and both were incorrect. I got no response. (I also complained about another article they ran but that’s another story.)

I then wrote to the Press Complaints Commission and stated that I believed the Mail was in breach of section 1 of the PCC code (“The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures”).

The PCC wrote to me to pass on the comments of the Daily Mail’s “Group Managing Editor” and to inform me that the Mail had changed their headline to read “Research into the brain’s ‘God spot’ shows that faith helps human survival”. I responded by pointing out that the two incorrect assertions I had specifically complained about were still present in the amended headline.

The PCC contacted me again with further comments from the Daily Mail’s “Group Managing Editor” and to inform me that the Mail had again changed their headline – this time to read “Research into brain’s ‘God spot’ reveals areas of brain involved in religious belief”. This was an accurate enough summary of the researchers’ views for me to relent and contact the PCC to confirm that this was an acceptable way to resolve my complaint. A short summary of it will soon be available on the Commission’s web site and it will also appear in the PCC’s next biannual report.

It just goes to show – one irritating pedant with a keyboard and too much time on his hands can make a difference. Sometimes. I’m still arguing the toss over my complaint regarding the articles in the Mail and the Telegraph on red meat raising the risk of blindness by 50%…


  1. zeno said,

    The world needs more irritating pedants!

  2. dvnutrix said,

    Well done. Perseveration is an excellent quality in some areas and activities :)

  3. Neuroskeptic said,

    Nice work. I approve. And since it was about the brain I approve doubly…

  4. apgaylard said,

    Here, here.

  5. badsciencemonk said,

    Well done from one pedant to another

  6. jdc325 said,

    Thank you very much for your kind comments everybody. It was nice to get a little victory.

    As I noted at the end of the piece, I also had one complaint dismissed by the PCC – which I am rather unhappy about. The PCC seem to have confused “risk of age-related macular degeneration” with “risk of blindness”, as the Mail and Telegraph did in their original articles. They also seem to have taken the view that as the caveats of the researchers and the caution of the spokesperson from the Royal College of Ophthalmology were mentioned in the article, the Mail were free to headline their piece “Too much red meat could leave you blind, scientists warn”. I have gone back to the PCC to make them aware that I am disappointed with their decision but I think that it will make no difference. It seems that with the PCC, the best you can hope for is to “win some, lose some”.

  7. Sarah said,

    Nice won – regardless of the disappointing outcome of the second case, you have made the world of online newspapers an appreciable bit less stupid.

    I’m interested in this use of the PCC to correct factually inaccurate statements. Have you been following and their efforts to de-fib the Mail’s comment sections?

  8. jdc325 said,

    Thanks Sarah, the DGMGA blog looks interesting. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

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