The People’s Medical Journal

August 9, 2010 at 6:14 pm (Media) ()

I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the Daily Mail’s coverage of health stories, both recent and not-so-recent.

The recent article on “1,000 girls on Pill at 11” talked of “shocking figures” and the sexualisation of children. I was interested to note while reading this piece that while direct quotes were attributed to Dr Trevor Stammers of the Christian Medical Fellowship, an opinion attributed to Professor Steve Field was given as a summary rather than the Mail providing a direct quote.

I tend to be suspicious when a newspaper summarises the views of an expert commenting on an article. Particularly since the episode with the Sunday Express and Diane Harper. It’s hard to say whether or not the Mail have accurately represented the views of Prof Field (I can only guess), but here’s the Mail’s summary:

The data doesn’t show why GPs prescribed the Pill, which can be used to treat heavy periods and severe acne. However, Professor Field said there was no evidence that prescriptions for menstrual problems or spots were increasing.

If the data doesn’t show why GPs prescribed the Pill, then it is impossible for anyone to say what the Pill was prescribed for.

This rather undermines the point that the Mail and Dr Trevor Stammers are trying to put across. I think it also means that the article (and the Mail’s headline claim of “Rise in contraceptive prescription for pre-teens”) could be misleading.

Media coverage of this story in the Mail and elsewhere has been addressed by Dr Petra Boynton on her blog. The Mail, meanwhile, have moved on to being furious about Marie Stopes allowing “Team members, their partners and dependants […] to access MSI’s core services… without charge”.

The Mail have previous form when it comes to publishing articles on science or health that are inaccurate, distorted or misleading. For example on MMR. In fact, the Mail seem to have a good deal of trouble when it comes to publishing accurate pieces on vaccination.

As well as their role in promoting the ill-founded MMR scare, they’ve also covered Hepatitis B vaccination and HPV vaccination (taking different editorial lines in different countries).

The Mail seem to have a bit of a thing for red wine and have promoted it as a remedy for various ailments (usually on the basis of studies conducted into a component of red wine called resveratrol, which is also found in several foods).

Their Red wine for a painful back story relied on research in animals involving injections of resveratrol – which, I’m guessing, might not be comparable to humans quaffing Rioja.

Perhaps their best effort was “It can prevent cancer and blood clots. Now red wine could stop inflammation too”. This article claims, on the basis of a study into “the effects of resveratrol on two groups of mice exposed to a strong inflammatory agent” that “the drink blocks two key proteins in the body to prevent inflammation” – but the research was into resveratrol rather than red wine (and conducted in mice rather than humans).

Leaving the Mail for just a moment: with regard to the claim in the headline that red wine can prevent cancer, readers may be interested in this piece from Ben Goldacre on reporting of red wine and breast cancer in the Telegraph. [Note: there are a couple of comments referring to the “graphic medical photos” that accompany Ben’s post. Personally, I think that the pictures he used help to drive the point home but YMMV.]

I won’t write about the Daily Mail’s obsession with cancer, as it has been documented here, and here.

The Mail’s Editorial Line As I See It

Contraception: bad; sex education: bad; abortion: bad; red wine: good; extrapolating wildly from research: good; vaccination: bad (especially if it’s HPV, but only in England); substances that prevent/cause cancer: good as link bait.


More trivially, there was also the time I complained about a misleading headline. It took three months and a number of emails and letters (between me and the PCC, and between the PCC and the Mail) just to get a misleading headline amended. No note was made on the page in question of the amendment, and very few readers will have noticed that anything had changed – how many people re-read three month old articles?


  1. Tweets that mention The People’s Medical Journal « Stuff And Nonsense -- said,

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Ward, jdc 325 and Helen Rahman Brennan, Danny Strickland. Danny Strickland said: RT @jdc325: New Blogpost – The Daily Mail (AKA The People's Medical Journal): #dailyfail […]

  2. Cybertiger said,

    h fr fck’s sk, jdc352, y’ll hve Bcky ‘bg cck’ Fssx vnglsng bt md mrls nd pntfctng bt blw jb t th thcls f Sndy Tms jrnlst.

    Note: this comment was even more offensive than Cybertiger’s usual efforts, so it’s been disemvowelled.

  3. davidp said,

    One of our kids just asked to go onto the pill to control heavy periods. Nothing to do with sexualisation – not even going out with someone. It suprised me, and I am not comfortable about interfering with the hormonal cycles of an early teen (yes, pregnancy also interferes with their hormones, and teen pregnancy is bad for their long term health).

    The Mail also has no evidence for “usually without their parents’ knowledge” – they just know about confidentially law, but the having right to confidentiallity doesn’t mean that parents are always kept out of the loop – many, perhaps most, kids on the pill for heavy periods and acne would have a parent involved.

    Long-term implanted or injectable contraceptive devices are also used for intellectually disabled young people – the disability affects their decision making and responsibility but not their sex drives.

    Anecdote: The pill cleared up my wife’s acne very nicely – a bonus of birth control.

    I liked the “read it in the daily mail” cancer scare song, but can’t look for it now.

  4. Rachel Pearce said,

    I was reading another Mail article for research reasons (honest) and came across this:

    “He is prescribed only one drug now, the sleeping pill melatonin, which is produced from plants but banned as an over-the-counter remedy in Britain. ”

    Read more:–just-naughty-little-boy.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#ixzz0wByLxWMU

    So under “good” we get “drugs derived from plants”, like, say, digitalis or morphine. Which are disgracefully not available over-the-counter.

  5. Dr. Lawrence Kindo said,

    I think that any medical treatment is right for the right candidate, whether it is the birth control pill or the pimple control pill. Treatment should be individualized and should be at the discretion of the doctor and the patient. Who cares about what the world thinks when the two persons involved know what they are doing is right?

  6. Rachel Pearce said,

    PS Surely as children get bigger and menstruation / puberty in general starts earlier it should not be surprising that the number of 11 year olds needing the pill – for whatever reason – is increasing?

  7. davidp said,

    I was thinking of “Cancer from your pen top” in Dan and Dan’s Daily Mail song

  8. The Year In Nonsense. And Stuff. « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] August: apart from a curiosity piece on Victorian electro-quackery, the only post worth mentioning is one on the Daily Mail. Or, as I call it, The People’s Medical Journal. […]

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