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.]
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?