Posterous Archives

June 27, 2010

Cancer: Scaremongering ‘Scientists’ Ramp Up The Fear

We have gone demented. Across the globe, the world media reports on the dangers of cancer. In recent years, the BBC have been among the worst offenders – using ‘statistics’ to bolster their overblown claims that cancer is “public enemy number one” and quoting ‘scientists’ as predicting millions of new cases of cancer to come.

When  it comes to statistics, I’m with Ernest Rutherford – “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” Even this most distinguished of scientists shares my disdain, so who could possibly doubt that my cynicism is justified?

As for those predictions of the ‘scientists’ that the BBC so loves to fawn over, these predictions are simply estimates. They are mere guesses and as such are likely to be no more useful than a forecast from the Met Office.

Meanwhile, the calls for ever more funding of cancer treatments continue: this ‘blog’ from Cancer Research quite predictably reports that there is a need to increase spend in the NHS on cancer.

All this nonsense we hear about cancer being a serious problem comes from ‘scientists’, from the people behind organisations such as Cancer Research (which have a clear agenda), and from the boot-licking BBC who (as is their wont) genuflect to the scaremongering ‘scientists’. All they have are ‘statistics’, ‘models’, and ‘estimates’. Well you can use statistics to prove anything that’s even remotely true, and when it comes to ‘estimates’ your guess is as good as mine – and as good as that of the ‘scientists’ the BBC are so happy to kowtow to.

Small print: this is a spoof article loosely based on Jenkins’ view of swine flu. I’m posting it as @JennyRohn is promoting on Twitter the rather wonderful #SpoofJenks hashtag. See here for more. For more serious blogposts see my regular blog Stuff And Nonsense.

Edit, 11/8/15: As the links all seem to be broken, here’s a couple that work: https://twitter.com/search?q=spoofjenks&src=typd & http://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2010/jun/28/simon-jenkins-science-twitter

July 9, 2010

Ahh, the chiropractors want to play…

Yesterday, I saw a tweet that pointed to an article on the dynamicchiropractic.com website (note: I’ve used rel=nofollow for this link, as I do not want this post to count as a vote for Dynamic Chiropractic). The article was headed “Get the Chiropractic Skeptics Out!” and, referring to the Chirobase and Skepdic websites, urged readers to “get them off that first page” of Google search results.

Dynamic Chiropractic would probably prefer it if I didn’t link to Skepdic using the term chiropractic and I suspect they would be equally unhappy if I were to link to Chirobase using the termchiropractor. Why are Dynamic Chiropractic unhappy? Well, they are worried that if Skepdic and Chirobase appear on the first page of Google results people might “learn about chiropractic from them”. The very idea seems to appal Dynamic Chiropractic, so I thought I’d do my bit and link to Skepdic and Chirobase using terms such as chiropractor and chiropractic.

EDIT, 21st July:

The scientologists probably wouldn’t be very happy if I were to link to the following website using the text “scientology“.

Edit, 10th October 2010

Linking to this blogpost using the term Dr Briffa is a cock would be childish. I’m still doing it though…

Edit, 24th December 2010

And here’s “Power Balance“, makers of Power Balance wristbands – for which there is no credible scientific evidence to support the maker’s claims.

Edit, 5th February 2011

Here’s another: Peter Goodgold doesn’t want you to see this video.

Edit, 19th February 2011

Bloggerheads writing about Bedfordshire on Sunday.

Edit, 22nd August 2011

Rhett Daniels is a tosser.

December 13, 2009

AltMed on Any Questions

Shaun Woodward and Teresa May gave poor answers to the question on funding AltMed on the NHS. The answer from David Laws was a little better.

Woodward stated he’d been “impressed by alternative medicine and homeopathic treatments” and believes they have their place in medical treatment. He thinks we should ensure “money is available for trials for actually people being able to choose, if they want to, versions of medicine…” Woodward appeared unclear as to whether we should fund trials or fund treatment for people who wished to choose a version of medicine that has not been shown to be effective. That he is impressed by alternative medicine and homeopathic treatments is disappointing and reflects badly on him. The same is true of Teresa May.

Teresa May is “quite sympathetic to alternative medicines”, and thinks people should be able to “have a choice”. She believes that some people find that “alternative medicines actually do have a value for them” and that “what’s important is that we don’t simply dismiss them.” I don’t think that any alternative medicine treatments have been “simply dismissed” – many have been tested, shown not to work, and then dismissed. This is a rather different matter.

David Laws, meanwhile, would agree with Ben Goldacre that “we certainly shouldn’t be funding treatments where there is no evidence that they are any better than placebo” and that it would be wrong to do so given that we currently struggle to fund treatments that have been shown to work. Laws points out that we could be taking money that could be available for effective treatments and spending it on treatments that have not been shown to be effective. He then undermined his argument slightly by claiming that a relative had found acupuncture helpful – seemingly unaware that a single, subjective anecdote is not particularly useful as evidence of the effectiveness of a treatment. He was, though, more impressive than May and Woodward – who both seemed to believe we should continue to fund alternative medicine on the basis of “patient choice” (regardless of whether that patient choice is well-informed or not).

Listen again on iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00p6vll/Any_Questions_11_12_2009/

December 21, 2009

Can Daily Mail “Readers” Actually Read?

The Daily Mail:

Delivering his festive lesson, Father Jones told the congregation: ‘My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift.  I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or  because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

A Daily Mail reader:

The priest should do a bit of research. It is not only the large chains who pay the price for shoplifting.

Well, perhaps the priest should do a bit of research into the indirect harm caused by shoplifting – but he certainly did not imply that it is only the large chains who pay the price for shoplifting. He asked that people take from large stores rather than small family businesses and he pointed out that the costs are ultimately passed onto consumers – presumably the point the reader was trying to make.

The Daily Mail:

The married father-of-two insisted his unusual advice did not break the Bible commandment ‘Thou shalt not steal’ – because God’s love for the poor outweighs his love for the rich.

Another Daily Mail reader:

whatever happened to “thou shalt not steal” and all that?

Well, if you read the article then you’ll find his argument regarding that commandment. Whether you agree with it or not is up to you, but it is there if you bother to read the article.

I’m not sure where I stand with regard to the priest’s advice, but I like to think that if commenting on a national newspaper’s website I would at least read the article and base my comments on what he has been quoted as saying rather than make up objections that have already been addressed.

If Daily Mail readers do not believe in climate change, think homeopathy is a valuable therapy, or are convinced that vaccination is a bad thing then perhaps it is because they do not or cannot read and understand plain English. More likely, they do not bother to attempt to read a whole article – it is much easier to scan the headline and spout whatever nonsense fits their prior prejudices. For this reason, perhaps it is more important than I had realised that the Daily Mail ceases to print headlines that distort or are inaccurate or misleading.

November 16, 2009

Can We Trust The Press?

Probably not. For various reasons, what we read in the mainstream press is unreliable.

Stories are sensationalised by reporters and editors with the effect of distorting information, misleading readers, and rendering the articles in question inaccurate. While the PCC code begins by stating that: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures“; it is in practice difficult to obtain prompt and prominent corrections from those publishing inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

Specialist reporters are quite capable of commenting on health and science stories responsibly and accurately. However, they are all too often sidelined by editors when a big health story breaks – and lifestyle reporters are given the task of writing articles about, for example, whether the MMR vaccine causes autism (or whether HPV vaccination has been responsible for the death of a young girl with a tumour). (See here: Bad Science and here: Stuff And Nonsense for more.) These lifestyle reporters often fail miserably, but it seems to me that the responsibility for their shoddy work lies ultimately with the editor who has sidelined a specialist reporter, presumably in order to get a more sensational piece.

The time pressures that journalists face are also a factor in the trustworthiness of the press – according to Nick Davies in Flat Earth News, only 12 per cent of key facts are checked. It seems that fact-checking may be one of the first casualties of a busy news room. There are many examples of journalists being caught out by a failure to factcheck. Here: Lay Science is an example of the media being taken in by a hoax (that “women with big breasts are smarter“), while sports journalists have reported on several unfacts that have appeared on the internet – notably a Wikipedia hoax that claimed of AC Omonia fans that “A small but loyal group of fans are lovingly called “The Zany Ones” – they like to wear hats made from discarded shoes and have a song about a little potato.” (See here for more: b3ta.) There’s also the footballer who made a “50 Best Young Footballers” list. The player did not, in fact, exist. Moving away from sport, there is a fine example here:How a student fooled the world’s media

On the 28th March, Shane Fitzgerald who studies at the University of Dublin, began an experiment which could put journalism into disrepute, by faking a quote on Wikipedia and measuring the spread across the world’s media outlets.

It is worth noting that of all those who fell for Fitzgerald’s hoax, apparently only one outlet saw fit to issue a retraction afterwards.

Given the number of sensationalised, inaccurate, misleading, and distorted stories that have appeared in the press – and their failure to fact-check – it seems obvious that we cannot trust what we read in the mainstream media. To quote Mark Twain:

If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.

 

Notes

I have not properly fact-checked this post. You would be wise to be sceptical as to the veracity of the assertions I have made. This disclaimer would be appropriate for many news articles in the mainstream media.

May 16, 2010

Chiropractic For Autism: Claims

I recently blogged about chiropractic for autism. Here are some of the websites promoting chiropractic for autism: whale.to, Life Chiropractic, World Chiropractic Alliance (“Subluxations present during childhood created this disease process and chiropractic can be the solution.”), and chiro.org, whose first cited paper says: “whilst case studies and anecdotal reports are encouraging, further research in the form of larger, controlled trials are needed to establish the role of manipulative care in the treatment of autism“.

It’s worth pointing out that in 2008, this critical evaluation by Edzard Ernst included the statement: “With the possible exception of back pain, chiropractic spinal manipulation has not been shown to be effective for any medical condition.” There is no reason to think that chiropractic might be a useful treatment for people with with an autism spectrum disorder. The available evidence is of such poor quality, I’m not sure that any conclusions can be drawn. Case studies and badly-designed trials published in CAM journals do not justify offering chiropractic as a treatment for autism.

November 24, 2010

Quotemining FTW!

Recently, I wrote about a couple of Daily Mail articles on vaccination. The first article the Mail published can be viewed as a PDF here: linky. I thought I’d have a go at, er, rejigging it a bit.

MMR ‘super’

A ‘super vaccination’ day for babies just after they turn one will involve three injections including the MMR jab as part of a national programme to boost immunity levels. The jabs will be given in three different limbs and will immunise children from measles, mumps and rubella, two forms of meningitis and an infection that can cause pneumonia.

Primary care trusts in England and Wales last week received the advice with government advisers hoping multiple inoculations will improve the uptake of the MMR vaccine. The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation who advised the government to combine the jabs said research found no safety issues, with families ‘expected to increase take-up’ of inoculations.

Combining vaccinations into one appointment and giving three at a time is safe. The fact that MMR is one of these makes no difference because MMR is safe.

[The quote that makes up the final para is from Dame Sally Davies. All the other words are the Mail’s (I’ve just missed a few words out here and there). I also added a comma after “safety issues” because it just didn’t look right without one.]

March 8, 2010

Science Blogs Analysis

This paper attempts to “understand current practices of science blogging and to provide insight into the role of blogging in the promotion of more interactive forms of science communication”. It has already been criticised by Ed Yong (“Selection criteria hilarious for their absence.”), MJ Robbins (“It’s dire, my head hurts reading it.”), and BoraZ.

One thing that interested me was this snippet from the conclusion:

An interesting practical experiment would also be to reverse the roles of writers and readers and invite the so called “ordinary persons” to create and publish science blogs, i.e., to engage them in the practices of science blog writing rather than reading or commenting.

The reason I was interested in this comment was that this is “an interesting practical experiment” that is already being carried out (sort of). I’m an ordinary person (well, fairly ordinary) and I write a science blog (admittedly one focussing more on pseudoscience than science) here. I’m sure there are quite a few other ordinary persons doing likewise.

 

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