16 September 2009

Go On, Shoot the Messenger

This PDF gives lots of useful tips on whether to believe health stories in the press.

Now I've always had a fairly cynical attitude to the press. I remember one time when I was a kid I saw an advert for some lucrative prize draw in The Sun and asked my dad why we didn't get that particular newspaper. I can't remember his exact words but they were along the lines of "it's full of bollocks", though with more temperate language. I spent the whole second year of Uni fuming at Daily Express headlines (this was during their "NOW ASYLUM SEEKERS ARE HITLER WITH YOUR MONEY" phase, before they discovered Muslims). But until I started reading the Bad Science blog and got my mum the book a year or two ago, me and my dad had a theory.

This theory explained why there was always something new causing/curing cancer in the headlines. I'm sure we've all had this theory, and it was along the lines of "Some scientist, right, wants an excuse to drink more red wine or eat more chocolate or something, so he does a study to show it cures cancer, then goes home and tells his wife". It didn't explain why forgetting anniversaries or fucking your doctoral students was never found to cure cancer, but we're both literature graduates, so go easy on us. Anyway, Dr. Goldacre's explanation, that the papers are feeding us bullshit on a daily basis, made more sense. But to this day I can't understand why that never dawned on me, that it might be the press, which I knew was full of shameless, cynical lies, was actually at fault and misrepresenting research. I just sort of bypassed that and went straight to speculating about the scientists. Weird how, even if you know not to believe everything you read, sometimes you mentally cut out the middleman and don't even notice you're doing it.

Meanwhile the BBC is at it again, this time attacking an innocent academic for using the un-PC "insect" label.

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