Daily Fail attacks experts

By Grant Jacobs 07/07/2010

The Daily Mail – known to many as the Daily Failblames it all on experts.

Yup, experts, and experts alone, are the reason for the contradictory health advice that science and medical journalists like the author David Freeman produce.

(Then how come the better science writers actually get things right?)

The three-sentence headline thunders:

Never trust an expert!  Ever wondered why so much health advice is contradictory? It’s because two-thirds of medical research is wrong or fraudulent

It’s excruciating to read all the fallacies in this article. Simon Jenkins’ recent rant, bad as is was, has nothing on this. (See also Mind the Gap for the revenge of the evil boffins.)

What a laugh that this article points to shifting the goal posts after a giant leap from advice about CPR to one of the few fraud cases in molecular biology worthy of wider attention. Yes, right, there really is a connection there…

And then directly compares this particular fraud case to much more minor ’fraud’ without bothering to mention the difference. Nor bothering to mention that some of the unwelcome activities are not fraud at all, not in the sense he refers to. It just wouldn’t be right to be accurate, would it?

(And, naturally, no effort is made to link to the research that is cited, or mention he’s recycling old news. See Nature 435, 718-719 (9 June 2005) for the summary article. [PDF file, subscription required.] If I can find it, they can link it.)

Like any good Gish Gallop there are so many errors, it would take an essay of epic proportions to counter them.

So I won’t. I’m not enough of a fool.

OK – those wanting the counterpoint argument say – the Daily Fail, like many tabloids, is about entertainment, not ’truth’.

There’s a good deal of truth in that.

You only have to skim through the ’science’ or ’health’ stories to see the standard of their science writing. Not good.

To top it off, the article is basically an advertorial for the guy’s book.

But to me the kicker, the kick-in-the-gut, is the comments thread.

It’s sad reading.

That such a twitted article could lead people along like that…

HT: Ed Yong via twitter.

Addendum: Note that headline’s statistics are wrong anyway. Methinks someone didn’t read carefully.

Other articles on Code for life:

Boney lumps, linkage analysis and whole genome sequencing (high-speed genome sequencing is offering new ways to locate the genetic errors causing disease)

Blogimmuniqué: who are you? (introduce yourself and meet fellow readers)

Describe your fantasy institute (what would your dream research institute be like?)

Royal Society publishing free to read, 1665 – today (don’t miss out – until the end of July only)

0 Responses to “Daily Fail attacks experts”

  • And of course one of the reasons the ‘Fail’s’ readers suck it up is that they don’t understand that science does change as new information comes to hand… Sigh. I bet Ben Goldacre will have a bit to say about this!

  • Hi Alison,

    And to think that I recently wrote about reporting of on-going science stories… :-/

    Ben (and others) might not say much.

    After all, we could say that they fail daily, so what’s the news?!

    Then again, maybe he will. Let’s hope so, I’d love to read his take on it.

    It is a bit depressing to see people fall for it, though.

  • The last item listed is one that I learnt a lot about at a Society of Toxicology meeting. In fact, the evidence that the drug would cause a ‘cytokine storm’ in humans was present in the data from the animal studies, but was missed by inexperienced reviewers when choosing the ‘first in man’ dose.
    Having worked for years in preclinical toxicology, I can state with certainty that testing drugs first in animals, before giving them to humans, prevents an enormous amount of human morbidity and suffering, and probably a lot of mortality too. I’ve seen many drugs that were expected to be safe, turn out to have toxic effects.