Posts Tagged Express
UPROAR AS BBC MUZZLES CLIMATE CHANGE SCEPTICS, screams The Daily Express:
THE BBC was criticised by climate change sceptics yesterday after it emerged that their views will get less coverage because they differ from mainline scientific opinion. [...] It said coverage should not be tailored to represent a “false balance” of opinion if one side came from a minority group.
So this isn’t about the BBC muzzling anyone, it’s about making sure that the BBC isn’t giving fringe ideas disproportionate amounts of time. It doesn’t just refer to climate change, either: the BBC Trust report (PDF) also refers to the BBC’s coverage of MMR, where giving undue weight to the idea that MMR caused autism even after science had conclusively proved otherwise on caused a public health disaster, and of the safety of GM food. Climate change is just another example of an area of science where a few loud voices have drowned out the actual science.
So, who’s in uproar?
Lord Lawson, chairman of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the fact that carbon dioxide levels were rising leading to global warming was not under dispute. However, he added, its extent and effect could not be explained by majority scientific opinion alone. [...]
The foundation’s director, Dr Benny Peiser, said the report would lead to biased coverage of climate change and stifle any real debate. [...]
Dr David Whitehouse, the foundation’s editor and a former BBC science correspondent, said the corporation had “lost the plot” when it came to science journalism.*
Yes, every single “sceptic” The Express quotes is actually a member of the GWPF thinktank. The Express does not quote any independent sceptics, any actual climate scientists, any sci-comms experts – in fact, it doesn’t quote anyone else except for an anonymous BBC spokesman.
So there are two possibilities here. Either The Express has been spectacularly lazy in putting this story together, or they’ve just been fed this story by the GWPF and have published it unthinkingly.
Well, funnily enough this press release went up on the GWPF website just yesterday.** What good timing.
* Dr Whitehouse’s full comment bears quoting here:
He said the corporation was “grouping sceptics with deniers” which would result in a lack of valid scientific input to its reports.
He said: “A sceptic is not a denier, all good scientists should be sceptics. The BBC has got itself into a complete muddle.
“In seeking to get the science right it has missed the journalism which is about asking awkward questions and shaking the tree.”
I think the BBC needs to investigate whether the royal family are all shapeshifting lizard aliens from Alpha Draconis. Sure, there’s no evidence for it, and the people who believe it are an extremely fringe group, but journalism is about ASKING AWKWARD QUESTIONS and SHAKING THE TREE.
** The GWPF claim that the independent report was a “damning indictment” of the BBC. Indeed, it was so damning that the author made these caustic remarks:
One thing should be made clear: BBC science broadcasting is seen as of high quality and is much praised for its accurate and impartial approach, its breadth, and its professionalism. Comments from the submissions made to this Review show how widespread is this opinion.
The BBC is to be commended for the breadth, depth and professionalism of its science coverage. I was impressed by its treatment, which has shown real progress over the past decade or so.
Ouch for the BBC!
A number of papers this week (Daily Express*, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Wales on Sunday) have all carried the same story, claiming that, in the words of the Daily Mail, “NHS officials pay £32 for gluten-free bread that costs £2.25 in the shops”.
Though it’s not impossible that a big organisation like the NHS has inefficient bread-buying schemes, it seems a bit unlikely that something as widely prescribed as gluten-free bread is being bought for more than 10 times its shelf price. So where did the figures come from?
Well, it looks like the story comes from this Welsh government data about prescriptions. Sure enough, if you look it says that the 27 prescriptions of a particular type of bread, Lifestyle Gluten-Free High-Fibre Brown, cost £32.27 each.** But doctors aren’t prescribing one loaf of bread at a time.
The important column is the one marked “quantity”, which tells you how many grams of bread were prescribed. For Lifestyle Gluten-Free High-Fibre Brown, doctors prescribed a total of 123,600 grams. Divided between the 27 people, that’s 4,577 grams each, or about 11 loaves of bread per person. So that £32.27 figure is the cost of buying 11 loaves of bread, not 1, and as the Welsh government points out, it works out at around £2.82 per loaf. This is still slightly more than the cheapest online cost of the bread, so I assume there is still room to bring prescription costs down, but NHS Wales is certainly not spending more than £30 on a loaf of bread.
* Turns out James Delingpole writes for The Express too. Huh.
** If you want to check for yourself, it’s in section G-O under the name “Lifestyle_G/f H/fbre Bread Brown”.
Daily Express headline: RAIN TODAY COULD LAST FOR 40 DAYS
Actual story: “BRITAIN could be heading for a washout summer if ancient folklore is to be believed. Legend says that showers today, St Swithin’s Day, mean 40 days of rain to come.“
Better headline: RAIN TODAY ALMOST CERTAINLY WON’T LAST FOR 40 DAYS
Even better, take the rest of your working life off.
Well, this is going to go well.
New figures show that under Labour the state was happy to pay your way, no questions asked.
Those claiming Disability Living Allowance soared from 2.1million in 2000 to 3.1million last year. The annual cost is now £12billion.
So, 3.1 million have “taken the rest of their working lives off” on Disability Living Allowance, and the state is “paying their way”? Well, no.
Disability Living Allowance is a supplementary payment, given to people with disabilities, which helps cover their care and mobility costs – in The Sun‘s case, they seem to be talking solely about the part of the DLA that covers care, since that’s where the 3.1 million figure comes from. There are different levels of DLA, depending on how severe the disability is, but even in the most severe case – someone who requires 24 hour care – the recipient would only get £73.60 a week, or about £3,800 a year, and on average, people only receive about £46.30 a week, or £2,400 a year (and 500,000 of that 3.1 million get nothing at all). No-one has “taken the rest of their working lives off” to live on £2,400 a year.
Incidentally, that part about the annual cost being £12 billion does seem to be including the cost of mobility allowance as well – the cost of the care part of the DLA is only £6.4 billion a year. It sounds like a lot, but like I say, it only actually works out at about £46 per person per week – not very much at all when you think about the cost of a private carer, or the earnings lost by a friend or family member who takes time off work to provide care.
Clearly The Sun must realise this – they complain that “Many of those handed up to £73.60 a week are laid low with ailments such as “alcohol abuse” or allergies“, clearly hoping that we won’t realise that £73.60 is not all that much money. There maybe people on DLA because of alcohol abuse or allergies, but in that case, it will be because their condition is so serious that they need part-or-full-time care. To qualify for even the lowest rate, you need to be either physically unable to cook for yourself or require care for part of the day. That’s more than just “someone who cannot get out of bed because their hangover is so bad“.
The Sun also says that “The vast majority of claimants have never been medically assessed“, which also isn’t true. Most people aren’t assessed by the Department of Work and Pensions, true, but in order to qualify for DLA, you need to have been diagnosed by your doctor. Everyone who is on DLA was assessed by their doctor.
Now at last the Government plans to order regular assessments to weed out the workshy.
It should make the economy look healthier by a few billion pounds a year.
That’s something not to be sneezed at.
Unpaid carers are worth about £87 billion to the economy per year, by reducing the strain on the NHS. Making it even harder for them is hardly going to make the economy any healthier.
Edit: The Express’s coverage is more or less the same, but with TPA quotes and the added bonus that they express incredulity that people with back pain might have trouble moving around. WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT?
(The Sun discards its “Sun Says” columns each day. I’ve preserved this one beneath the fold)
A little while back, I wrote a blog post about a nonsense story in the Express promoting an arthritis cream, Joint Mud, made by a company called Greek Island Labs.
A number of things struck me as odd about the story:
- It quoted a doctor called Mark Binette, praising the efficiency of the product. Mark Binette also happens to work for Greek Island Labs, and was the creator of the cream – hardly the most independent guy you could quote!
- The article claimed there had been incredible advance sales of the product, and went into great detail about how much the product cost and where it could be bought.
- It also claimed that famous people had used the product – in this case, Premier League footballers.
- Best of all, a number of comments appeared praising this product as soon as it went online, and the accounts that created those comments were newly created that day.
Well, today The Express has another story about a Greek Island Labs product, Adonia Hair Remover, under the lovely balanced headline “Rush to buy Adonia Hair Reducer cream that cuts down on shaving“. Here’s a few quotes from the article – maybe you can see a connection:
- An independent American physician, Dr Mark Binette, said: “It’s safe, natural and works on even the most challenging cases.”
- It sold out overnight when it launched in America last month, and will be available in London, at Harrods, from next month. It costs £29.99 for 1oz and more than 10,000 people have already put their names on a waiting list.
- Its sales in America were boosted last month after American Pie actress Shannon Elizabeth, 37, was spotted buying some.
- Picked this up when I was in the states last month. I’ve only been using it for a few weeks but it’s working well for me so far… • Posted by: JessMarwick at 12:45 AM
Digging into the Express archives, I also found this article from 2009 about another Greek Island Labs product, Adonia LegTone, which supposedly removes cellulite. Although this is at least marked as a review instead of a piece of news, it’s just as glowing as the other articles. Again, they quote Binette (at least this time, it’s clearer that he works for Greek Island Labs – they don’t have the nerve to claim he’s “independent”). Again they gush about how many preorders it’s had and how much it will cost. Again they quote scientists who point out that the claims it makes are rubbish… then ignore them. Again, there’s a very positive comment from someone who’s never commented before or since on the Express website, which the moderators haven’t removed despite it clearly being spam.
Three articles, all rather similar, all praising a Greek Island Labs product. Have GIL simply realised that the Express is a soft touch for churning press releases into news, or is there a deeper connection here?
This will be all over the papers today, so here’s a quick run down of what’s actually happened.
Last year the World Health Organisation released its Interphone report (PDF) into the link between brain cancer and mobile phones. For the most part, they found “no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma [types of brain cancer] was observed with use of mobile phones”. However, for very heavy users (the top 10% of the population), there was a statistically significant increase in the odds of developing a form of brain cancer known as glioma but “but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation” – there is too much uncertainty in the data to know whether heavy mobile phone use caused cancer or whether something else was to blame. On the one hand, they found there appeared to be a connection between which side of the brain the tumour developed in and which hand users held the phone in – a sign that phones might cause cancer – but on the other hand, while extreme users experienced a big increase in brain tumours, people who used their phones even slightly less saw no change in brain cancer – a sign that mobile phones might not cause cancer.
Fast forward a year, and the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has issued a press release (PDF) about an upcoming report which, based on the Interphone study and some other papers, will classify the electromagnetic (EM) fields from mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” meaning there is “limited evidence” that they may cause cancer. In other words, it’s the exact same conclusion as the Interphone report, but this time the report is focusing on the negative – heavy doses may cause cancer – rather than the positive – light doses probably don’t cause cancer.
That in itself is very reasonable – even if mobile phones carry a very slight cancer risk, the IARC still need to know what that risk is. The problem comes when the media, reporting this in the usual shades of black and white, ignore all this nuance in favour of scares:
The Mail screams “Mobile phones CAN increase risk of cancer: Doctors reveal shock results of major study into effect on the brain“, magically turning “possibly causes cancer” into “CAN cause cancer”. It’s not really a shock result either, since it came out a year ago. The Mail also brings up the recent Council of Europe draft report that suggested banning mobiles from around schools, ignoring the fact it was pseudoscientific rubbish based on research from quacks.
The Express goes for the similar “Shock cancer warning over mobile phone use“, claiming “MOBILE phones have been officially linked to cancer for the very first time by a team of world experts”. Again, the report is a year old, it’s not a shock! They also manage to get in some ridiculous guilt-by-association:
But they classified mobile phones in the same danger category as the pesticide DDT and petrol engine exhaust, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans.
Petrol exhaust and DDT are pretty dangerous, but that’s not necessarily because they cause cancer! Nor does being in the same group as these mean it carries the same risk of cancer, either. It just means that we have the same level of evidence for a cancer risk, which isn’t the same thing. For example, DDT is now banned worldwide, with most developed countries banning it in the 70s. This means that people aren’t being exposed to it any more (a good thing, of course!), so we can’t study its effects and work out exactly how dangerous it is.
The Guardian meanwhile goes for a tenuous connection to the risks of mobile phone base stations and wi-fi, even though the exposure to EM from these is much lower than from holding a phone to your ear – and we know even then it’s only the heaviest exposures that may cause cancer.
“The risk of brain cancer is similar in people who use mobile phones compared to those who don’t, and rates of this cancer have not gone up in recent years despite a dramatic rise in phone use during the 1980s.
“However, not enough is known to totally rule out a risk, and there has been very little research on the long-term effects of using phones.”
(They also quote a professor of Medical Physics and Director of the Mobile Operators Association, but to be honest, they seem to have gone into damage control mode before there’s been any damage to control. Pro-tip, guys – if you ever end a paragraph about the health risks of something by saying “The social and technological benefits also need to be emphasised“, then you sound like a cyberpunk bad guy, even if you truly mean it.)
Anyway, for a little perspective, there’s a great interview with Ed Yong about the news here. Read it!
Edit: There are also great pieces out there on this from Pharyngula, Respectful Insolence, Cancer Research UK, Tom Chivers, Only That In You, Scientific American and Bad Astronomer. Good old blogosphere!