NHS has broken the cycle!

A few days ago I asked how do we break this cycle of news reports based on terrible misreading of the scientific literature literature. All these reports do is spread misinformation and undermine trust in scientific research.

Well, the British National Health System has the answer! Via Ben Goldacre, I’ve found my new, favorite website, Behind the Headlines at NHS. It’s the Snopes.com equivalent for shoddy science journalism. Every day they examine what health news is making the headlines, share it with scientific and clinical experts, and they report on the science in a way that’s actually accurate.

So, ignoring the question of why don’t journalists do their job correctly in the first place so we don’t need this service, I’m thrilled to hear of its existence. It seems inefficient though. First university PR departments and journalists have to mangle the science, then we need to have scientists put it back together again. We should just have scientists report on the literature, like at scienceblogs! Instead we have a bunch of incompetent boobs spoon-feeding the public total garbage without anyone writing in to complain when they turn in stories that are essentially complete fiction.

For instance read about Man Flu story at Behind the Headlines, then look at the Daily Mail article or BBC reporting that started this mess.

The authors of this dreck should be fired for journalistic incompetence, and the scientist she quoted (if indeed she was quoted correctly) should consider never talking to a journalist again as they make it appear that she doesn’t even understand her own research. The scientists too in this instance appear culpable as it seems they were happy to help spread completely simplistic, and I think frankly false interpretations of their data.

Luckily, the NHS is providing a public service to the citizens of the UK, and indeed the world, by replacing such nonsense reporting with thoughtful, considered articles that actually explain the science and inform the public.

Comments

  1. #1 Kagehi
    May 23, 2009

    Got one like that being blogged about at PZ’s site, but here is the direct link:

    http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/idalized_the_brand_of_a_fossil/

    Apparently, the ability of his hype to be misused by creationists, its vapid insistence of crediting his find with being the most important thing in the universe, or at least 47 million years of it, etc., isn’t a huge problem. Someone need to slap this idiot up side the head and remind him why P.T. Barnum was considered a con artist, and undermined scientific efforts, not a “respected scientist”, or anything else worth emulating.

  2. #2 Marilyn Mann
    May 24, 2009

    Thanks for alerting us to this service. It appears that NHS contracts with a company called Bazian (http://www.bazian.com/index.html) to do this analysis.

    I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Gary Schwitzer and HealthNewReview.org.

    http://www.tc.umn.edu/~schwitz/

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/schwitz/healthnews/

    http://www.HealthNewsReview.org/

  3. #3 Skemono
    May 24, 2009

    Hmm. Their article on the recent acupuncture back pain study doesn’t seem too good, though.

  4. #4 Dunc
    May 26, 2009

    So, ignoring the question of why don’t journalists do their job correctly in the first place [...] The authors of this dreck should be fired for journalistic incompetence

    I know I’ve said this sort of thing here before, but I guess I’m just going to have to keep hammering at it until it sinks in. It is not a journalist’s job to accurately inform the public, no matter how much they protest the contrary. Their job is simply to write copy which enables their paper to sell advertising space. Newspapers have no “public service” remit. They are simply for-profit companies.

    The idea that newspapers exist to inform the public is merely part of their marketing. They exist to make money. If printing misinformation or even outright lies is more profitable than printing the truth, that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

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