Friday, 21 May 2010

Your headline has not been recognised...please try again

A WHO report on the risk of brain tumours from mobile phones was reported on like this:

Guardian - Mobile phone study finds no solid link to brain tumours.
BBC - No proof of mobile cancer risk, major study concludes.
Independent - Mobile phones do not raise risk of brain tumours, say scientists.
Daily Mirror - 'No proof' of mobile phone cancer link.

And, like this:

Mail - Long conversations on mobile phones can increase risk of cancer, suggests 10-year study.
Telegraph - Half an hour of mobile use a day 'increases brain cancer risk'.

And yes, they're all about the same study.

So who is right? Well, would you believe a cancer scare story in the Mail?

From NHS Behind the Headlines:

Some newspapers have selectively quoted a few results in this research that suggest a significant link, but this is misleading in the context of the overall results. The researchers themselves explain these few anomalous results, and conclude that there are no conclusive signs of an increased risk of brain tumours.

Overall, this study does not provide evidence that mobile phones cause cancer, a finding echoed by the majority of studies on the matter, although sadly not by most newspapers.

And from the Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which published the report:

'An increased risk of brain cancer is not established from the data from Interphone'.

Anton has more.

When not trying to frighten people about getting cancer from phones or from turning on lights at night, the papers love a good 'miracle cure' story.

Last week the Mail ran: 'Holy Grail' cancer vaccine that blasts tumours in weeks hailed as huge leap in fighting disease. The Express went with Cancer scientists hail ‘huge’ leap towards jab that targets tumours.

But these weren't quite right either. According to Cancer Research UK:

Not only are these headlines overhyped and misleading, but the stories themselves are slightly confusing, combining the launch of a clinical trial with newly published results from a completely different area of research...

While cancer vaccines and immunotherapy are very exciting areas of research that we’re actively involved in funding, this story itself does not represent a ‘huge leap’ forwards.

Using such language is at best misleading and at worst cruelly raises false hopes in cancer patients and their families.


  1. Very poor.

    however, on this subject, I hear a lot of the research is sponsored by those with a vested interested (phone companies, etc.). Apparently with them dis-counted, it is less certain. According to This American Life.

  2. as much as jan moir's article on stephen gately was vile, isn't this sort of thing far more worthy of twitter-led campaigns for complaints to the pcc?

  3. Whilst a lot of research certainly is sponsored by companies, this comes from WHO (and feedback from NHS), and so I'd consider one of the higher quality reports.

    It often doesn't take long to find out when companies are behind stuff (I think it was Rentokil sponsoring "research" discovering thousands of cockroaches on trains - see Ben Goldacre's Bad Science for this stuff, if you don't already).

    Honestly, the Mail's cancer cause/cure stories are now beyond parody (see the FB groups dedicated to them). Isn't this disinformation?


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Comments are moderated - generally to filter out spam and comments wishing death on people - but other messages will be approved as quickly as possible.