Sunday 28 November 2010

Winterval (again)

Yesterday, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles issued a press release entitled 'Councils should take pride in Christmas celebrations.'

It came with all the usual nonsense about 'politically correct Grinches' and the 'War on Christmas':

"The War on Christmas is over, and likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be in the dustbin of history."

Mr Pickles explained that the Christian festival has previously been ambushed by those intent on re-branding Christmas as a bland 'Winter festival', insisting that multi-cultural Britain can enjoy Christmas without abandoning its underlying Christian heritage in a misguided attempt to appease these politically correct 'Grinches'.

Ah, Winterval. Not even December and it's time for Winterval stories.

Although Paul Dacre has claimed that the Mail never does churnalism, 'Daily Mail Reporter' quickly bashed out a story, which involved copying-and-pasting all the quotes from Pickles.

And the Mail then stuck this headline on the story:

Winterval was, of course, 'ditched' in 1998-9 - which was the second and last time Birmingham council used it.

It did point out that:

the Winterval festival of the 1990s...combined secular and inter-faith religious elements

which is at least some progress from the usual 'Christmas renamed as Winterval' myth - the myth that appeared in Emma Wall's article in the Star:

A clutch of councils have cancelled Christmas and replaced it with multicultural holidays in a bid to be right-on.

Changes have included banning carols and even rebranding the celebrations “Winterval”.

Wall doesn't provide the name of one council that has actually 'cancelled Christmas'. And she has form on this - when the tabloids leapt on remarks made by the Pope during his visit to the UK in September, Wall wrote:

Speaking to a packed Westminster Hall in London, he urged people to turn their backs on the use of words like “Winterval” to describe the festival of Jesus’s birth.

Once again, she didn't name any person who had done this.

Over in the Express, there was lots of hyperbole about Christmas being 'saved' from the 'PC Brigade' and a 'major victory for common sense'. But hack Martyn Brown was also being less than truthful when he referred to:

Birmingham’s annual Winterval festival

That's 'annual' in the sense that it happened in 1997-8 and 1998-9 but not before or since.

Brown also said:

Town halls were last night ordered to celebrate Christmas in the traditional way

But Pickles' statement was 'urging', not 'ordering' (albeit 'urging' councils to stop using some terms that haven't been used for over a decade anyway).

In the Sun, Clodagh Hartley claimed Pickles had:

said the politically correct days of calling December 25 a "Winter Festival" must end.

That's not quite what he had said (he made no reference to Christmas Day) - and Hartley doesn't mention which council has renamed Christmas Day 'Winter Festival'.

The tone of the coverage, and the majority of the comments that have followed each article, are in praise of Pickles. The 'War on Christmas' myth lives on.

As Anton Vowl says: can't put things in the dustbin of history if they didn't really exist. Say it once, say it a million times, but Winterval wasn't a way of taking Christianity out of Christmas. Say it loud, say it long, say it dressed as a Christmas turkey with a giant Nativity scene stuffed up your jacksy; it doesn't matter...

It's depressing. No-one's trying to ban Christmas, for fear of offending minorities, or anything like that. Must we go through this every single year? Oh, we must. 'Christmas is banned' is as much of a Christmas tradition as granny falling asleep in front of Where Eagles Dare after scoffing the Milk Tray, it seems.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Melanie Phillips takes over two years to admit she got something wrong

The Spectator has been forced to pay substantial damages and publish the following apology over some false accusations made by Melanie Phillips on her blog:

Mohammad Sawalha: Apology

On 2 July 2008 we published an article entitled "Just look what came crawling out" which alleged that at a protest at the celebration in London of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, Mohammad Sawalha had referred to Jews in Britain as "evil/noxious". We now accept that Mr Sawalha made no such anti-Semitic statement and that the article was based on a mistranslation elsewhere of an earlier report. We and Melanie Phillips apologise for the error.

The background to the case, and why it took nearly two-and-a-half years to get to this point, are explained on Islamophobia Watch:

On 2 July 2008, the Spectator website published an article by Melanie Phillips entitled "Just Look What Came Crawling Out" ("the Article"). The Article falsely stated that Mohammad Sawalha had referred to Jews in Britain as "evil/noxious". Mohammad Sawalha has worked hard to build strong relations between communities of different faiths and no faith both in Britain and internationally, and was therefore shocked and outraged to read such a false and offensive accusation. It was immediately pointed out to the Spectator and Ms Phillips that this was a mistranslation of a transcript of an interview, which contained a typographical error, rendering the relevant phrase meaningless. It was also pointed out that the publisher of the original transcript of the interview had corrected the quotation already, making clear that Mr Sawalha had made no such anti-Semitic comment.

Rather than carrying out the reasonable and obvious course of action of amending the Article, Melanie Phillips instead chose to go on and publish a further article, entitled "Taking the Airbrush to Evil", repeating the highly insulting false allegation made in the Article and casting doubt on the suggestion that there had been a typographical error.

As neither the Spectator nor Ms Phillips agreed to deal with the matter amicably, despite requests by Mr Sawalha to do so, Mr Sawalha had no option but to seek vindication from the High Court.

An independent expert, jointly commissioned by Mr Sawalha, the Spectator and Ms Phillips, confirmed that the phrase in the original transcript of Mr Sawalha's interview was meaningless and that it could not be translated as referring to Jews as "evil/noxious". Nonetheless, the Spectator and Ms Phillips continued to defend Mr Sawalha's claim.

However, we are pleased to report that the Spectator and Ms Phillips have now agreed to remove both the offending Articles and have undertaken never to repeat the allegations complained of. They will pay Mr. Sawalha substantial compensation for the damage to his reputation as will as paying all his legal costs and publishing an Apology on the Spectator website...

So Phillips repeated an accusation made elsewhere (by Al Jazeera and Harry's Place) without checking it out for herself.

But why did it take so long for the Spectator to admit the error? It seems particularly odd when according to Matthew Norman:

Al Jazeera corrected it instantly, and Harry's Place later, yet [Phillips] magisterially ignored requests for a simple correction until a trial was imminent, when she caved.

There's also a question over the placement of the apology on the Spectator's website. It hasn't been published on Phillips' blog, where the false claim was made - twice - or even on the homepage of the 'blogs' section. Instead, it's in Magazine>Essays.

One more thing to note is the reaction of Stephen Glover who, like Phillips, is a columnist for the Mail. In his media column in Monday's Independent he wrote:

I understand The Spectator has recently settled with [Mohammed Sawalha] after publishing a blog on its website by my friend Melanie Phillips which he regarded as libellous, and has again incurred costs said to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

No criticism of Phillips for doing such a poor job as a journalist or for taking so long to apologise. No mention of the anti-Semitic remark Phillips attributed to Sawalha. Just a passing reference to something 'he regarded as libellous'. But then, that's what 'friends' are for...

Wednesday 24 November 2010


Nadia Saint says her 'irony-o-meter is about to blow' over this Mail website poll:

Mail apologises to Cherie Blair

On Monday, the Daily Mail apologised to Cherie Blair over a story they published a year ago:

On 26 November [2009], in referring to a magazine's claim that Cherie Blair had attended a shooting party which included Saif Gaddafi, we suggested this was hypocritical and had outraged the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing.

We accept that Mrs Blair did not attend the shooting party and has never met Mr Gaddafi. We apologise for any embarrassment caused.

Blair instructed lawyers in March about the article, which had the headline 'Outrage as Mandy goes on a country shoot with Gaddafi son (And, surprise, Cherie came too).'

The Press Gazette reported:

Associated Newspapers failed to provide a full and unequivocal apology, or even to give a substantive response to her complaint, [Blair] added.

It's not the first time the Mail has been accused of dragging its feet over a complaint.

And it's not the first time a newspaper apology has tried to shift blame to someone else. We were only 'referring to a magazine's claim' - don't blame us that we didn't check if it was correct before publishing it.

Sorry we said you 'stormed out'

Minority Thought reports on a curious apology from the Daily Express:

In our article “And here’s the’s all over for Wright” on 13 August 2010, inaccurate information was published about Ian Wright.

We accept that Mr Wright did not “storm out” of 'Live from Studio 5' and that he was asked not to attend the television studio after it was decided that his contract would not be renewed.

We apologise to Mr Wright for any distress or inconvenience which may have been caused by this article.

The Daily Star has also published the same apology today, although their original headline was 'TV host out after off-screen bust-up.'

Minority Thought wonders:

Given that the Express' [and Star's] owner, Richard Desmond, recently also became the owner of Channel 5, would I be the only one in thinking that this "error" might not have been an accident?


Meanwhile, the Independent has also had to apologise today:

On 21 July 2010 we published an article about terrorism in the UK which included photographs of eight men with the caption: "Liquid bomb plot – 2006". We wish to make it clear that one of those pictured, Donald Stewart-Whyte, right, was acquitted of all terrorism-related charges. We apologise for any distress caused by the inclusion of his photograph in this context.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Making a link

From today's Richard Littlejohn column:

When I went to Sunday school, a million years ago, we were taught to love our neighbour.

I don’t recall ever being told that we should take an ‘eye for an eye’ literally. Or that the punishment for homosexuality was death.

Aged six, we didn’t even know what homosexuality was, even though we’d been warned to steer clear of that chap who was always hanging round the swimming pool.

Friday 19 November 2010

PCC rejects complaints about 'bacon smell offends Muslims' story

Last month, the Mail reported that a cafe in Stockport will have to remove its extractor fan 'because the smell of...frying bacon 'offends' Muslims'.

This wasn't true.

The fan has to be removed because the cafe owners (one of whom is Muslim) were refused planning permission for it. Moreover, the only person who officially complained about the smell during the planning application process was a member of the non-Muslim family who lived next door to the cafe.

Three people complained to the PCC about the story - versions of which also appeared in the Metro and Telegraph - but it has rejected the complaints. Apparently, despite the Mail saying the fan was being 'torn down' because 'the smell of frying bacon 'offends' Muslims' the PCC says:

readers would not be misled as to the circumstances surrounding the refusal for planning permission.

Here's the full PCC ruling :

The Commission made clear that, given the brief and limited nature of headlines, it considers them in the context of the article as a whole rather than as stand alone statements. In this instance, the Commission noted that the headlines reflected Mr Webb-Lee’s testimony that his Muslim friends would not visit because of the smell of bacon that came from the fan.

While it acknowledged the complainants’ argument that this was not the specific reason given by the council for the refusal of the application, it noted that this was indeed an aspect of Mr Webb-Lee’s complaint which had led to the refusal of retrospective planning permission.

The Commission was satisfied that the body of the articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail made clear the situation and that, when the headline was read in conjunction with the article, readers would not be misled as to the circumstances surrounding the refusal for planning permission. In regard to the Metro’s article, the Commission acknowledged that it had not included specific details of Mr Webb-Lee’s complaint.

However, given that his complaint had referred to his Muslim friends’ refusal to visit his house on account of the smell given off by the extractor fan, the Commission was satisfied that the sub-headline “A cafĂ© boss has been ordered to change her extractor fan because the smell of frying bacon offends Muslims next door” was reflective of this complaint. The body of the article also made clear that the council’s decision was based on the smell being “unacceptable on the grounds of residential amenity”.

While it considered that the newspaper could have included further details about the complaint, it did not, on balance, consider that the absence of such details were misleading in such a way as to warrant correction under the terms of the Code. It could not, therefore, establish a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

Under the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) newspapers must avoid making prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s religion. However, the clause does not cover generalised remarks about groups of people. Given that the complainants considered the article to discriminate against Muslim people in general, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

(Hat-tip to Dave, one of the complainants)

UPDATE: Roy Greenslade has written an excellent post which points out that the vast majority of the 544 comments that appeared on the Mail's article were written by people who had clearly been 'misled' - despite the PCC saying that 'would not' happen. He writes:

The articles were clearly prejudicial because the headlines and intros were misleading. The end result was to feed anti-Muslim bigotry.

To build a story based on one man's unsupported statement when it involves the delicate matter of religious intolerance shows a reckless disregard for the pubic interest and social cohesion.

In the PCC's opinion, "the body of the articles" in the Mail and Telegraph made the situation "clear."

Come off it! The papers did not run this story because it involved the removal of an extractor fan. They ran it because it fitted their own anti-Muslim agendas.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Here we go again...

I'm A Celebrity. Steamy romps. Girl-on-girl. Too hot for TV (2010):

I'm A Celebrity
. Steamy romps. Girl-on-girl. Too hot for TV (2009):

I'm A Celebrity. Steamy romps. Girl-on-girl. Too hot for TV (2008):

Express apologises for publishing quotes from fake Twitter account

This apology appeared in the Express on 13 November:

On 24 May 2010 we published an article headed “Sophie Dahl: I’m no weight watcher” containing personal comments that we said had been taken from Sophie Dahl’s twitter page.

We now accept that Sophie Dahl does not have an active twitter page and the comments were invented by hoaxers. The page has now been removed from circulation.

We are happy to make this clear and apologise to Sophie Dahl for any distress and embarrassment our article has caused.

(Hat-tip to Regret the Error)

Tuesday 16 November 2010

'Lack of care' (cont.)

When the Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint about the Daily Star in September, it said:

...the Commission was particularly concerned at the lack of care the newspaper had taken in its presentation of the story.

The PCC is always telling us that adjudications are a serious punishment. Just yesterday, blogger Jamie Thunder published an interview with the PCC's public affairs director Will Gore which said:

One common criticism of the PCC is that it has no power to fine newspapers for serious or repeated breaches of the Code of Conduct, but Gore says that this “massively underestimates” the impact of the PCC’s adjudications on newspapers and editors.

Because we would hate to 'massively underestimate' the power of the PCC, we must assume that the Star has been ever-so careful to make sure the same 'lack of care' has not been present in other front page stories since that adjudication.


Well, they didn't do very well with the 'Chile mine to open as theme park' one. Or with the two 'reality TV' headlines on the same day which weren't exactly true either. And then there was the 22 October one about someone being 'out of X Factor' despite, at time of writing, that person still being 'in' X Factor.

And here's today's Daily Star:

Any similarity to the latest edition of new! magazine which, like the Star, is owned by Richard Desmond, is purely coincidental:

(As if that wasn't enough cross-promotion, one new! columnist was recently explaining how 'his friend' Richard Desmond would do 'fantastic things' at Channel Five.)

Essentially, today's Star is simply an advert for today's new!. The front page article even ends with the words:

To read the full story, buy new! magazine out now.

But the 'full story' - if it can even be called that - is already in the Star. Is reality TV 'star' Amy Childs really Peter Andre's 'new love', as claimed on the front page and in Gemma Wheatley's article?

Peter, 37, told new! magazine: “Amy has a massive following and has the potential to be a huge star. I’m meeting her in a couple of weeks.”

So his 'new love' is someone he hasn't even met? And previously he has said:

I do know that Amy is only 20 years old and therefore a little bit young for me! I’m very flattered but I think dating someone 17 years younger than me might be a bit weird.

So if she isn't his 'new love', how can Jordan be in a 'fury' about it? According to this tweet, she isn't.

It appears, then, that none of the Star's front page headline is accurate. Again.

And yet there are still cynics out there who 'massively underestimate' the impact of PCC adjudications...

Monday 15 November 2010

The Sun, video games and rickets

On Friday, a press release from Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust reported on research from consultant orthopaedic surgeon Professor Nicholas Clarke and Dr Justin Davies, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist. After checking over 200 children in Southampton for bone problems, Clarke and Davies found that more than one-fifth showed signs of rickets.

CVG point out that when the Sun got hold of the press release, their 'Staff Reporter' produced an article that looked like this:

But by Saturday, in the hands of Health and Science Editor Emma Morton, the story changed to this:

As Tim Ingham at CVG noted:

Both pieces...contain exactly the same information and quotes.

Could it be that the first story has been hastily edited and re-printed in a desperate attempt to mould it to The Sun's anti-games news agenda?

We're not cynical enough to suggest so. It's just... aside from its screaming headline, the second story only mentions video games once, in its opening paragraph. The rest is pretty much a carbon copy of the original report. Even The Sun's own doctor, Carol Cooper, doesn't mention games in her analysis.

Nor indeed does the Mail, which always likes to blame video games for something.

As Ingham points out, Clarke is quoted as saying that this increase in rickets is:

"...a completely new occurrence that has evolved over the last 12 to 24 months."

Yet kids have been playing video games for rather longer than that. And there's simply no mention of video games in Southampton Hospital's press release, which makes clear:

...the disease is now making a comeback around the world due to low vitamin D levels caused predominantly by lack of exposure to sunlight and also poor diet.

It also says absolutely nothing about whether 'game addict kids' are more likely to suffer with rickets.

But this isn't the first time this year this has happened. Ingham recalls similar research by Professor Simon Pearce and Dr Tim Cheetham of Newcastle University that was published in January and which led to the Times and the Metro to make the same link. When contacted by Nicholas Lovell about the media reports, Cheetham said:

"We do not say that gaming causes rickets."

Pearce added:

"The average age of a child with rickets is around 20 months old: too young to use a keyboard and mouse!"

(Hat-tip to Jay and Tim Ingham)

Saturday 13 November 2010

Reporting that should carry a health warning

On the day the Express was changing its mind - again - about statins, the Mail asked: 'Can taking aspirin in pregnancy make your son infertile?'

As Primly Stable pointed out, this followed previous Mail articles - including one from August - that taking aspirin during pregnancy could 'prevent pre-eclampsia'. But it could also double the risk of miscarriage.

As NHS Behind the Headlines says in response to the 'fertility' story:

Current advice states that pregnant women should avoid ibuprofen and aspirin during pregnancy, although there is no evidence that occasional use of paracetamol is harmful. The results of this study are unlikely to change those recommendations, but women should seek advice from their GP or midwife before taken any medications during their pregnancy.

And they should not seek guidance from stories in the media. Yet articles about miracle cures or health scares have become a staple. Conflicting advice about the dangers or benefits of aspirin, for example, are common, as is poor reporting about medicine, science and research.

Recently, Angry Mob published a post on the 'unacceptable' way a recent study on CPR was reported, particularly by the Mail.

And there are plenty of other examples. Here's another one from the Mail:

How remembering to eat your celery could halt memory loss

A taste for celery is one that many people never acquire, but scientists have just given them a reason to eat it. They have discovered that a chemical found in high concentrations in celery – and in peppers – could halt memory loss as we get older.

The U.S. researchers say the plant compound luteolin reduces inflammation in the brain, which is associated with ageing and its related memory problems, by halting the release of molecules that cause the inflammation.

Only after that does the Mail explain the research was conducted on mice.

NHS Behind the Headlines explains:

Although this is interesting basic research that may give insight into at least one of the processes involved as the brain ages, its direct relevance to humans is limited.

The mice were given a relatively high supplement of pure luteolin. There is not sufficient evidence to suggest that normal dietary consumption of luteolin–rich vegetables such as celery can improve memory in humans.


The Daily Mail’s report has exaggerated the relevance of this study to humans and the effect that eating celery might have on human memory.

Meanwhile, on 13 October, the Express ran the front page headline 'Drug to stop memory loss'.

The paper's health editor, Victoria Fletcher, wrote:

An anti-ageing drug for the brain has come a step closer after an amazing breakthrough by a British team of researchers.

They have discovered that the drug can halt the process that causes frustrating memory problems as we get older.

Early tests suggest the drug can block enzymes that trigger stress hormones linked to ageing.

Once again, it was only several paragraphs into the article that it was revelaed the tests had only been done on mice.

And, once again, NHS Behind the Headlines was not impressed by the way the story has been presented:

This is good research within its own right, and well documented by the researchers in their research paper. However, this is still early-stage research in animals. As there was no long-term follow-up of the animals and its effects on other types of memory, the findings have little immediate relevance to the health of people with dementia. The Daily Express’s front-page report is not justified by this research...

The newspapers have over-interpreted the relevance of these findings to humans.

A few days before that, both the Express and Mail reported on the latest research about the benefits of tea.

Tea, a heart protector: three cups a day can prevent cardiac problems, say experts, claimed the Mail.

Two cups of tea a day 'cuts heart disease' said the more optimistic Express.


The review was reported in both the Daily Mail and Daily Express, whose reporting generally did not reflect the uncertainty of the study’s conclusions. For example, the Mail reported that three cups of tea a day can prevent cardiac problems, while the Express said drinking tea two or three times a day could reduce risk of the disease by 11%. These claims appear to be based on a 2001 analysis, which the reviewers considered to be flawed. The review actually suggests that this earlier research had several problems that undermine the certainty of the results.

Both newspapers also claim that drinking two cups of tea will provide as many antioxidants as eating five portions of vegetables. Although tea does contain antioxidants, the suggestion that it can be a substitute for the numerous health benefits of fruit and vegetables is not supported by this research.

On 18 October, the Express was leading on the 'secret' to a long, healthy life.

And what was this 'secret' that no-one could possibly have ever known about before the Express revealed it on their front page?

...research showed that the answer was a widely varied diet that might include oily fish, porridge oats and blueberries.

Hardly a surprise.

Next they'll be saying that drinking moderately, not smoking, doing exercise, watching your weight and eating less red meat is good for you.

Oh, they already have.

Also in October, the Mail's Fiona MacRae was reporting that 'having a child makes you more intelligent':

New mothers often grumble that their brain has turned into mush. But having a baby may actually make you brighter, a study has found.

Did the study find this? Not exactly:

This story is based on a small study which looked at the brains of 19 new mums, using scans to understand how they changed between two weeks and four months after having a baby. It found that the volume of the certain parts of the brain increased in this period, and that this increase seemed to be greater among women who used more positive words to describe their baby.

Contrary to what is implied by the newspaper, the study did not assess the women’s intelligence, and it is not possible to say whether the changes in brain volume led to any changes in intelligence or behaviour. Also, the study did not examine any women without children, so we cannot say whether the effect only occurs after birth or if it occurs in other situations where new skills must be learnt.

A similar leap was taken by Fiona MacRae in the article 'Violent films, video games and TV shows DO make boys aggressive'.

Watching violent video games, films and TV shows really can make children more aggressive, scientists believe.

DOES this study say that?

The small study looked at brain activity and automatic nervous response (skin sweating) in boys aged 14 to 17 years who were watching short video clips of low-to-moderate levels of aggressive behaviour. The researchers found that sweating and brain response to moderate aggression reduced over time, but response to milder scenes did not change as much. Despite what has been implied by the media, this study did not look at the boys’ behaviour.

Crucially, although this study may suggest some short-term changes in the brain activity of teenage boys watching aggressive material, it cannot tell us if it would actually influence their actions.

Back to the miracle properties of food, and the Express was claiming last week that:

A daily glass of beetroot juice could combat the onset of dementia among older adults.

NHS Behind the Headlines was less convinced:

This news story is a based on a small study in 16 elderly people...conducted over an extremely short time span. Its findings suggest that adults who eat a diet high in nitrates may experience an increased blood flow to certain areas of the brain within a short interval, compared with eating a diet low in nitrates.

However, this does not mean that beetroot juice, or any other food high in nitrates, can help prevent dementia or even improve mental function...

The researchers only measured blood flow in parts of the brain and did not measure the participants’ cognitive abilities. As such, it is not known whether a high nitrate diet does benefit people in this way.

What about the Mail's 'Strict diet two days a week 'cuts risk of breast cancer by 40 per cent'' which was highlighted in Ben Goldacre's recent article about the 'Daily Mail cancer story that torpedoes itself in paragraph 19'?

Well, it appears to have been an accurate cut-and-paste job from a press release, but Cancer Research UK pointed out:

...the way this study has been promoted, and subsequently reported, has been been misleading and inaccurate. In short, this was a study about dieting and weight loss, and not about breast cancer at all. And it can’t be used to conclude anything about breast cancer risk, nor about how women should or shouldn’t diet.

Cancer Research UK have also been at the forefront in challenging claims about cancer being a new, man-made disease.

Andy Coghlan at New Scientist said the:

assertions have dismayed cancer researchers, and have led to a rash of uncritical coverage.

Such as in the Mail, where Fiona MacRae, again, wrote 'Cancer 'is purely man-made' say scientists after finding almost no trace of disease in Egyptian mummies'.

Her article does include several passages very similar to the original press release. For example, press release: was not until the 17th century that they found descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers and the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.


The 17th century provides the first descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers. And the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours only occurred in the past 200 years or so, including scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775 and nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761.

And, press release:

Evidence of cancer in animal fossils, non-human primates and early humans is scarce – a few dozen, mostly disputed, examples in animal fossils...


Fossil evidence of cancer is also sparse, with scientific literature providing a few dozen, mostly disputed, examples in animal fossil...

But Cancer Research say the claims are 'false and misleading':

We were concerned to see headlines in the media today claiming that scientists say cancer is ‘purely man-made’. This is not only scientifically incorrect, but misleading to the public and cancer patients.

Our lifestyles have a great impact on our chances of developing cancer – as we’ve said many times. But the evidence that’s being used to justify these latest headlines doesn’t in any way support the assertion that cancer is modern or man-made.

Coghlan adds:

A quote from [Rosalie] David put out by the University of Manchester saying "There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle" caused particular consternation.

What's so wrong with that?

There are dozens of natural causes of cancer, including ultraviolet light from the sun, natural radiation from radionuclides such as radon in rocks, and infection by viruses that trigger cancer, such as the human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer and hepatitis viruses that can cause liver cancer. Likewise, soot and smoke from fire contain a multitude of carcinogens, as do fungal aflatoxins deposited on peanuts. "And that's to say nothing of cancers caused by genetic inheritance," says Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK.

David then had an opinion piece published in the Mail, which led Cancer Research to rebut the claims again:

Claims that cancer is ‘purely man-made’, based on an interpretation of a relatively small number of ancient remains, are confusing and misleading, and certainly don’t reflect the huge amount of scientific evidence piling up about the true causes of this devastating disease.

Sadly, so much science reporting seems to be 'confusing and misleading' because eye-catching headlines take precedence over accuracy.

Thursday 11 November 2010

BBC under fire as woman swears, man wears jeans

During the live broadcast of Film 2010 this week, a member of the crew was heard swearing. It went out after 10:30pm and host Claudia Winkleman apologised soon after.

But this happened on the BBC, so inevitably the Mail and the Sun thought they would report on the 'shock' this had caused.

Their articles have a certain similarity. Here's the Sun:

BBC1 viewers were left stunned last night when a foul-mouthed rant was accidentally broadcast during the live Film 2010 show.

And here's the Mail:

BBC1 viewers were left shocked last night when a four-letter-word rant was accidentally broadcast during Claudia Winkleman's live Film 2010 show.


Embarrassed host Claudia Winkleman was describing Jamie Lee Curtis's new rom-com You Again as "contrived and awful" when the four-letter outburst was heard over the top.


Claudia, who also hosts Strictly Come Dancing's live results show, as well as spin off It Takes Two, had just described Jamie Lee Curtis's new rom-com You Again as 'contrived and awful' when the outburst was suddenly heard over the top.


A woman - thought to be backstage in the studio - was heard saying: "... are you scared of his fans? And I'm like, No! I couldn't give a f*** about a load of... "

Winkleman, 38, apologised after the technical blunder.

A woman with a Geordie accent - thought to be backstage - was heard saying: "...Oh, are you scared of his fans? And it's like, No! I couldn't give a f*** about a load of... "

Winkleman, 38, who co-hosts the show with film critic Danny Leigh, apologised after the technical blunder.

It's hard to work out exactly how someone saying one f-word makes it a 'foul-mouthed rant'.

And were viewers really left shocked and stunned? Neither article quotes a single messageboard comment from an angry viewer. Even the couple of mentions of the incident on the BBC Points of View messageboards, a favourite source for Mail hacks, contain very little 'shock'.

The Mail did manage to rustle up one critical comment for a 'story' they ran a few days ago about BBC weatherman Tomasz Schafernaker:

The forecaster dispensed of the usual smart suit, shirt and tie for the more casual look of a dark blue V-neck jumper and blue jeans during the broadcast on BBC1.

If this had been one of the usual weather forecasts the lack of a suit and tie may just have been worth mentioning. But it wasn't. As a comment by Peter Tarrega pointed out:

This was from 'Weather for the Week Ahead' during 'Country Tracks' yesterday. Weather presenters always dress down for it as it's not a news programme and the main presenters of the programme are normally in jeans and wellies themselves as they march around the countryside. It's not as if he presented the weather on the 10 o'clock news in a T-shirt.

So a complete fuss about something that happens every week on the same show (indeed, one person at Digital Spy noted Schafernaker's casual dress for the Country Tracks programme on 24 October).

It's hard to believe that the Mail didn't know that this wasn't a main weather bulletin, even though they imply it was. But if they had revealed that fact, the thinness of the story would have been even more evident than it already is.

Yet according to the Mail - who wouldn't dream of overplaying this non-event - Schafernaker's appearance on 7 November:

caused a storm


provoked upset

Really? With who?

Viewer Stephen Jones, 35, from Bournemouth, Dorset, said he was stunned by the weatherman's casual appearance yesterday.

He said: 'I thought I had tuned into Newsround or Blue Peter for a minute when I saw the main presenter wearing jeans and a jumper.

'I've heard of having dress-down days before but I didn't think the BBC went in for that.

'When you are presenting to the nation, especially on the BBC, surely you should look as professional as possible, not like someone who's just come in from off the street.

'I've read that Tomasz might be moving to radio in the near future - maybe he is just preparing himself for a role on radio.'

It's hard to imagine how anyone could feel that offended by this.

(Hat-tip to the Mailwatch Forum)

Woman gets older

Not for the first time, the Mail website is taking time to point out that - shock - famous people get older too.

Apparently, someone who is now 41 doesn't look as young or 'fresh-faced' as they did when they were 20:

So the Mail have got their hands on a pap shot of Erika Eleniak eating lunch and think it's worth pointing out she doesn't look quite like she did when made-up for a TV show over twenty years ago.

But Daily Mail Reporter hasn't even got the simple facts right in this non-story. There are two mistakes in the first two sentences.

If Eleniak was first in Baywatch in 1989, that's longer than 'just over ten years' ago.

Moreover, she wasn't in the show until 2002 as they claim - she left in 1992. Since Daily Mail Reporter used IMDB to find out some other details of her career, they should have noticed that as well.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

The Express and statins

Today's Express has yet another 'miracle cure' headline on its front page:

Statins have been around for years so it's not clear what is 'new' about them.

And to call them a 'wonder drug' may surprise Express readers who remember this front page from 21 May:

A wonder drug that can be a risk to health? Apparently so.

Indeed, the Express' coverage of statins has fluctuated between those two extremes for several years.

They're good:

Then, maybe, they're not:

A week later they're good again:

But still, maybe you should learn:

Just in case:

But the next day:

Which is good news, until:


And the 'agonising side-effects' mentioned here:

But soon after that, news that even healthy people may get prescribed statins:



They can cause 'cataracts, liver damage and kidney failure'?

But they're not that much of a 'health risk' because:

And then the reassuring news that:

Whoever said they did? They may also give:

And last month, the Express claimed, statins were partly responsible for:

It may seem all very confusing that one newspaper can go from 'health scares' to 'miracle cures' about the same drug so often (they also do it with aspirin).

Good job the Express has a handy guide:

Yes, it is 'impossible to know what to believe.'

Yes, conflicting advice can cause 'confusion' and 'make it difficult to judge what's safe and what isn't.'

The Express' coverage doesn't make it any easier.

News from the regions

A few weeks ago, the Bromley News Shopper reported on a campaign by local residents to stop a house being turned into a nursery in their street:

Around 30 people living nearby have written to the council and started a petition to oppose the application by Sunnyfields, which already runs two nurseries in the borough.

Mum-of-two Natalie Rooney, aged 37, said: “We think there will be traffic problems because of all the parents dropping off and picking up their children.

“We think there will be noise problems because the children will be playing outdoors."

Fair enough. But then...oh dear:

"We are also worried that paedophiles will be attracted to the area to be close to the nursery.

"The fact is it will be a 52 children nursery with strangers dropping off and picking up their children, and this is a closeknit community, and the upshot of that is we do not know who will be sitting outside in their car."

Hmm. But at least the paper would play down such nonsensical fears. Wouldn't it?


(picture taken by untaken_name, seen via mattuk on Twitter)

Monday 8 November 2010

Sorry we called you a sex pest

On 4 November, Express Newspapers were in court again, this time to say sorry to former MP Stephen Hesford:

In Court yesterday, we apologised to Stephen Hesford former MP for West Wirral.

On 17 October 2009, we published an article entitled “MP who took moral stance “was a sex pest”. The article reported on proceedings before the Employment Tribunal in Liverpool the day before brought against Mr Hesford by a former employee for sexual discrimination.

The article also stated that a claim for sexual harassment had been made but wrongly implied that Mr Hesford was being accused of personally having sexually harassed his former employee and as such was a hypocrite having resigned a month earlier as a matter of principle as a parliamentary aide to the Attorney General.

We accepted that there has been no suggestion of any sexual misbehaviour by Mr Hesford and that the proceedings against him were in his capacity as employer.

We apologised to Mr Hesford and have paid him damages and costs.

The Yorkshire Evening Post added:

Counsel said that Express Newspapers withdrew the allegations unreservedly.

"In fact the claim against the claimant was as employer rather than for anything that he had done personally.

"The defendants are here today to apologise to Mr Hesford and have paid him a sum in damages together with his legal costs."

The newspaper's counsel, Clare Kissin, said that it apologised for any damage, distress and embarrassment caused and welcomed the opportunity to set the record straight.

(From Minority Thought)

Thursday 4 November 2010

The Express, the Star and angry mobs

Minority Thought has done an excellent job in looking at today's overblown Express front page headline and story.

The Express and its sister paper the Daily Star have tried to create a division between 'Muslims' and 'us' many times before. And the Express has form in trying to make the pronouncements of a few Muslims representative of the whole religion, too.

And in this case, 'a few' is right. Despite the Express using emotive terms such as 'angry mob' and 'another demonstration raged outside' it appears only three people were involved and, apart from shouting, all they did was wave around some bits of A4 paper with homemade slogans printed out in black and red capital letters.

By contrast, the demonstrations of the 'angry mob' called the English Defence League don't get mentioned on the front page of the Express. Their demos are bigger, involve people who hide their identity and usually end with people being arrested. Apparently, the Express isn't so concerned about that.

Mor, indeed, is the Daily Star, which has often taken a quite uncritical line on the EDL, under headlines such as 'Case for the Defence'. Recently, the Star's coverage of the EDL's plans to march in towns that ban Christmas (yes, really...) was praised by one EDL-supporting blogger.

Minority Thought sums up the Express' article perfectly:

The Express sees Muslims as a homogeneous mass that is in complete agreement with the ramshackle fanatics at its fringes. The headline is a dog-whistle signal for the idea that "Muslims" disapprove of "us British"...

That there are Muslim extremists who say such things is beyond a doubt. However, the Express' decision to make this the key focus of the story, along with the language used in the headline, is an attempt to imply that these shouts are in some way an expression of what every Muslims thinks about the British.

* Minority Thought has also taken the Express to task recently over another 'health and safety bans...' myth.

The Express claimed that a ten-year-old swimmer had been 'banned from wearing googles because of health and safety'.

Usually these health and safety stories are about people being forced to wear goggles. But this one isn't true either - the advice (not ban) is that kids who swim should get used to eye contact with water. Health and safety had nothing to do with it.