Monday, 6 February 2012

Dacre, the Mail and cancer

In his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today, Mail editor Paul Dacre said it was a 'caricature' that his paper wrote lots of stories about things that can give you cancer.

This claim came as he was being asked about the Mail story 'Cancer danger from that night-time trip to the toilet', which was dimissed as an 'eye-catching fabrication' by the University of Leicester, whose research was being reported.

Inevitably, there was a 'x causes cancer' story in the Mail today, based on soon-to-be-aired Government ads on drinking:

It begins:

Just two glasses of wine or two strong pints of beer a day can treble the risk of mouth cancer, ministers warn.

The news that two pints of beer could treble the risk of mouth cancer may come as a surprise to some Mail readers who saw this story two days ago:

This article included the claim that:

We have long been told that a glass of red wine is good for our health, but now an increasing number of clinical studies show that beer can have even greater benefits...

‘It needn’t be an expensive beer – just don’t drink so much you cancel out any of the benefits,’ adds Dr Philliskirk. ‘This means no more than a pint a day for a woman and between one and two pints, depending on the beer’s strength, for a man.’

Dr Philliskirk is, incidentally, from the Institute of Brewing and Distillery:

a members organisation dedicated to the education and training needs of brewers & distillers and those in related industries.

He might just be considered to be someone with an interest in promoting the benefits of alcohol.

But there it is: two pints of beer a day might be good for you or it might increase your risk of mouth cancer, depending on whether you read the Mail on the 4th or the 6th.

Just like last year, indeed, when a glass or two of red wine was reported by the Mail (and Express) to both prevent and increase the risk of breast cancer.

Similarly, the Mail reported that drinking wine with an evening meal was a 'deadly risk' that increases the risk of cancer (29 August 2011) and a good way to be 'free of the ills of oldage', including cancer (7 September 2011).

Dacre told the Inquiry:

I categorically dispute that we adopt an irresponsible stance on medical stories.


  1. Anyone who listened to Paul Dacre's defence of this article during the session at the Leveson Inquiry will have noted his insistance that the press release on this research said (direct quote from him, repeated more than once):

    "Just one pulse of artificial light at night
    disrupts circadian cell division ... damage to cell division is characteristic of cancer."

    With this in mind you might be forgiven for feeling a degree of sympathy in regard to the difficult job he described newspapers as doing. Perhaps their only error was that they took the press release at face value... but wait...

    Let's take a look at the actual press release.

    I have no personal knowledge of whether this is the original press release, but working on the assumption it is...

    And... oh now wait a minute... it doesn't say what he says at all. Missing out some words makes a significant difference....

    "Just one “pulse” of artificial light at night disrupts circadian cell division, reveals a new study carried out by Dr. Rachel Ben-Shlomo of the University of Haifa-Oranim Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology along with Prof. Charalambos P. Kyriacou of the University of Leicester. “Damage to cell division is characteristic of cancer, and it is therefore important to understand the causes of this damage,” notes Dr. Ben-Shlomo. The study has been published in the journal Cancer Genetics and Cytogenetics.

  2. What surprised me was that the hypocrisy that exhibits itself daily in his 'news'paper actually comes direct from the top. The thousands of complaints made against the Jan Moir article were dismissed by Dacre as they apparently came from an online campaign and users of Twitter and that only a few "readers" directly complained to the Mail directly. If that is what he thinks why are there weekly articles about how viewers are "outraged" about some BBC or Ch4 programme with quotes lifted directly from message boards and twitter when at the end of the article a spokesperson for the broadcaster makes clear not a single person complained directly to them e.g. the Frozen Planet stupidity last year?

    Similarly Dacre dithered when asked more probing questions about how his newspaper is run and had the usual excuse we've heard alot of from these editors of either being out of the office that day, on holiday, or being chief of such a large group they haven't time to worry about the small things when misleading articles were published. If it were any other company his paper would be calling for the CEO to be reprimanded for failure to manage, lose their bonus etc yet he excuses himself willingly from any corporate responsibility.

  3. "I categorically dispute that we adopt an irresponsible stance on medical stories." How does this guy put his clothes on in the morning, Christ.


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