Misquoted at best – science vs the media

I really do wish I didn’t have to write this kind of stuff. And in this case I don’t since Ben Goldacre wrote about this over at Bad Science and I am simply linking to it. It’s about the new cervical cancer vaccine and the supposed words of a doctor criticising it on ahuge front page splash on a UK national newspaper.

Quick version:

Their headline: “Jab ‘as deadly as the cancer'”.

They say: The cervical cancer vaccine may be riskier and more deadly than the cancer it is designed to prevent, a leading expert who developed the drug has warned. She also claimed the jab would do nothing to reduce the rates of cervical cancer in the UK.

The same expert says: “I did not say that Cervarix was as deadly as cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix could be riskier or more deadly than cervical cancer”.

Good work there. Could this actually be any more inaccurate? Actually yes, I’ve not included all that Goldacre notes is wrong with the article or that the expert said (and she herself has complained to the UK Press Complaints Commission), there is even more wrong with it. Nice. As I have said plenty of times before, there is only so much you can do to make some things clear to some journalists if this is the kind of result you are going to get. I think it would be very hard to get something this simple this wrong, but apparently it’s quite easy. Oh, and as a bonus, this was written by the ‘health journalist’ on the paper.

3 Responses to “Misquoted at best – science vs the media”


  1. 1 CQC 10/10/2009 at 11:49 pm

    Not that U.S. news is immune to this, sadly, but: look over which publications publish the most egregious science errors, and see where they stem from. Why is that?

  2. 2 cromercrox 13/10/2009 at 3:21 pm

    I’ve written about this elsewhere, Dave
    http://network.nature.com/people/henrygee/blog/2009/09/29/as-mmr-so-hpv
    This explains why I will no longer have anything to do with the mainstream media. If a big story comes out in Nature on which I am an editor, I will only now talk to bloggers I know and trust – bloggers who, unlike journalists, do not have to get their copy past a news editor.

    • 3 David Hone 14/10/2009 at 10:53 am

      Thanks for that Henry. I do try to pick this up and run with this when i can but it’s so unrelentingly bad. There are a handful of great science journalists out there and they get their due praise, but the majority of it is mediocre at best in my opinion, and it seems that of a great many others as well.


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