Medical research academic and doctor turned newspaper columnist Ben Goldacre has warned that ‘the incredibly poor quality of British journalism coverage of health and science issues is a serious public health issue”.
In an interview for this month’s print edition of Press Gazette Goldacre has condemned journalists for fuelling what he calls the ‘MMR hoax’by giving widespread coverage to Doctor Andrew Wakefield’s claims that MMR jabs caused autism. He points out that vaccination rates have dropped from 92 per cent to 73 per cent prompting serious disease outbreaks since Wakefield’s research was first reported in 1998.
Goldacre told Press Gazette: ‘There’s not a proposition in the world so stupid that I could not find a doctor or Phd student somewhere who could endorse it for me.’
Citing what he sees as a number of spurious pseudo science stories reported by the national press, such as the mathematical formula for the sexiest walk put out by the PR company for hair removal cream Veet, Goldacre said: ‘PR agencies know that science is an area where you can bullshit national newspaper newsdesks. They know this is a way to get entirely bogus stories into the pages of national newspapers.”
He urged journalists to instead focus on what he sees as real science stories: “There are some quite serious cover ups and scandals in the world of science,’he said pointing to the ‘extraordinary’ case of drug companies that had hid significant data about the dangers of SSRI anti depressants, such as Prozac, and also hiding evidence that they didn’t work any better than a placebo.
‘That story is incredibly important, and true, but shockingly it only had a half life of about five days, then it disappeared forever,’he says. ‘Meanwhile your MMR hoax has been alive and well for 10 years. I fucking weep.”
Ben Goldacre writes a weekly column called Bad Science for The Guardian and his book of the same name has just been published.
The full version of this interview appears in this month’s edition of Press Gazette.
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