Dianthus Medical Blog Archive

Index of Dreadful science reporting in the media

Tamiflu: it's a bit more complicated than that

Tamiflu is in the news again today. You will no doubt have read about how the government wasted vast sums of money on stockpiling Tamiflu, which today's new research shows is completely ineffective.

Well, that's what the press release said, anyway. And journalists are pretty good at regurgitating press releases. Here are some examples (though to be fair, they do at least all include a very brief mention that Roche disagrees, if you read that far). The reality, however, is a bit more complicated than that.

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Should we eat 7 portions of fruit and veg a day?

Today's big health news story is a new study showing that eating 5 portions of fruit and veg a day is not enough, and that we all need to eat at least 7.

According to The Guardian, "Eating at least seven portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day was linked to a 42% lower risk of death from all causes." That's one of my pet hates in health reporting right there: nothing you do lowers your risk of death from all causes. Your risk of death remains 100% no matter what you eat. Few things are more certain in medicine.

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The zombie statistic that just won't die

I have written more than once before about how the commonly heard statistic "50% of all clinical trials are not published" is nonsense. It is a zombie statistic: no matter how many times you try to kill it, it just keeps on coming. And now it turns out its supporters are becoming increasingly dishonest in their attempts to defend it.

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Clinical trial disclosure: myths and realities

I woke up this morning to news on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a report by the Public Accounts Committee of the UK Parliament had found that only half of clinical trials are disclosed.

That's a statistic we've heard before. And as I've explained more than once before, it's not true. Nonetheless, zombie statistics are very hard to kill.

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Conspiracy theories, transparency, and confirmation bias

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with the All Trials campaign. They are campaigning for greater transparency in clinical trials, and call for all clinical trials to be published. Although in the case of licensed medicine, regulators get to see all the data from clinical trials, All Trials make the point that it's not satisfactory that doctors simply have to take the regulators' word for it that a drug is effective. They should be able to see the data for themselves. All Trials claim, and I think all right-thinking scientists would agree, that transparency is at the heart of the scientific method.

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NHS Choices puts special interest groups ahead of accurate information

This is going to be a very brief post, because this story has been told in full elsewhere. But it's an important story, and I wanted to draw your attention to it.

The NHS Choices website is supposed to give impartial information on health that consumers can trust. There is a real need for such a site: the internet is littered with downright dangerous health information from people pushing various quack remedies. Where is the average person supposed to go to get good quality, unbiased advice?

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A zombie statistic is born

We're all familiar with zombie statistics: widely quoted, but hopelessly wrong, statistics that just refuse to die.

I think I've just witnessed the birth of a new one. Thanks to Anna Sharman on Twitter, my attention was recently drawn to a rather implausible statistic on the Guardian website: "The self-employed face average debts of 18.6 times their annual income".

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Holy carp! Autistic fish!

New Scientist is normally a shining beacon of high standards of scientific journalism, so I must confess I was rather surprised when I saw an article with the headline "Antidepressants in water may contribute to autism", based on a study that showed nothing of the kind. To be fair, New Scientist have since realised that their headline was over the top and have changed it to "Antidepressants in water trigger autism genes in fish", for which they deserve some credit. They also deserve credit for acknowledging that the headline was changed in a footnote to the article.

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Safe alcohol drinking guidelines

You may have been rather surprised if you saw the story in today's news that "experts" are now recommending that we drink no more than 3 units of alcohol, or about 1 large glass of wine, per week. Yes, per week. Not per day, as is recommended in the government's current safe drinking guidelines.

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Burzynski Clinic in the Observer: PCC response

You may remember that last month I blogged about a hideously irresponsible article in the Observer. To refresh your memory, I said I'd reported them to the Press Complaints Commission and that I'd let you know of any developments.

Well, I now have a development to report. The PCC have considered my complaint, and have ruled that the Observer article, while it was indeed misleading, did not breach the code, because it was somebody's opinion rather than a factual article.

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