Why we need charities to cut through ‘sensational’ health stories more than ever

It was a typical Daily Mail health story: Having an egg a day can cut your risk of stroke by 12%.

On the face of it, great. There are 152000 cases of stroke in the UK every year, so if this is true it’s a great weapon in the battle against it.

But, of course, thats not the full story. If you read more closely, you’ll see that the lead scientist admitted that: “research is needed to understand the connection between egg consumption and stroke risk”.

What was worse was that there’s no UK stroke expert included in the article – only someone from the ‘clearly unbiased’ Egg Nutrition Centre.

That’s why I was relieved to see that the Stroke Association were more cautious in their reception of the research. 

Clickbait headlines

Medical reporting is generally fairly suspect in mass-market media. One small-scale piece of research can sometimes be trumpeted as a major cause for celebration or change in diet, when clearly there’s more to it than that. 

It’s why cause-related charities have such a big role to play in how we perceive sensationalist stories.

The claims that strawberries/coffee/red wine/chocolate can prevent cancer/heart disease/dementia (delete as appropriate) have been around for years – most of them with very little substance.

The likes of the BHFAlzheimers ResearchStroke Association and many more have teams of experts used to assessing these sort of stories, many of which are – frankly – hogwash.

These teams provide a level-headed and often cautious response that we’d do well to accept.

By contrast the positive news this week about the early trials of a new Alzheimers drug were welcomed across the board, including by the aforementioned Alzheimers Research. 

Media proliferation needs a counterpoint

In the era before multichannel TV and the internet, the flimsily-researched, sensational story got short shrift.

There was enough news to go round, and clickbait headlines weren’t generally necessary.

In the 21st century, that has understandably changed. A possibly erroneous story printed on one website gets copied and reproduced in countless other areas, this proliferating a false assertion.

So we need voices of trust and authority to sort the wheat from the chaff more than ever before.

And this is just another reason why charities need your support.

Ask the questions, even if you may not enjoy the answers

Financial TimesThe confluence of the sale of the FT to Japanese company Nikkei and how it will remain independent, the Government’s sustained attacks on the BBC and Gawker’s decision to pull a story are neatly covered in a piece by The Guardian’s Jane Martinson.

We seem to be at a time when ever more companies/institutions are struggling with a growing desire from the public/its customers to be transparent/independent, but an equal battle to maintain revenue to satisfy owners/shareholders.

On the same day, Kevin Rawlinson from The Guardian (again) reports on the increasing number of football clubs who are banning journalists from press conferences, in favour of an in-house (and clearly biassed) reporter carrying out interviews.
Continue reading “Ask the questions, even if you may not enjoy the answers”

After #milifandom, my experience of tracking down unlisted telephone numbers and addresses

You’d have thought News International would have learned after the phonehacking scandal, but a new problem has come about, following the accusation from the 17-year-old girl who started #milifandom that The Sun and Rupert Murdoch is bullying her.

The girl, who has only identified herself as Abby, is too young for the electoral roll and had not disclosed her location when The Sun turned up on both her doorstep and that of her 70-year-old grandmother.

Understandably, she’s a bit miffed.

What I remember

Over a decade ago, I was working for a newspaper organisation on a freelance basis and was trying to track down relatives of some of the contestants of a reality TV show.

This was pre-Facebook and Twitter (and much other social media), so the online resources were nowhere as good back then.

However, one thing we had access to was a database of UK addresses and their inhabitants. You could basically put any name in and it would spit out all the addresses that contained someone of that name.

It showed all the residents of each address and how long they’d been registered there (including minors), regardless of their electoral roll status (I don’t know how).

No telephone numbers, though. For that, we started off by going to 192.com and putting in the specific address we’d identified. More often that not, we found what we were looking for.

However, I remember an instance when I couldn’t get hold of the details I was desperately searching for. Fortunately, there were other methods.

A full-time colleague handed me a telephone number and told me ‘not to shout about it’, but just call with the name and address details.

Sure enough, the bloke who answered did a bit of tapping on his keyboard and came up with the number.

In fact, I’d managed to write down the wrong number of the house on the piece of paper I was using, but he calmly said: “Are you sure you mean No.15? There’s someone at No.18 with that surname, not No.15.”

I got a landline and a mobile number and it cost around £100 (although I wasn’t paying out my own pocket, of course).

This was over 10 years ago, so I can’t believe for a second that things aren’t more sophisticated now.