Monday, August 07, 2006

Media muddle science

This article, published on the 5th August 2006 in the Guardian, reveals how susceptible contemporary media are to bad science, especially when it relates to the field of drugs. Ben Goldacre, of www.badscience.net, analyses some excellent examples of media selectiveness in the reporting of drug-related issues and studies. Unsurprisingly, the bias is clearly towards highlighting the harmfulness of drugs.

5 comments:

Mark Pawelek said...

These media lies and distortions happen because the media are first asked would you want your kids using drugs? then told that the only way we can stop our kids using drugs is by sending out a message that drug use is harmful.

That premise is a lie. When we over-state the case against drugs by peddling propaganda the result is that kids believe nothing we tell them.

"Just say no", causes even more harm in the end with it's reliance on simple messages and brain-washing techniques to put people off drugs. It is better to be against drugs by telling the truth.

For some reason the just say no and send out a message that drug use is harmful arguments still seem to dominate the US media with the sole exception of online magazines such as Salon and Slate.

Bob said...

I'm still mystified that the scientists didnt notice they had the wrong drug in that trial straight away. They dosed the animals with methamphetamine at MDMA doses, the reaction would have been obviously different and dramatic.

We must be truthful about drug abuse, but that doesnt mean we still cant put kids off using drugs. There are a whole host of good honest reasons why young people shouldnt be using.

Mark Pawelek said...

The real scandal is that they:
a) published it without peer review (and apparently in the face of criticisms);
b) promoted it, such that it became prime evidence used to usher in a much more authoritarian drug laws; and
c) seem to have held no proper inquiry into what went wrong (despite demands from leading scientists for an enquiry). It's all been brushed under the carpet.

Mind you, has there been a proper inquiry into the WMD scandal?
Interpretation a) Politicians are prepared to play very dirty tricks to get their way.
Interpretation b) "you believe what you want to believe". Blair and the British elite undoubtedly believed that Iraq had WMDs. They believed it so much that the took no evidence to mean that they had not found the evidence they knew was there.

Think about that ecstasy scandal in the same way (interpretation b). They had already decided in their own mind that MDMA was a killer drug. When they got very dubious 'evidence' their normal critical faculties are pushed to the side and they rushed on to tell the world the good news.

Same thing happens with the media (and even with many scientists) over drugs reporting. They know these drugs are very dangerous. If they can't find the evidence that means they just haven't looked hard enough. It's a simple self-fulfilling prophecy.

Bob said...

And of course it comes down to funding. There are huge sums of money available to researchers in the US, but if you come out with findings which the government doesnt like too often you'll find it harder and harder to get money.

chrisbx515 said...

The media are not helping in sensible public debate the government use them for whatever drug of the day they are trying to promote as the next killer. I agree with everything Mark is saying.