Archive for February, 2007
Today’s story about how vitamin pills make an early death more, rather than less, likely has provoked a sharp reaction online. The Times‘ front page and inside story come in for a barrage of criticism. ‘This is a very complicated subject and risks being dumbed down by the sort of reporting we see in The Times today’ Dr NAC Down comments . ‘A pretty sad piece of journalism’ agrees Gian Piero D’Amico.
In defense of Nigel Hawkes, who covered the story for The Times, and Michael Day, writing in The Sun, both do their best to report the research reasonably faithfully. The research is, however, complex, and almost certainly did not bear being put on The Times’ front page, squashed together with entirely separate research about the impact of low fat food on fertility.
But there was also room for more scepticism and for the representation of more views – particularly given the PA headline (as republished by The Independent) was itself misleading (‘Vitamins could increase risk of death’). As Richard Galle, another commenter on the Times’ site, notes – vitamin pills do not ‘increase risk of death’, rather they may lead to a possible reduction in life expectancy.
Still, ‘worried2′s’ comments on The Sun’s site probably best reflect the thoughts of the 10 million plus vitamin takers who saw today’s coverage: ‘As a pill popper, this sure worries me. Could we have the original reference please?’.
There’s a wonderful final irony about this story – if you search for it online you’re fed a series of ads for vitamin pills (‘Save on vitamins and supplements’, ‘Buy multi-vitamins at Healthspan’).
The Daily Mail’s attacks on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) continue. Today’s campaign to end restrictions on Alzheimer’s drugs comes after similar pressure on Herceptin, Avastin, Erbitux, Accomplia and others. Each time the paper positions itself as the people’s champion against a money-pinching government and its heartless partner-in-crime, NICE. Wouldn’t it be nice if things were this simple? But what we don’t learn from the coverage – particularly when the campaigns are successful – are the treatments that have to be cut back and the palliative care that has to be cancelled to pay for the new drugs. Herceptin, for example, which works in under 20% of cases of early breast cancer and can have serious side effects, costs £30,000 per year. Incredibly important though this is for some women, the money does not come out of a bottomless pot, it has to be diverted from elsewhere.
In the case of the Alzheimer’s drugs NICE – which was not given a right to reply in the Mail’s article – has since responded on NewsCounter. NICE states that the efficacy of the drugs is in doubt and emphasises the importance of non-drug interventions for many cases of Alzheimers. Its decision has been challenged by Eisai Ltd and Pfizer Ltd, the manufacturers of the drug in question. The Alzheimer society’s support for this challenge (through a separate legal action) means NICE will have to pay significant legal costs which it says would otherwise be spent on supporting healthcare.
This is not to understate the importance of providing drug and health care to Alzheimers’ sufferers, but to suggest that more balanced coverage – though lacking the emotional punch – could make for better healthcare in the long run.
OFCOM has upheld its ruling that ITV did not show due accuracy in its reports about Blair’s decision to go to war (OFCOM’s Broadcast Bulletin No.179, 26-2-07). In an analysis worth reading in full, OFCOM takes apart the interview between Michael Parkinson and Tony Blair and, though it finds some ambiguity in the language, concludes that ITV misrepresented what Blair said. Blair did raise the issue of his faith in the interview, and that he would eventually be judged for his actions (the implication being by God). But what he did not say was whether he’d asked God if Britain should go to war in Iraq.
Yet the headlines emblazoned over the 1830 and 2230 ITV news said just this: “Tony Blair says his belief in God played a part in deciding to go to war in Iraq”, and “Tony Blair’s belief in God played a crucial role in his decision to send British troops to a war in Iraq”.
Whether or not you agree with ITV’s argument that it made a fair interpretation of the gist of the interview if not the exact words spoken, it is refreshing to see such an intense examination of a news story – imagine the same sort of scrutiny being applied to newspapers.
The Independent continues to morph into a daily weekly. You can as easily imagine today’s front page (‘Power to the People’) on the cover of the Economist, New Statesman or Spectator. But this is more compliment than criticism. Today’s theme manages to be both newsworthy and insightful by bringing together 8 news events to point to a shift in the nature of our society. Hamish McRae offers further thoughts about that shift inside (‘The internet has shifted the balance of power’) and the paper then broadens the issue into its Big Question (‘Does the internet liberate or undermine democracy?‘).
But the shift is even more remarkable than they describe. Not only is power shifting (or at least the influences on power are shifting) but so are the people enabling it to shift. The developers who created and run the e-petitions software for No.10, for example, are a fantastically unassuming group of 20 & 30-something web developers, dotted about the country. They certainly aren’t in it for the money, they’re not in it for the power, they just genuinely want to enable more engaged democracy (see also theyworkforyou and writetothem). I’ve met a few of them and been bowled over by their civic-minded ethos for which, I think, we can partly thank the internet itself. The open, shared, constructive progessivism that characterised early internet developers has had a profound and beneficial influence on its subsequent development.
Like the Independent, we should occasionally cheer about the remarkable change technology has enabled and who enabled it.