24 June, 2010

Don't Lie To Me

Don’t lie to me. But that is what the Daily Mail does best. But worse, it does it with Science. I’m an engineer (hopefully, results not through yet) which means I’m not quite a scientist but also not a science fan. This means that I can recognise basic stats, scientific method and the role of experiments and analysis. And well as is often pointed out the Daily Mail is one of the worst papers for reporting anything science related. And by doing this it ruins science, the image of science, and the role science has in society.

Take for example this article on the relationship between abortion and breast cancer. After googling around for the original paper I found this abstract (linked, might I add, from a pro-life website). Now what do you see? The paper is about how breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer by two thirds. The Daily Fail uses the spin done by a pro-life website to suggest that aborting the child increases the risk of breast cancer. The paper does mention abortion; it mentions it as a factor in the findings along with the menopause and exposure to passive smoking. But the main conclusion is that prolonged breastfeeding reduces risk of breast cancer. Which isn’t really about abortion is it. The whole ‘triple risk’ factor was in fact just a twist of the two-thirds decrease. So... the Daily Fail uses the spin by a pro-life website to warp the findings of a paper that has little to do with what the headline is about. This means that I can only conclude one thing; that the Daily Mail has a pro-life agenda.

But this is not the only thing dodgy about this article. The medical survey was of only 300 women, Sparta my film geek mind cries, and from that this graph was the conclusion. Now this is a research support study which is designed to aid major studies rather than be something that can be the basis of medical practice. But the whole point was that it wasn’t a major conclusion. It was a significant find, no doubt, but it wasn’t a major conclusion.

The last point I wish to make, is that the tail end of the article goes for the whole balanced approach by not being balanced with a view from both sides. The way the article goes it starts of quoting a scientific paper, it then has a sound bite from Cancer Research UK about how the study might be flawed and that there have been other studies that have claimed otherwise to be true. From this the article then elbows in this wonderful quote from what can only be described as a quack from a pro-life counselling service.

We have encountered from the pro-abortion lobby manipulation of the evidence on a truly disgraceful scale. This study is further evidence that has been gathering from all around the world that abortion is a major risk factor for breast cancer. When will the establishment face up to this fact and pull its head out of the sand?

You can almost see the specks of foam can’t you, and note that the pro-life guy is male. These two opposing viewpoints have clearly been conducted by phone or email as well as the former latches onto the whole 300 women part and the latter that it is a scientific study but neither seem to give a full description of the main flaw, that it wasn’t a study into the link between abortion and breast cancer.

But the final part of the article, the cherry on the sundae or the dead rat on the garbage heap if you will, is trying to link in the rise in breast cancer to the rise in abortions. Yeah that’s right correlation and causation being one and the same thing. Now it may well be in future that there might be a link just as there is a link between reading the Daily Mail and wanting to punch Richard Littlejohn or there might not be a link at all, such as there not being a link between reading the Daily Mail but still wanting to punch Richard Littlejohn. But either way stating to rises does not mean that they are related.

To draw this post to a close, it is difficult to determine the causes of cancer and anything we do towards finding something that might help us live healthier lives is all well and good. But what the Daily Mail has done here is taken a report, filtered and spun the information until it says something that appeases their rather aggressive anti-woman agenda and then spat out some disinformation to throw off anything that might be useful. Effectively it neuters scientific method and rigour and then uses the scepticism to fuel its own machinations.


  1. Shorter Daily Mail: "women who have an abortion don't get to breastfeed anyone, therefore this study totally proves they're more likely to get cancer..."

  2. Not squeezing out a constant stream of babies immediately from the onset of puberty probably makes you more likely to get cancer too.

  3. What's ridiculous is that was the reasoning behind the pro-life site, the Daily Fail just copied that and then bunged on some random statistics. Journalistic plagiarism with malicious intent.

  4. I think this says it all really: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTu7GLfrmUI

    The mail is written by hypocrites, judgemental peeps and those who think it's one ruel for them-another for others.


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