Material World 23/06/11

Quentin Cooper discussed health reporting in UK newspapers with Dr William Lee, King’s College London and Roger Highfield, Editor of New Scientist. Material World.
Roger Highfield made the argument that newspapers are for entertainment and that the fact that around 70% of the claims made in their health articles were not backed up with evidence was justifiable. His reasoning was that journalists often have short deadlines and that the readership was able to tell the difference between what was true and what was not. He is quite wrong.
Newspapers are expected to tell the truth and to have evidence to back up what they report. The fact that people fail to trust newspaper science reporting is mostly due to newspapers reporting either poor research or researching poorly. The general public have lost faith in the trust of reporters to report what they know.
If the tabloids are generally read by the not so educated then those newspapers have a lot of responsibility for their readers’ health. People aren’t clever enough to judge the science and evidence for claims made in papers. Half of the population has below average intelligence and probably doesn’t understand the sceptical process of critical thinking about scientific claims. I await the time that a tabloid is sued for causing the death of someone who took their broccoli health plan seriously. The readers of the Daily Mail deserve whatever they get given the excrement they read.
The responsibility for the understanding of health articles relies with those writing the articles, not those who read them.