Credulous or cynical? Science journalists played yet again by e-cigarette pseudoscience and spin

I’ve just written to Sarah Knapton, Science Editor at the once-proud Telegraph titles. She has picked up one of the […]

I’ve just written to Sarah Knapton, Science Editor at the once-proud Telegraph titles. She has picked up one of the most idiotic American press releases ever written and turned it one of the most idiotic UK news stories ever written*: E-cigarettes are no safer than smoking tobacco, scientists warn – an outrageous headline buffed up with a subtitle that invokes the spectre of cancer.

Cells exposed to the e-cigarette vapour showed several forms of damage, including DNA strand breaks, which can lead to cancer

Here’s the study and press release:

  • Study: Yu V, Rahimy M, Korrapati A, et al. Electronic cigarettes induce DNA strand breaks and cell death independently of nicotine in cell lines. Oral Oncol 2015;52:58–65. [link]
  • Eureka Alert Press release: Cell harm seen in lab tests of e-cigarettes

See if you can see how the headline can be justified by the study. On second thoughts, don’t waste your time: it can’t.

The UK’s statistics vigilante, Stats Guy Adam Jacobs, has already nominated the Telegraph article the “most dangerous, irresponsible, and ill-informed piece of health journalism of 2015” – Dangerous nonsense about vaping.

Here’s my letter to Sarah Knapton about it.

Dear Sarah

I see you are complaining about being ‘trolled’ by vapers over reporting of this e-cigarette cell study.

With respect, I don’t think it is fair to call it trolling if the Telegraph published a headline like that based on an unchallenged opinion from a scientist with an axe to grind.  Perhaps vapers are just despairing about uncritical science journalism.

If we are going to scientific about it, let’s just consider the claim made in the press release for this story:

The overarching question is whether the battery-operated products are really any safer than the conventional tobacco cigarettes they are designed to replace.

Wang-Rodriguez doesn’t think they are.

“Based on the evidence to date,” she says, “I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.”

This is a remarkable claim.  It goes beyond the usual ‘we just don’t know enough’ argument and makes an affirmative claim of equivalent risk based on available evidence. To my knowledge, no other experts worth the name believe this or have published anything that supports it, and there is nothing in the evidence base that justifies it. Dr Wang-Rodriguez hasn’t done a systematic review of the evidence to date and the reviews that have been done suggest much lower risk – 1-3 orders of magnitude lower.  PHE’s experts stand by the claim that the best estimates are at least 95% lower risk than smoking. Didn’t that give you a pause to reflect?  Did you consider getting a second opinion?

Nevertheless, the Telegraph just took the press release claim at face value and made a headline of it. If a troll is “a person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting” perhaps it is the Telegraph that is trolling vapers and the nation, not vapers trolling you?

If we took the more conventional journalistic practice of simply reporting on what the research in question had found, then there would be rather less scope for sensationalism.   A cell study does not (and cannot) establish there is a real cancer risk, it cannot establish it is the same magnitude as smoking, cannot address all the other cancer sites associated with smoking, cannot assess risks other than cancer. So whatever the results said, no comparison of the type made in the press release could be drawn from this work and nothing could be said about cancer risk. Again, this is about being critical about what scientific studies can and cannot tell us – and therefore what is hype in a press release.

Did you find time to read the study itself?

They did, in fact, measure cigarette smoke, but the results are buried in obscurity  These cigarette measurements are not mentioned at all in the press release or any of the commentary in the paper itself – why might that be?  The giveaway is in the methodology section…

E-cigarette, cigarette, and nicotine treatments
E-cigarette vapor was pulled through media using negative pressure, and the resulting extract was filter-sterilized with a 0.2 μm pore-size filter before treating cell cultures. The cigarette-treated media was made similarly using Marlboro Red filter cigarettes, which were determined by the Federal Trade Commission in a 2000 report to contain 1.2 mg of nicotine per cigarette. […]

Treatment media was replaced every three days with 1% e-cigarette extract. Because of the high toxicity of cigarette smoke extract, cigarette-treated samples of each cell line could only be treated for 24 h. (emphasis added)

That should have rung an alarm bell as it is completely inconsistent with Wang-Rodriguez’ claim of equivalent risk and the Telegraph’s headline. The methodology section is very poorly written, but it appears to imply that they measured e-cigarette vapour over days and weeks, but cigarette extract over just 24 hours.  The results use an unusual formulation in which the cigarette measures do not really appear as part of the results, but are just offered “for comparison”.

The authors even point out that nicotine can damage cells in cell studies.  However, we know there is no evidence that nicotine causes cancer from studies of NRT and snus.  That means it is possible to find cell damage in petri-dishes that does not manifest as serious disease in the body. This is a widely known characteristic of cell studies: they must not be over-interpreted. So that should have been another clue not to take this in the way it was spun.

“There have been many studies showing that nicotine can damage cells,” says Wang-Rodriguez. “But we found that other variables can do damage as well. It’s not that the nicotine is completely innocent in the mix, but it looks like the amount of nicotine that the cells are exposed to by e-cigarettes is not sufficient by itself to cause these changes 

From this, the authors go one to speculate about formaldehyde and diacetyl, drawing on yet more junk science from the U.S., which has been extensively debunked.

My point is that this is an area of science that is very heavily loaded with activist bias, and especially in the U.S. where the major funder, the NIH plays an activist role.  This is an extreme example, but we are repeatedly seeing UK journalists played by spin from the activist-scientists. I think that’s what’s winding up vapers, not any kind of inconvenient truth discovered by truth-seeking scientists.The solution to that is not to dismiss critics as trolls, but to have a more critical approach to science.

The best reporting recently on this has come from Rolling Stone, where the journalist took some time to examine claims and counter claims – it’s worth a read:
E-Cigs’ Inconvenient Truth: It’s Much Safer to Vape

Final thought: this study was published 4th November 2015.  This press release coincides with the New Year season for quitting smoking. Can you see the cynicism in this, and how harmful it is to make such absurd claims when people may be considering switching to vaping for the New Year?

Relevant links….

1. Study: Yu V, Rahimy M, Korrapati A, et al. Electronic cigarettes induce DNA strand breaks and cell death independently of nicotine in cell lines. Oral Oncol 2015;52:58–65. [link]

2. Eureka Alert Press release: Cell harm seen in lab tests of e-cigarettes

PS. No competing interests.

Clive Bates

Why does junk like this get written?

Here’s my theory:

  • The rise of online… Online articles provide direct real-time countable feedback on journalists’ contribution to newspaper exposure and ad revenue, so there is acute competition between colleagues for clicks and user feedback. This does not apply in the printed paper – where individual performance is aggregated with all colleagues into overall circulation figures. This shifts the journalistic incentives from serving regular readers with high-quality journalism to attracting non-regular readers with click bait.
  • The disdain for the reader… Science journalists don’t really care about truth and complexity or about serving their readers.  This is a banal scientific non-story in reality, made into something publishable by extreme hype in the press release. It would be impossible to report the actual useful information from this research because there isn’t really any.
  • The argument from authority… There is a lazy model of scientific journalism that relies on authority – the authority of ‘scientists’ placed on pedestals as pure truth seekers, and the authority of peer-reviewed journals – which are supposed to guarantee the integrity of published research. Once you’ve got all that authority behind the story, there’s no argument: your just humbly reporting science. Utter nonsense to anyone who is scientific about science.
  • The money shot… Several commentators made opposing points in this article (in fairness, Knapton  did add some contrarian views), but the single outlandish and evidence-free quote was the money-shot and that persisted as the headline and nose for the piece, even though basically shot down by everyone else she spoke to.  The journalist simply had no incentive to blow up the story by adopting a critical or inquiring perspective: “American scientist says weird and irresponsible stuff based on nothing ” is hardly news.
  • The pack mentality…  What if others had run it and the Telegraph didn’t? Once again, the click-bait phenomenon and competition between journalists at work.

*I’ve concentrated on the Telegraph, but others were hard at it too: Mirror, Guardian, Independent and the Mail all disgraced themselves with their credulous or cynical reporting of this story, using variations on the same theme.

The Daily Caller put the record straight and a vaper, Paul Barnes, did the best job of showing journalists how to be journalists: Facts do matter blog: degreasing engines and killing cells. Another vaper, Fergus Mason, followed up with a blog explaining it all for the giants of UK popular science writing: New study shows e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco smoke.

Other articles that examine this story more critically:

Update: After the Clarification/Correction…

The primary fault lies with the authors. My own main concern is not primarily with journalists, though they should be much much better than this. My main concern is with public health academics and academia: there is basically no challenge or push back and no accountability for the consequences of this sort of casual mendacity – yet we should recall that a few more cancers and deaths are likely to be the result.  Where is the professional outrage in the public health community? Where is the hard challenge back to Dr. Wang-Rodriguez from those who know, or should know, better?

Science update: a note from Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos on what the researchers did wrong in the experiment itself (not merely the ludicrous claims about relative risk and cancer). Bear in mind the researchers had to stop the tests using cigarette smoke in 24 hours because it was so toxic it killed the cells too quickly.  The e-cigarette vapour exposures ran for up to eight weeks.

…when you want to look for effects such as inflammation or DNA breaks you need to have cells which have survived the exposure to the medium. In the case of tobacco cigarette smoke, it is so toxic that cells die so you cannot measure any effect. However, what you SHOULD DO is dilute the smoke extract to levels that are not cytotoxic (so that cells survive). Then, you should do the same with the e-cigarette aerosol extract. The problem (for the researchers) was that if they had done that they would see almost no adverse effect from e-cigarette aerosol exposure.

The main problem with the coverage is the irresponsible and wildly inaccurate hype in the press release. But there is also the making of a scandal in scientific terms. Why did they include cigarette smoke, but not then run the experiment in a way that allows for like-for-like comparison, as Farsalinos suggests? When they say ‘cells treated with cigarette smoke extract […] are shown for comparison‘ repeatedly in the article, what exactly does this comparison tell us if the cigarette and e-cigarette vapour were treated differently? Did they expect to find cytotoxicity in e-cigarette vapour comparable to cigarette smoke and then have to rethink when everything on the cigarette cell lines was dead in 24 hours? Why did the researchers not use realistic exposures and therefore not have to say this in the press release?

“In this particular study, it was similar to someone smoking continuously for hours on end, so it’s a higher amount than would normally be delivered,” she says. “What we’re looking at now is to dose-control these. We want to know at what dose it causes that critical switch-over to where we see the damage.”

Update 12 January 2016.

A clarification/correction has been added to the press release:

CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION: Contrary to what was stated or implied in much of the news coverage resulting from this news release, the lab experiments did not find that e-cigarette vapor was as harmful to cells as cigarette smoke. In fact, one phase of the experiments, not addressed in the news release, found that cigarette smoke did in fact kill cells at a much faster rate. However, because similar cell-damage mechanisms were observed as the result of both e-vapor and regular cigarette smoke, Dr. Wang-Rodriguez asserts, based on the evidence from the study, that e-cigarettes are not necessarily a healthier alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. As stated in the journal paper and the news release, further research is needed to better understand the actual long-term health effects of e-cigarettes in humans.

This muddled statement is a crude attempt to stop defending the indefensible, while trying to create enough distracting waffle to divert blame away from the obvious culprit, Wang-Rodriguez. In any sensible field, the reputation of a scientist voicing then reiterating completely baseless statements about risk would be destroyed by her own peer group.  We should always remember, that there are plausible causal pathways from Wang-Rodriguez statements (and irresponsible reporting of them) to a person dying an agonising and humiliating death by cancer. It isn’t just a remote debate.

Everybody involved is covered in disgrace.

Oh, and rather than replying to this letter, Sarah Knapton has responded in the way that only true fanatics know how…

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 23.59.04

Update 13 August 2016

Sarah Knapton writes to me requesting that I publish an IPSO finding about this article. Even though it’s not me who made an IPSO complaint, I am happy to do this. Because it reveals something quite interesting about journalistic ethics involved, I have put this into a new blog:  Telegraph science editor Sarah Knapton puts the record straight. Not really.

Download Post as PDF

55 thoughts on “Credulous or cynical? Science journalists played yet again by e-cigarette pseudoscience and spin”

  1. Clive,

    As discussed at the E-Cigarette Summit, there is a desperate need for clarity in communicating research to the public. However, there is a shocking disparity in the quality of journalism – any article published on any of the “leading” online papers is rife with bias, misinformation and in some cases outright lies.

    The only recourse for most of the public, if they are so inclined is to lodge a complaint with the paper or IPSO. As we’ve seen with Brad Rodu, IPSO can be slow and often isn’t always resolved correctly. Complaints to the paper seem (in my experience) to only get the atypical boiler plate responses.

    It seems that the standards of journalism have significantly fallen.

  2. Another problem we have is that some of the studies currently being done are by scientists who have direct ties with the tobacco industry and/or pharmaceutical companies that make nicotine patches, gums, and similar products. Some of these scientists have other contracts with these companies and some are getting grant money from them for “research”. They should be instantly disqualified from submitting any scientific papers on the subject of vaping due to conflicts of interest.

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  4. Quoting Mr Bates: “perhaps it is the Telegraph that is trolling vapers and the nation, not vapers trolling you?”

    No perhaps about it, Clive. You have hit the nail on the metallic rounded top bit.

    Many thanks.

  5. The Culture of Fear has long played very well with a lot of media. It gets attention. In addition, though I don’t know Sarah’s specific training, many science journalists don’t actually have scientific training. They are also seldom given sufficient time to fully understand an issue before having to file stories on it. So we get scare stories unsullied by significant investigation or scientific literacy.

    I think a bigger issue is what can perhaps best be described as public health malpractice. Given the number of lives involved, and especially at this time of year when so many smokers are considering quitting, what standard of care should be expected from researchers, journal editors, peer reviewers and those approving news releases?

  6. What saddens me most is the lack of right to reply. As pointed out “junk science proves nothing” doesn’t make headlines, and the truth has no outlet outside of the blogs and social media that only the converted will see.
    Of the thousands (perhaps millions) who have seen Knapton’s irresponsible headline, how many will see the real facts behind the story, and how many will decide against trying an ecig this new year?
    For the record, I was one of the (civil) challengers of her story on social media today, and I was quickly blocked for it.

    1. Nate Pickering

      Unfortunately, we now live in a world where people spend 30 seconds scanning the headlines on their news site of choice and confidently announce they’ve “read the news.” The more intrepid might click on the click-baitiest headline and read the first paragraph of the story. If the headline and/or paragraph comports with their pre-existing social bias (as most anti-“smoking” claims do with most members of the general public), it will be unquestioningly accepted and subsequently repeated as fact.

      The only reason this controversy still exists is because tobacco controllers are so much better at disseminating nonsensical bullshit than harm reduction advocates are at disseminating real information. Of course, the fact that “science journalists” these days typically have no qualifications in either science or journalism doesn’t help much.

  7. Why does junk like this get written?

    Another reason could be laziness. Simple 20 minute job to top and tail a cut and paste piece. I’ve done it myself. I imagine she spent more time on Twitter defending herself than researching and writing this article.

    It is these type of people that need to be invited to the GFN and other conferences so they can meet real people face to face.

    1. Actually, I suspect it isn’t laziness – but more it’s opposite, time pressure. Papers like the Telegraph have seen deep cuts in the number and experience of staff as they try to survive the online revolution and keep up profitability. I suspect these journalists work very hard indeed.

      1. In the U.S. it’s more than that. We’ve been letting reporters know the truth and offering to provide it on a silver platter for years now, and the aren’t interested. I can’t speak for the UK, but the U.S. news media appear to be 80% funded by Viagra commercials from Big Pharma.

      2. Clive
        In Australia there has been a huge reduction in experienced editors etc, as well as journalists. A lot less checking of articles prior to publication these days.

        And the click bait pressure is also a big factor. In fact there was a recent successful defamation action by our then federal treasurer ,the judgement was not about the actual article, rather it was about the attention grabbing ,defamatory, Twitter line that was used to advertise the article.

        The fact that many people these days can get through school without gaining a sound , basic understanding of science and stats also doesn’t help.

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  9. The whole thing is just sickening with it’s timing and worse the word is that Australia’s chanel seven are going to run with the story tonight. Just what we don’t need!

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  12. Whilst vapers and especially vaping advocates have been rightly outraged by yesterday’s media what mustn’t be forgotten is that Public Health policy and the political will to make policy is more often than not reliant on what the majority of the public believe or are media fed to believe. False and alarming media onslaughts on vaping may prevent smokers from choosing to use e-cigs in their attempts to quit smoking, but perhaps more crucially the “sit on the fence” 80% of the population that don’t smoke or vape will sadly believe the media news headlines. Subsequently they accept the justifications for further rules, regulations and dare I say it the possible taxing of e-cigs because of an article headline they read somewhere, which they remember stated ecigs are as dangerous as tobacco smoking.

    1. I agree Roger, public opinion and create an ‘authorising environment’ for politicians or officials with their own agenda. The pro-ban prohibitionists in Wales have been busy with this already.

  13. It’s no accident that this press release was timed for the regular New Year push to give up smoking and let’s not forget that pharmaceutical companies are one of the biggest advertisers in the media. I’d say they are very firmly behind the ownership of this rubbish.

    The media are missing the real scandal that certain people in public health, health charities and government are pharma puppets and are intent on both protecting their profits – short term (NRT) and long term (treating smoking related diseases), as well as the highly lucrative trillion dollar smoking economy.

    Those ideologues in public health of the quit or die mentality are equally culpable with their blatant intent to harm by turning smokers and vapers away from ecigs …… they are the front group who pretend to care, whilst they bully, segregate, discriminate against and extort money from smokers and now vapers. There are plenty of useful idiots for the real criminals to hide behind.

  14. Because journalists are not trained in interpreting and critically analyzing scientific articles, it is even more imperative that we as scientists (myself included) accurately communicate study findings and their clinical implications to the media. Even putting aside the methodological problems with the study, it still would have been easy for the researchers to have provided a valid interpretation of the clinical significance of these (flawed) findings. But to extrapolate wildly from this study of cell cultures to conclude that vaping is as dangerous as smoking is completely irresponsible. And you are right: the anti-vaping health groups and advocates, along with these irresponsible scientists, are culpable for harming the public’s health by turning smokers and vapers (ex-smokers) away from e-cigarettes.

    1. Nate Pickering

      In fairness, it requires just as much of a logical flight of fancy to conclude that smokeless tobacco causes any sort of population-level harm, but you were still firmly on board that train last time I checked.

  15. Sue Skillicorn

    I gave up smoking after 53 years when I found vaping. One of the reasons I kept on with tobacco was because I felt bullied by anti-smoking activists, propaganda and legislation (even though I knew it was an unhealthy thing to do). Now I feel bullied by the anti-ecigarette activists.

    After all, if I am told that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking, why not go back to tobacco? After all, I am still allowed to buy cigarettes, while I will not be allowed to buy my chosen vaping equipmemt.

    Bah! (I shall not go back to tobacco, of course, but that is the logic of this journalist’s reporting.)

    1. You are correct Sue, but how do we ordinary vapers fight the onslaught of lies and misinformation produced by those who have vast amounts of money and media influence to push their agenda on a public who often believe what they are told because in the past scientists and public health bodies had credibility and integrity.

      Now we live in a world where the love of money and power trumps any old fashioned idea of morality and ethics, a world where a person cannot believe anything that comes from public health, and scientists have a political agenda and are beholding to corporate interests, to promote lies and misinformation. Then there is a media industry that also relies on corporate funding, so will print whatever their masters tell them to, and bugger the consequences.

      In this world we, the ordinary people, must educate ourselves, question everything, and keep our own counsel when it comes to questions of our own health, because we can no longer rely on those that we used to rely on for truth and rational thinking.

      1. Nate Pickering

        Lots of people place more value in validation than they do in truth, and this is by no means a recent development, or one unique to this topic.

        The best way to sell a political narrative is by presenting it in a way that seems to legitimize the fears, biases, and prejudices that exist in the general population. If there’s a certain group of people I don’t like, and the guy who’s running for office says they’re the source of all my problems, well I think I like the cut of his jib.

        This is especially easy for tobacco controllers, as a huge majority of the population doesn’t smoke, and a nearly-as-huge majority actively detests anything associated with smokers and smoking. It’s socially acceptable to say things about smokers that, if they were said about any other minority group, would cause widespread (and perfectly justified) moral outrage.

        1. Exactly Nate, there is cognitive bias, and it is used by those with no conscience, but a lot of desire for money and power, to great effect against those minorities that have become the scapegoat of others. How do we change this ?

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  18. I suspect that Knapton genuinely believes herself to be in the right and cannot understand why her uncritical and, in my view, irresponsible journalism has caused anger and offence. It would be helpful if the mainstream media employed people who had at least a basic understanding of science and the increasingly murky world of scientific publication because until it does, this type of misleading article will continue to shape public opinion.

    More importantly, it is high time that the scientific and medical journal editors responsible for publishing poor quality material authored by blatantly partisan activists were held accountable. Standards are plummeting, science is suffering but those responsible appear to be untouchable. There needs to be a transparent process for exposing activism disguised as science and those editors who support it. At present. they are able to simply shrug off detailed and compelling criticism, which in my view is both unacceptable and dishonest.

    1. I have a bit of sympathy for Sarah Knapton – not much, but some. The real fault lies with the authors who’s study is deeply flawed, but who also made extraordinarily irresponsible statements that they either knew or should have known would be used uncritically by time-pressed journalists.

      1. Agreed Clive but journal editors cannot be unaware of this phenomenon and on occasion some actively support the process by endorsing the press releases.

        I have diminishing confidence in the scientific or medical press and am unlikely to change my mind as long as editors remain uncountable and there is no system in place for effectively and publicly challenging dubious manuscripts whose sole purpose in many cases appears to be the press release and its impact on public opinion.

        I have little sympathy for anyone in the mainstream media who is too lazy or incompetent to research and understand the subject that they are supposed to be their organisation’s expert on. The Telegraph’s coverage of public health issues is consistently ill-informed, one sided and opinionated.

      2. Nate Pickering

        If the world’s print and online media have become little more than a transcription service for copypasted tobacco control press releases (as they very clearly have), there is plenty of blame to go around, and no one single entity deserves all of it. It’s a classic feedback loop, really. Readership gets more credulous, so the content gets more sensationalist, and vice versa ad infinitum.

      3. QUOTE: ‘I have a bit of sympathy for Sarah Knapton – not much, but some. The real fault lies with the authors who’s study is deeply flawed, but who also made extraordinarily irresponsible statements that they either knew or should have known would be used uncritically by time-pressed journalists.’

        The problem with Sarah Knapton is that she has a track record of writing damaging articles about e-cigarettes based on flawed research. Had this had a a one-off aberration, then I would have thought, oh well, we all make mistakes. But this latest pile of cow droppings presented as serious health journalism, leaves me in no doubt that she knew exactly what she was doing, and what the fall-out would be. So she doesn’t get an ounce of sympathy from me. If the Telegraph bosses have any integrity whatsoever, they should show her the door – pronto.

        1. Nate Pickering

          One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, and probably should be, is that writers for print media outlets usually have no input into the content of the headlines that accompany their work (at least they didn’t back in my day). So, that’s probably the one area where it can be safely said that Ms. Knapton’s hands are clean.

  19. I agree mr blog dog, I don’t have any sympathy for her in the slightest, if you don’t know what your talking about you shouldn’t be printing things that could have an effect on potentionaly hundreds of thousands of people or more in detrimental way for money, if your willing to do that to people then you have to be put in the same camp as all the rest, after all this isn’t science that says if you eat to much sugar you’ll get fat, this is science that can potentionaly save millions of smokers lives, so if she can’t respect that and is willing to print any old rubbish at face value and to hell with the consequences she won’t get any sympathy from me.

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  22. Clive,

    Might be worth drawing SarahK’s attention to the history around the MMR/autism scare. This is a cautionary tale for all science journalists/editors – with a lot of similarities with how this story played – or was played.

    A poor quality paper published in the Lancet used as a platform for the lead researcher to run their own press line. The Lancet paper did not go even close to demonstrating a causative link between MMR and autism. However, at a press conference to explain the paper the lead researcher (and only him) Andy Wakefield said he could no longer support the continued use of the three-in-one jab for measles, mumps and rubella and recommended parents immunise their children with single vaccines separated by a gap of at least a year. All completely beyond the scope of the flawed research paper. A hobbyhorse for a personal belief. Not science. But this belief was the story. And this is what almost all the news, health and science journalists and editors ran with.

    Sarah K and other journalists could do worse than read the history around the MMR/autism disaster: the biggest failure in UK scientific journalism of the recent past. And think carefully about the lessons it provides and how to apply them to reporting science.


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  24. Well, big lobbing machines could be behind this once again, as cigarettes manufacturers don’t want to lose their part of sales. Really annoying, how much false information can be leaked into publicity

  25. David Sweanor

    It is great to see New Scientist put this story into some perspective. But it is troubling not just that there are people who claim their research says things it clearly does not, but that some science reporters are so unscientific as to stick with an inaccurate story rather issue a correction. By contrast, other journalists are truly interested in both good science and good journalism. A case in point is Dr. Brian Goldman, host of the popular CBC radio show White Coat, Black Art. In an episode looking at vaping he picked up the erroneous view that the recent Public Health England report was ‘funded by an e-cigarette company’. Of course this was not surprising given the range of nasty attacks on that report, and from seemingly credible sources. But when the facts were pointed out, Dr. Goldman very rapidly amended the archived version of his show and issued the following correction:

    UPDATE: An earlier version of the program stated that a report by Public Health England which found that vaping was around 95 percent safer than smoking, had been funded by the e-cigarette industry. That was not the case. While there has been criticism of Public Health England’s findings, they relate to one study included in the review. The authors have since responded to those criticisms here.

    That statement, and a link to listen to the show, can be found here:

    Good science journalism lives. It just may be seeking asylum in Canada.

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  31. “science journalist”, but dont forget journalist is a job, the journalist have a boss and most of the media are under pressure by their owners which are not philanthropists. Journalist are not much more than a directed writer. Just what i’m thinking.

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  35. John Carter

    Naturally, I’m outraged by the utterly irresponsible claim that smoking causes cancer. Clearly, they did not read Hume. I need to say a few more words here to get my shill payment so let’s just say, “improper attributions of causation” could lead people to the impression that smoking could be harmful. Outrageous!

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