Detecting a Bogus Fear Story

Fear is one of the staple products of the mainstream media. Whether it be everyday products giving us Cancer, paedophiles around every corner or terrorists waiting to detonate around us: fearful is the default emotional state that we should be in. Today an article on the Daily Mail website caught my eye, largely because it is just the sort of article that seems to be completely made up just to scare people: ‘Terrorists ‘plan attack on Britain with bombs INSIDE their bodies’ to foil new airport scanners‘.

The article is supposedly based on an ‘operation by MI5’, but details are thin on the ground and a number of unnamed sources sound pretty vague – as if those sources don’t really exist. MI5 apparently ‘became aware of the threat after observing increasingly vocal Internet “chatter” on Arab websites this year’. Which rather sounds like MI5 take seriously people chatting on the Internet. In which case I’m surprised most of the people on BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ haven’t been investigated for wishing all sorts of violence against people slightly different to themselves.

This news story just doesn’t convince me. I could have made it up, anyone could have made it up. The premise is simple: terrorists might try to get round new security measures. Surely we already know this? The article gets slightly interesting because after the author has tried to scare the reader for a few hundred words they then point out that a security company could offer a solution:

Companies such as Smiths Detection International UK, which is based in Watford, Hertfordshire, manufacture a range of luggage and body scanners designed to identify chemicals, explosives and drugs at airports and other passenger terminals around the world.

Interestingly enough Smiths Detection would make a lot of money should airports become convinced that the threat of surgically implanted bombs were real, and the Mail has a history of mentioning the firm by name.

Sometime in 2002 – as far as I can make out – Smiths Detection was holding ‘urgent talks’ with the government to ‘strengthen’ police forces against combat chemical or biological attacks. The Daily Mail covered this with a short, undated article which made it sound like Smiths Detection was selling the government an apocalyptic vision of a Britain under siege from chemical and biological attacks. According to the Mail article they had already ‘provided’ the police with Chemical Agent Monitors and Lightweight Chemical Detectors. Smiths vice-president (at the time at least) Tim Otter revealed – according to the Mail – that the police had been ‘buying little bits here and there’ but perhaps Smiths Detection wanted a more wholesale adoption of their security devices. Although, to date, it seems that there has been no widespread chemical or biological attacks (even though the government ‘terror alert’ has remained at high levels for the past few years).

In 2006 things seemed to be looking up for the company when the Mail reported on a Smiths Detection ‘Machine which ‘sees’ through clothes boosts terror fight‘, a machine which just happened to be launched at a conference where the then Home Secretary John Reid delivered a keynote speech. In 2007 the Daily Mail confirmed that BAA would be buying new Smiths Detection ‘x-ray machines’ in a ’10-year deal worth at least £20 million’. This article focused on explosives on hand luggage, which presumably after being solved by a clever machine provided by Smiths Detection has now led terrorists to store their bombs internally. Which just happens to be something a new Smiths Detection machine can detect.

However, all is not rosy for the Smiths Group, as the Mail reported in March 2009: the company had a net debt of £975 million which wasn’t being helped by governments deferring orders and preferring to bail out banks rather than focus on the threat of terrorism.

I’m not saying that terrorism isn’t a real threat, and I’m not saying that Smiths Detection do not offer effective solutions to certain terrorist threats. However, I am very conscious that around the time when Smiths Detection were talking to the government about their wonderful devices and how we were all going to be attacked a million people took to the streets in London to protest against the Iraq war and were soundly ignored. The London bombers made it perfectly clear that their actions were as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not as Tony Blair protested because they were ideologically opposed to our ‘way of life’.

The mainstream media can keep hyping up the ever more ingenious ways that terrorists can kill us and companies like Smiths Detection can keep hyping up ever more expensive and ingenious ways to try and protect us. However, unless we actually try to engage with the fundamental reasons as to why people want to blow us up I get the feeling that this circle of fear and expensive salvation will continue. After all, the mainstream will never run out of ‘unnamed sources’ and ‘foiled terror plots’ that really did exist, honest, they just aren’t allowed to report any details…

Pick the face that fits

There are two very unsavoury rape stories currently on the Daily Mail website. The first story is this: ‘Boy, 13, who raped woman in front of his friends is jailed for just three years… because he said ‘sorry'”. The second story is this: ‘First picture of teenager who sexually assaulted girl, 9, while on bail for raping 10-year-old‘.

Clearly, both stories are horrific and you would expect the Daily Mail to cover them and for readers to assume that this is more evidence of New Labour’s Broken Britain. You would also assume that both stories would have equal news value, although one story deals with a very young perpetrator, the other deals with the equally shocking aspect of the terribly young ages of the victims. However, one story makes the lead story of the Mail website, whilst the other story only makes a mention over half-way down the page – half the size and below the story: ‘Living in Laa-Laa land? Man United star Gary Neville unveils plans for £8m ‘Teletubby’ eco-bunker built into a hillside’.

I think this can be explained when you realise that both of these awful stories are accompanied by a photograph of the perpetrators:



Naturally the white faced rapist is the one who doesn’t make it halfway up the Daily Mail website – ironically he is placed next to another white faced sex offender. The brown faced rapist makes the lead story.

A few good links

Haven’t done a list of links for a while but I read an awful lot of stuff online so I should do this more often. If you are interested in some of the things I read online I post the better stuff on Twitter so feel free to follow me if you aren’t already: @uponnothing. I also Tweet amusing or terrible headlines and articles from the Daily Mail…

Anyway, without further ado, here are some links from last week.

The Enemies of reason pointed out David Cameron trying to make political capital out of the torture and near death of two young boys, blaming the horrific crime as evidence of New Labour’s ‘broken Britain’ and also looked at the coverage of the Haiti earthquake and how the media seems obsessed with ‘machetes’:

Scan through a few nationalist and ultra-nationalist blogs, for example, and you’ll find almost visible salivation at the idea that Haitians are essentially a teeming mass of machete-wielding mobs, hacking each other to bits.

Tabloid Watch looks at another ‘clarification’ from Richard Littlejohn that tries to blame someone else for his total lack of even the most basic research:

He certainly hasn’t apologised. He says ‘if’ he has spread lies about Vaughan he is happy to put the record straight, despite it being perfectly clear he has. ‘If’ doesn’t come into it. It’s a classic newspaper non-apology.

Left Outside looks at how the media war on drugs has turned its focus on ‘legal highs’ and completely lied about them – blaming them for the death of a 14 year old girl:

A following coroner’s report established that there were no drugs in her system and that she died of broncho-pneumonia following a streptococcal A infection.

The reporting of this at the time should have been described as scandalously irresponsible by any sensible definition of the term.

Feminazery provided a handy round-up of Daily Mail sexism (although I’m not sure if it would have been easier to point out the few articles that aren’t misogynistic…).

Hagley Road To Ladywood sparked some debate with a post on the Edlington attacks:

unfortunately, torturers, serial killers and assorted scumbags have stemmed from all decades and walks of life, pre- and post-Thatcherism, pre- and post-New Labour, in council estates and in more affluent homes, the product of a “broken family” or an apparently solid one. They may have watched horror films or not. They may have been into classical music or Marilyn Manson.

John George Haigh, the “Acid Bath Murderer” wasn’t on state benefits, didn’t smoke spliffs and didn’t have the opportunity to watch Saw as a child. He was brought up a devout Christian and even went to a grammar school. Alas, that didn’t stop him from dissolving nine people in acid.

And finally, to end on a more cheery note I could have picked quite a few stories from the Daily Mash to link to but I chose this: ‘CLASS 4B INTRIGUED BY TORY ‘SUPER-TEACHERS’‘. I fully expect you to read all of the other stories afterwards.

The Daily Mail Naturally ignores Stephen Gately Inquiry Outcome

We all know about the huge response that Jan Moir generated with her article: ‘Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death’ (now retitled: ‘A strange, lonely and troubling death’). We also know about the total lack of coverage that followed in the Daily Mail and most other mainstream media outlets. The Daily Mail managed a brief statement from Moir about how it was all a ‘heavily orchestrated Internet campaign’ against her by the horrible people that use Twitter and that it was ‘mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones’.

Naturally, churnalism sprung into action and Moir’s statement was repeated and because nothing else was said on the matter by the Daily Mail (officially at least, several Mail columnists tore Moir’s article apart) or by Moir that was supposed to be an end to it.

The PCC, after recovering from a broken website due to the unprecedented number of complaints, decided that the complaints were partly the fault of Stephen Fry (ironically another gay man) and silly people on the Internet. The PCC made it clear that with only 14 members of staff it wasn’t really able to deal adequately with over 25,000 complaints, but luckily – as ‘none of the original 25,000 complaints were from Stephen Gately’s family or close friends’ – apart from acknowledging they’d had a busy day watching the complaints pour in, they didn’t actually have to do anything about them.

Still, due to the vast amount of complaints an investigation was launched (no details provided in the Press Release) about the ‘general accuracy’ of the article, but before this was completed Andrew Cowles – Gately’s partner – had lodged a complaint which is now being dealt with.

However, the PCC have yet to make any announcements as to whether they believed the article was accurate – to settle the third-party complaints they don’t have to deal with. Neither have they made any announcements on the progress of Cowles complaints. The PCC are not exactly quick, but then what do you expect from an organisation that has 13 editors on its code committee (chaired by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre) to oversea the ideals the press aims for, but only employs 14 staff to vaguely monitor whether the code is being upheld by editors.

Tabloid Watch pointed out recently that the Daily Mail is still leading the way with the largest amount of ‘resolved’ complaints of any newspaper, and Paul Dacre chairs the committee that deals with the editor’s code of conduct.

There has been one outcome since Moir wrote her article – questioning the details of what really happened that night – and it is the inquiry into Gately’s death. The inquiry concludes:

Although he had drunk heavily and smoked cannabis it was ruled that these were not factors in his death.

outcomeNaturally Jan Moir didn’t mention this in her column today (she was finding time to judge a mother – a favourite past time of hers). The Daily Mail did report it, however, they decided to bury it on page 36 in the hope that nobody would spot it and realise what a gutless shit rag it is. Paul Dacre had the opportunity to practice what he preaches and make an example of Moir for publishing utter rubbish about a dead person – not just rubbish, but bigoted and ignorant rubbish – by reporting on the outcome and explaining that somehow the press had learnt an important lesson from all this.

But he didn’t. He just pretended it hadn’t happened by relegating it to a tiny space between some advertising (ironic given that advertisers pulled the plug on the original article online). Likewise, as predicted yesterday the Daily Mail did not report the latest crime figures at all in the print edition, not one paragraph.

When it comes to the Daily Mail, clearly good news or news not suiting their agenda is no news.

Mail’s Recession Crimewave hasn’t happened

Throughout most of 2009 the Daily Mail – and James Slack in particular – were either reporting on a crimewave that was already underway or predicting a massive rise of crime due to the recession. Here are just a few headlines:


The credit crunch crimewave: Increase in burglary and robbery is fuelled by economic downturn‘ – Daily Mail Reporter

‘The economic crisis is fuelling crime, new figures have showed. 31 police forces across England and Wales reported a rise in burglaries and robberies during the last four months of 2008.’

Credit crunch crimewave: Burglaries up, knife attacks up and a row over fiddled figures‘ – James Slack

‘A ‘credit crunch crimewave’ is taking hold, with one family every two minutes suffering the misery of a burglary, it has emerged.’


As ‘credit crunch crimewave’ begins, serial burglars ‘failing to serve minimum sentences’‘ – Daily Mail Reporter (means it is simply a rehashed or copied press release)

‘Almost four out of five serial burglars fail to get the minimum punishment laid down by the law, according to figures released by the Conservatives.’


Credit crunch crimewave: Recession fuels a boom in burglaries and knife muggings‘ – James Slack

‘The number of thefts have jumped by a quarter sparking fears of a credit crunch crime wave fuelled by rising unemployment, official figures reveal today.’


Recession crimewave ‘will need more police‘ – James Slack

‘Burglary, mugging and theft will rocket by 25 per cent over the next two years as recession bites, police leaders will warn today.’


Recession sparks surge in fake burglaries from cash-strapped homes after insurance payouts‘ – Stephen Wright

‘The recession may be triggering a rise in false reporting of burglaries, a chief constable has warned.’


Credit crunch crime wave: Theft, burglaries and fraud rise on the back of record unemployment‘ – Daily Mail Reporter

‘The recession has seen theft soar 25 per cent and shoplifting 10 per cent. The number of burglaries has also increased, the first rise in six years.’


Burglaries boom as credit crunch hardship leads to steep rise in crime‘ – Stephen Wright

‘Police forces across the country are reporting an upward trend in burglaries just as they did during the recessions of the 1970s and early 1990s.’

So, has Britain suffered a huge recession-fuelled outbreak of burglary? Err, no, not according to the lastest Home Office figures. It actually turns out that the average crime rate has fallen by 8% – which just happens to be the amount that burglary has fallen by. Criminal damage is down 11%, offence against vehicles is down 20%, robbery is down 9% and other theft offences have fallen by 5%. Fraud and forgery is down 13% and violence against the person is down 4%.

There has been a 7% increase in the theft of pedal cycles – but largely due to David Cameron having his stolen so many times. Theft from the person is up 7% (not matching some of the larger percentages predicted for general crime increase by the Mail and last – but certainly not least – sexual offences have increased 5%.

So I imagine that overall the figures are quite positive. It will be interesting to see how the Mail covers these figures. Will they focus on the negative figures, or try to claim that the ‘real’ or ‘true’ crime figures are much higher. I’d put money on them talking about the ‘real’ or ‘true’ crime rate being higher and that the Police are not recording the figures properly. Of course, if the figures had suited the Mail then they would repeat them without questioning them. Perhaps they might prove me wrong and report them accurately as a big of good news, maybe they’ll even include a brief mention of how they were sorry for scaring more vulnerable readers with their predictions of an impending crimewave.

What is clear is that although the BBC reported the figures this morning, the Daily Mail website (as far as I can see) has yet to report them. I imagine they would have managed to mention them by now if they did report a crimewave.

On the subject of crime it is disheartening to see today’s Mail frontpage dedicated to Munir Hussain’s release and a victory for ‘common sense’. So, according to the Daily Mail (the family values paper) participating in a brutal revenge attack on criminals whereby the criminal is beaten with weapons to an inch of their life is ‘common sense’. Certainly sadist punishment – such as the rack – is thought to be a perfectly acceptable to be meted out to criminals, just look at Mac’s ‘hilarious’ cartoon today.

How long before the vigilantes doling out horrific beatings will be in the same category as ‘law-abiding drivers’ being unfairly caught doing 90 on the M5?

A petition to the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee

The Petition

As you may have heard via Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads fame a small group of bloggers have submitted five suggestions to the Press Complaints Commission’s [PCC] Editors’ Code of Practice Committee for their annual review of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice. It has been submitted in the form of a petition – which you can sign here and add your own comment if you wish.

The five suggestions are as follows:

  • SUGGESTION ONE: Like-for-like placement of retractions, corrections and apologies in print and online (as standard).
  • SUGGESTION TWO: Original or redirected URLs for retractions, corrections & apologies online (as standard).
  • SUGGESTION THREE: The current Code contains no reference to headlines, and this loophole should be closed immediately.
  • SUGGESTION FOUR: Sources to be credited unless they do not wish to be credited or require anonymity/protection.
  • SUGGESTION FIVE: A longer and more interactive consultation period for open discussion of more fundamental issues.

For more information on this petition please read this post at Bloggerheads. The rest of this post will be concerned with a bit of background on the PCC and why it needs to change.

The Daily Mail Distortion of Terrance Gavan

I’ve just finished reading Nick Davies Flat Earth news and it is a brilliant book that ends with a chapter on the Daily Mail that I really wish every Daily Mail reader was forced to read. In it Davies describes the Daily Mail selecting stories based on what readers want to read, serving up any distortion that it knows will satisfy its readers: attacks on black people, gays, women, the loony-left, Muslims, asylum-seekers, immigrants, single parents and so on. Likewise, popular stories that did not fit into the narrow worldview of the Daily Mail reader were simply not run – no matter what their inherent news value may have been.

This week the Daily Mail have buried the story of Terrance Gavan – an ex-BNP member (according to the Daily Mail at least) and former soldier given 11 years for making and hoarding a substantial cache of weapons and explosives. Someone like Anjem Choudary for example is constantly attacked by the Daily Mail – pointing out that he is on benefits and digging into his past: ‘Swilling beer, smoking dope and leering at porn [all things that the average Mail reader despises], the other side of hate preacher ‘Andy’ Choudary’. A search for ‘Anjem Choudary’ on the Mail website brings up 80 articles attacking him because he is exactly the kind of target that Mail readers want to go after: he is a Muslim extremist, he is a supporter of terrorism and is clearly someone with a badly distorted view of the world.

However, the same accusations could easily be levelled at Terrance Gavan: according to The Times he told police he was a BNP member (whatever Mail readers may argue in the comments: this is an extreme political party), furthermore he had specifically joined the BNP because he had a ‘strong hostility towards immigrants in this country’ (the words of Judge Calvert-Smith) and had indicated that he had ‘planned to target an address he saw on a TV programme that he believed was linked to the July 7 bomb attacks in London (words of the Times). So here we have someone who was equally linked to extreme political views but someone who had actually manufactured the devices to enable him to carry out attacks, their is currently no evidence to suggest that Anjem Choudary – no matter how unpleasant his views may be – has ever actually tried to manufacture explosives or other weapons.

Yet the Mail reader gets 80 articles on Anjem Choudary and just 1 article on Terrance Gavan (this is the only result a search for ‘Terrance Gavan’ the Mail website yields). It is clear to see the news value of the average Daily Mail reader dictating the coverage that the Mail gives to these two individuals. Davies argues in Flat Earth News that this selective deliverance of news has not only made the Daily Mail the most popular, profitable and therefore powerful newspaper in the UK, it has also made it one of the most distorted in terms of the worldview that it projects.

The Daily Mail face of crime

The teenager who poured bleach over a woman in a revenge attack for being told to be quiet in the cinema has had their photo released to journalists. Here is the photo:


Here are some of the comments on the Daily Mail article:

Diversity is our strength. Isn’t it?

– George S, Crawley UK, 11/1/2010 15:52

he looks the type that will do it again–or worse-why dont we have decent law and order in this country–we pay plenty in taxes

– tony, scotland, 11/1/2010 15:36

Was this a racist crime, but not mentioned, I wonder why???

– alan, weybridge, 11/1/2010 15:17

looks like he has an IQ of about 3

– Peter Woods, Torre Chianca, 11/1/2010 15:01

Well, well, well. Surprise, surprise.

– Robert, London, 11/1/2010 14:34

No criticism, please, This is one of those for whom we have to be effusively grateful that he is in our country. Obviously the poor lad was engaging in a mere childish prank, and this – I’m happy to say – has been reflected in his sentence.
ps Hope some of you out there understand irony, or I’m sunk

– William, Devon, UK, 11/1/2010 14:11

If I say what I think I’ll be accused of being “racist” even though I’m NOT and I’ll just be telling it as it is.

– Steve, Elche Alicante, 11/1/2010 13:30

Immigration at its finest once again.

– Steve, Bangkok, 11/1/2010 13:26

This is ignoring the huge amount of comments wanting the ‘Birch’ brought back, the comments demanding ‘it’ be ‘put down’ and the numerous comments caring ‘not one jot about his upbringing’.

There are two main adverts on this page: T M Lewin (clothing) and Aviva (Insurance). I have contacted both of them with a link to this page to see whether they approve of their adverts being placed next to such racist comments.

I am not in anyway condoning the actions of this individual, but a person’s actions can never justify racism (which is judging the whole ethnic group by the behaviour of a minority). Nor am I naive enough to believe that the upbringing hasn’t had a significant bearing on this teenager’s behaviour. I appreciate the Mail and its readers will dismiss this view as loony-liberalism but in my experience working with young people on a daily basis (and through knowing a bit about Sociology and Psychology) people are a direct product of the environment in which they are raised in. This is why we see a large amount of crime on poverty ridden housing estates for example – something the Daily Mail would back up with its view of the working classes – for commenters to then turn around and say that childhood had no influence on this person’s behaviour seems hypocritical at best.

This is not offering an excuse for the teenager, it is merely to point out just because I may have been brought up to respect others and know right from wrong, I am not assuming everyone else has been as lucky as me – something Daily Mail readers don’t seem to consider.

The ‘semantics’ of climate change

A new year, same old Littlejohn. Littlejohn is now recycling his columns to such an extent that he is beyond parody. Today’s column (Mandelson to run the Jubilee? God save the Queen!) makes his normal crass, prejudiced stereotypes: Peter Mandelson is called ‘Mandy’ is drawn as camp as possible in the obligatory crap cartoon – because he is gay you see; wherever the Queen visits happen to run into brown-skinned people they are carrying out ‘ritual beheadings’, making shoe-bombs or have just returned from fighting in Yemen – because all brown people are terrorists you see… And so on, I’d have to copy and paste the whole column to get all of the prejudices from the column here – and they are so familiar I don’t see the need to.

As if this tour-de-farce wasn’t enough Richard Littlejohn tackles climate change – again – and makes the point that as it is cold outside climate change is therefore a conspiracy concocted to victimise honest taxpayers. This is par for the course (Littlejohn mentions saving the Polar Bears yet again in this column) but it is interesting to see that this time Littlejohn actually attempts to tackle the criticism he gets in his comments:

Ah, say the ‘experts’, there’s a difference between ‘weather’ and ‘climate’. They are forced to resort to semantics to sustain their insistence that the science is settled, even though they are all sitting there shivering like brass monkeys. They’d still cling to their belief in man-made warming if Hell froze over.

So there you have it: the only difference between ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ according to Littlejohn is semantic. I wish everything in life was as simple as Littlejohn makes out, but sadly things are a little more complex than that and the cold weather outside today says nothing about climate change or the climate in general. I guess this is why Littlejohn rarely engages in criticism of his points, because when he does he looks feeble-minded, rather than just ignorant.

He also finds time for a quick ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ gone mad story:

On Wednesday, in Stranraer, local residents decided to take advantage of a frozen pond in Agnew Park. They included former Scottish Ladies Curling champions, past presidents of the local ice rink and two serving police officers.

Needless to say, when word reached the Town Hall, an official was dispatched to tell them to stop immediately…

Until the boxes were ticked and warning notices erected, skating and curling was banned.

A quick Google search shows a Flickr photo stream of the people curling along with the following description:

Curling on a frozen pond at Agnew Park Stranraer. Interestingly the council came along and told them to stop until they had “risk assessed” the curling on the ice……the game continued

Bravo Richard, you’ve just been paid for another terrible column.

Flat Earth News

Well, thanks to some trouble with my old webhosts I have been offline for a while but as you can see, all has been restored and here we are again, trawling the Daily Mail and other newspapers to see what is happening in their worlds today. My better half very kindly bought me a copy of Flat Earth News by Nick Davies for Christmas and it is a fascinating read. One of the central arguments of the book is that newspapers are money-making machines that have cut staffing to a minimum and churn out news based on Associated Press stories, who in turn get their stories largely through PR sources. Because newspapers are poorly staffed and each reporter gets little time to fact check, reporters merely rewrite press releases (or copy them word for word under the byline Daily Mail Reporter for example) and we have what has been labelled ‘churnalism’.

The book makes a detailed and valid argument and I cannot help but be even more suspicious of newspaper stories now, and lo and behold first day that Angry Mob is back I see this story in the Mail (as well as every other local and national newspaper – churnalism is very powerful): ‘Breast milk is NOT better than baby formula, scientists claim‘. Obviously, the baby product industry is massive and parents are faced with a stupendous amount of artificial products that are supposed to enhance the health of their baby – so much so that you really wonder just how anyone managed to raise a child before the industrial revolution. I immediately Googled Professor Sven Carlsen to see what came up and found another blog doing the same:

I quickly goggled Professor Sven Carlsen’s name and found out that he had participated in a research funded by a pharmaceutical company called Glaxo Wellcome AS.

However, this may not be a direct link, but it made me to be suspicious of the veracity of the research.

OK, not exactly dynamite proof that the research is bogus, but interesting nonetheless and one can imagine the sort of impact such massive coverage of how good baby formula is will drive up sales of it. Another blog has looked at the way that the Mail article is written and concludes:

you find that Prof. Carlsen does not disagree with the evidence regarding the benefits of breastfeeding.

Even the Daily Mail admits:
“Prof Carlsen’s team reviewed data from more than 50 international studies looking at the relationship between breastfeeding and health. Most concluded that the more children were breastfed, the healthier they were. On the surface this was correct, said Prof Carlsen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.”

The hypothesis that Prof. Carlsen is proposing is that mothers reach for formula because they have excess male hormone…

Surely a more relevant headline would be: “Excess male hormone leads mother to bottle feed and harms babies claims scientist”…

Rather than rushing to comment, however, I believe this whole story needs to be approached with a great deal more caution than that demonstrated by the Daily Mail and some other journalists.

Of course, the whole point of Flat Earth News is that it isn’t considered, it is a rushed rehash of an Associated Press story based on a press release. The Daily Mail covers this story because it knows every other media outlet is – it is on safe ground and following the media consensus. Obviously the Daily Mail is perhaps changing the slant of its article to create more panic or controversy, but look at local media (who may be rehashing the Mail article) and they seem to be using the same angle (do a Google search for Professor Sven Carlsen to get almost identical coverage through hundreds of media outlets).

What is important to remember is that the media have not read this report in full, and are not going to. Neither have I, but I am not rushing to the conclusion that breast-feeding is not best and I am certainly not giving that conclusion to millions of readers.

What I am pointing out is that the journalist who rehashed this story is unlikely to have even the vaguest idea of the validity of this research (and is almost certainly not an expert in the science of breastfeeding vs formula), or whether the slant that has appeared on their desk to be rewritten bears any relation to the original research in the first place. The journalist does not have enough time to fact check or verify the story and they certainly do not have enough time to read the research to really see what it is arguing or proving. Churnalism just rewrites it for the target audience of the paper and puts the information out as quickly as possible – whether the information has any validity is irrelevant.

Of course, if this story does spark a follow up comment from relevant scientists who may see fit to point out the inaccuracies of the media coverage then it would never receive even a fraction of the coverage that the original churnalism did. This leads Google to be clogged up with the consensus media view of ‘truth’ rather than ‘truth’ itself.