The answer to the rhetorical question is always likely to be ‘NO’

The Daily Mail headline: ‘Is wi-fi radiation killing off trees? Study blames computer signals for dying leaves‘.

The claims made at the start of the article:

As if our magnificent trees didn’t have enough problems, they’re now being threatened by our emails…

Now researchers say radiation from wi-fi networks that enable our burgeoning online communications may be their latest enemy.

Trees planted close to a wireless router had bleeding bark and dying leaves, according to the study in Holland.

The revelation will raise fears that wi-fi radiation may also be having an effect on the human body and supports parents who have campaigned to stop wireless routers being installed in schools.

So, not only does the research reckon that trees are dying because of Wi-Fi emissions, but the Daily Mail goes a good few steps further and suggests that the study adds weight to the paranoid Mail readers who believe that it also damages the body. The reporter – Niall Firth – really is taking bad science reporting to new lows when you skip to the end of the article for the nugget of truth:

The Wageningen University scientists behind the research, which has not yet been published, said that further studies were needed to confirm their findings.

The Dutch health agency issued a statement, stressing that ‘these are initial results and that they have not been confirmed in a repeat survey’.

It added: ‘There are no far-reaching conclusions from its results. Based on the information now available it cannot be concluded that the wi-fi radio signals leads to damage to trees or other plants.’

Other scientists have expressed scepticism. Marvin Ziskin, a professor of radiology and medical physics at Temple University in Philadelphia, said: ‘Stuff like this has been around a long time. There’s nothing new about wi-fi emissions. Scientifically there’s no evidence to support that these signals are a cause for concern.’

But Niall Firth – although he must have read this – still went ahead with the introduction of the article and the bit about how such research was likely to encourage fearful parents to worry more about Wi-Fi in schools. He does find time to mention the worried parents one last time:

In 2007, a BBC Panorama documentary found that radiation levels from wi-fi in one school was up to three times the level of mobile phone mast radiation.

Scary stuff… Then you read the ‘however’ that follows it:

However, the readings were 600 times below government safety limits.

So parents do not need to be worried then, even though the start of this article clearly tries to ramp up the fear.

As for that headline, well, as usual if the Mail is asking a rhetorical science question the answer is 99% likely to be ‘NO’.

Daily Mail Dosing

The repitition of writing about Daily Mail ‘journalism’ makes me realise that I so often start a post in exactly the same way. I always seem to start with the old cliche that just when you think they could not get any worse, they do. However, this is not done for effect, it is written because I genuinely despair at how the Daily Mail manages to sink lower almost every time I happen to visit their website. The story that has me shaking my head with frustration is this: ‘I-Dosing: How teenagers are getting ‘digitally high’ from music they download from internet‘.

This story – written by Daniel Bates* – is currently selected as one of the editor’s ‘six of the best’ and is trying to convince readers that teenagers are listening to music designed to replicate the effects of popular drugs.

Seriously. This is not a joke:

They put on their headphones, drape a hood over their head and drift off into the world of ‘digital highs’.

Videos posted on YouTube show a young girl freaking out and leaping up in fear, a teenager shaking violently and a young boy in extreme distress.

This is the world of ‘i-Dosing’, the new craze sweeping the internet in which teenagers used so-called ‘digital drugs’ to change their brains in the same way as real-life narcotics.

They believe the repetitive drone-like music will give them a ‘high’ that takes them out of reality, only legally available and downloadable on the Internet.

The craze has so far been popular among teenagers in the U.S. but given how easily available the videos are, it is just a matter of time before it catches on in Britain.

It always amuses when you read a story on the Daily Mail website that warns you that the Internet is evil and will give you cancer and allows your CHILDREN to download music that works JUST LIKE DRUGS, because the Daily Mail website is a drug. Thousands of people visit it every day to get their dose of outrage, to post angry comments over made-up stories about ‘elf n safety’ or the PC brigade or pathetic stories about the dangers of Facebook.

Some visitors (or ‘users’) – like myself do suffer violent shaking and extreme distress. Here I would like to start the next Internet craze to see whether the Daily Mail will report it: film yourself visiting the Daily Mail website and show your distress, violent shaking, vomiting and rage that is induced just by scrolling down the homepage and put it on Youtube. If enough of us did that then we’d soon forget about the I-dosing worries and start worrying about a real Internet menace.

Seriously, when I have some time I will be doing this video and encourage anyone with a camcorder and a sense of humour to do likewise. If anyone is good with make-up / theatrics then you can make your eyes bleed for the camera as you are filmed scrolling down the screen. It would be fantastic.

* I am trying to name and shame ‘journalists’ as much as possible.

The Media Scaremongering that Never Was

The Daily Mail has an article today about who was to blame for the Swine Flu scare: ‘The pandemic that never was: Drug firms ‘encouraged world health body to exaggerate swine flu threat”. In it they level the blame solely at the feet of the World Health Organisation and ‘profit-hungry drug companies spreading fear’ – using a report by Labour MP Paul Flynn, who investigated the scare for the Council of Europe. According to the Daily Mail:

The report accuses the World Health Organisation of grave shortcomings in the transparency of the process that led to its warning last year.

The MP said that the world relied on the WHO, but after ‘crying wolf’, its reputation was in jeopardy.

The Daily Mail makes it clear that drug companies made billions of pounds as governments stocked up on vaccines, as Paul Flynn notes:

‘There is not much doubt that this was an exaggeration on stilts. They vastly over-stated the danger on bad science and the national governments were in a position where they had to take action.

But how did drug companies succeed in communicating ‘bad science’ and the vast over-statement of the danger of Swine Flu? Seems to me the corporate media played a substantial role, and none more so than the Daily Mail:

People have already pointed out how the Daily Mail wrote an awful lot of articles blaming the ‘state scare machine’ for creating the Swine Flu panic, so pointing out the hypocrisy here is hardly news. However, it is always interesting when the media pick up a report and cherry pick information from it. The full report in this case can be found here [PDF] and includes the following references to the role the media played in communicating the corporate scaremongering:

[in future we need to collaborate] with the media in order to avoid sensationalism and scaremongering in the public health domain [p2]

[the author was worried] by the way in which some of the sensitive issues were communicated by public authorities and subsequently picked up by the European media, reinforcing fears amongst the population which sometimes made objective analysis difficult. [p5]

In future situations posing a serious risk to public health, decision-makers should bear in mind that the precautionary principle can contribute to a general feeling of anxiety and unease in the population and can fuel the media in what becomes a cycle of fear mongering. [p9]

A review is also necessary of the media’s role in fuelling fear and how WHO and how national authorities should handle communications in the future, in particular when applying the precautionary principle. [p12]

WHO [World Health Organisation] itself continues to assert that it has consistently evaluated the impact of the current influenza pandemic as moderate, reminding the medical community, public and media that the overwhelming majority of patients experience mild influenza-like illness and recover fully within a week, even without any form of medical treatment. [p12]

the main concerns regarding the current H1N1 influenza include the proportionality of the response given to the public health threat of H1N1, the transparency of relevant decision-making processes, including the possibility of undue influence by the pharmaceutical industry, and the way in which the pandemic, and the use of the precautionary principle, was communicated to member states’ governments and to the European public at large, also by the media. [p17]

Finally, the rapporteur is very concerned about the way in which the information on the pandemic was communicated by WHO and national authorities to the public, the role of the media in this, and the fears that this generated amongst the public. The rapporteur recommends that a thorough review should be undertaken to ensure that coherent and sensitive communication strategies are prepared and followed in the future by all public health authorities whenever the next major situation arises which poses a serious threat to public health. [p17]

The Daily Mail, of course, fails to make any reference to any of these points, because the media is never self-critical. It always finds someone else to blame – it was the WHO, the drug corporations or governments that created the fear, not the media. If the media admits any culpability at all it tends to use the excuse that they were only ‘passing the information on’, which is just not an excuse.

The Daily Mail has every interest in scaremongering and creating panic because it sells a lot of papers by doing so – and, as we constantly see, if the truth of the matter is less dramatic, scary or shocking, then the truth is simply ignored and the scary version printed. Just the same as when the Daily Mail flicks through a report like this, they ignore the parts they do not want in the public domain and print whatever fits their agenda. Media bias is only partly about what is actually printed, but largely about the huge amount of information that is left out, purposefully buried to maintain media narratives.