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What a difference a day makes

February 20, 2011

Tweeter @willshome (via @bengoldacre) brought this remarkable ‘to eat or not to eat’ conundrum to my attention today:

The headline above is from Saturday 19th February 2011.  Compare and contrast with the following headline, from Sunday 20th February 2011:

What should people do?  The 19th February article opens with;

After years of worrying that tucking into red meat could lead to a heart attack or cancer, you can relax and enjoy the Sunday roast, say researchers.

Further on, it continues;

The review says there is ‘no conclusive link’ between cardiovascular disease and red meat, which actually contains some fatty acids that may protect the heart.

At current levels of average consumption, there also is no evidence of a link to cancer, it says.

Down in paragraph 20, Professor Martin Wiseman, the medical and scientific adviser for the World Cancer Research Fund, is quoted.  He says the review in question is being promoted by the meat industry, that ” there is convincing evidence that red and processed meat increase risk of bowel cancer,” and that it is wrong to suggest “that there is “no evidence” that a moderate intake of lean red meat has any negative health effects.” He says;

‘Essentially, the public has a choice between believing our findings – which are those of an independent panel of scientists after a systematic and transparent review of the complete global evidence – or the conclusions of this review.’

The final sentence of this report says, “The review was published in the Nutritional Bulletin, the journal of the British Nutrition Foundation, a charity with funding from various sources including the food industry.” It’s possible, then, that the published review may contain some bias in favour of the food industry, although without looking into funding sources more deeply, it’s not certain.

The 20th February article’s opener is;

Britons should cut their consumption of red and processed meat to reduce the risk of bowel cancer, scientific experts are expected to recommend in a report.

Essentially, this article is a shorter version of the 19th February one, only in reverse.  In the last few paragraphs, the review published by the British Nutrition Foundation is mentioned, only this time without the caveat about funding.

It follows a review by the British Nutrition Foundation last week which suggested demolished the ‘myths and misconceptions’ about the meat, saying that most people eat healthy amounts which are not linked to greater risk of disease.

One commenter, says, “I don’t eat any flesh but DM you did said [sic] that meat posed no health risks yesterday!”

Of course, the Mail on Sunday has a different editor to it’s daily sister paper, with these being, respectively, Peter Wright and Paul Dacre. As spotted by Minority Thought last week, this can lead to differences in reporting the same issue which can seem opposed, confused or conflicted to regular readers.  In the case of science journalism, such conflicts are probably undermining sound, scientific advice, and are undoubtedly confusing to readers.

The Science Online 2011 meeting held in January provoked some debate on how best to improve science journalism (as can be seen here, here and here).  Looking at the headlines published a day apart in the Mail and Mail on Sunday, it’s certainly a debate worth having.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. jon permalink
    February 20, 2011 5:23 pm

    Great post, great analytical point at the end. If the DM and MoS are differing so widely on these subjects, then one of them must be screwing up (or both…).

  2. February 21, 2011 12:26 am

    This is a perfect example of the Mail’s Jekyll and Hyde personality.

  3. February 22, 2011 11:09 pm

    I concur with the Mail’s fine analysis as I like chicken for Sunday roast.

    Some people don’t have Yorkshire puddings with chicken, not me though I think they work just as well with white and red meat. You’re just denying yourself a treat by not having them.

  4. Paul United Kingdom permalink
    February 24, 2011 6:35 pm

    You would think the last thing the “Mail” would use in a headline would be “Hurrah!”

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