SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – August 2000

How to feed the world. George Monbiot (Biotech has bamboozled us all, August 24) is correct on one point – feeding the world's population will require political and social change in addition to technology. However, his statement that "organic farming is the key to feeding the world" is selective with the facts. Guardian (letters).

Arctic meltdown turns out to be normal summer.The worst fears of the world's environmentalists have proven to be unfounded after North Pole conditions, mistaken as conclusive evidence of global warming, turned out to be part of a normal Arctic summer. Independent.

Food safety chief plays down study on 'hidden' BSE. The head of the Food Standards Agency says there is no need to introduce further BSE controls despite warnings that the disease may jump more easily than previously believed from one species to another. Independent.

Paediatrician mistaken for paedophile. A paediatrician at a south Wales hospital has been forced out of her home by vandals who confused her job title with the word "paedophile". BBC.

Chocolate helps stop tooth decay. Japanese researchers have good news for chocoholics. Not only can a bar of the stuff damp down cholesterol levels and raise the spirits, it can also help prevent tooth decay. Guardian.

A case of over-reaction. Around a third of us believe we have a food allergy. Are we just a nation of hypochondriacs? Independent.

Health risk warning 'did more harm than good'. Newer low-dose contraceptive pills, about which the Government issued a health warning, do not carry a greater risk of potentially fatal blood clots after all, writes Rachel Ellis in the Express.
[See original research article in BMJ]

Out of the ashes. Even if Concorde could be patched up, would anyone really want to fly on it? Well, yes actually – if the history of technology and disasters is anything to go by. Guardian.

A panel of scientists firmly rejected the conclusions of a small study purporting to show that the manufacturers of caffeine-containing sodas were manipulating their customers into addictiveness in a manner similar to the tobacco companies' manipulation of nicotine in cigarettes. ACSH.

Health stores may mislead cancer patients. Cancer patients who turn to natural remedies may get steered in the wrong, and potentially harmful, direction if they seek advice from health food stores about supplements. Health Scout.

Anger at paper's abortion claim. Breast cancer link completely inaccurate, protest doctors. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is considering making a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission over a Mail on Sunday story which claims the college believes that having an abortion can increase a woman's chances of developing breast cancer. The college is incensed by the front page story, which it describes as "very inaccurate" and "the worst kind of journalism". Guardian.

A recipe for disaster. While nobody knows the origin of autism, many researchers worry that linking it to childhood vaccines could be a very dangerous theory. Salon.

Expert lashes poor's new enemy. Western anti-biotechnology activists represent a "new imperialism" that would condemn developing nations to permanent poverty and despair, a leading authority on Third World agriculture said in Melbourne. Sunday Herald Sun.

Seeds of hope. "The debate about genetically modified crops has stagnated over the past few years. We are no closer to resolving issues such as environmental damage, food safety, globalisation and the rights or wrongs of tampering with nature. Wild assertion and distortion of the facts have all too often taken precedence over thoughtful discussion … calls for a worldwide moratorium seem to me to have no moral or practical credibility. We need to explore thoroughly the implications of GM technologies, rather than close the door on them." John Krebs in New Scientist.

Likings for food 'are learnt in the womb'. Lifelong culinary tastes begin in the womb with food flavours transmitted by mother to their unborn children, an American study has shown. The scientists who did the research, at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, said that being exposed to flavours during the last few weeks in the womb or the first few months after birth could explain why food was such a strong cultural determinant. Independent.

UK measles outbreak feared after Dublin deaths. An outbreak of measles in Dublin that has claimed the lives of two children and put more than 100 people in hospital is raising fears the disease could spread to Britain. Low immunisation rates in the Irish capital have allowed measles to take hold in the worst outbreak for seven years. More than 1,220 cases have been recorded and the measles is spreading. Independent.

Trial by media mob. Just as the mobs of medieval villages meted out rough justice to social deviants, many of them perfectly innocent, so the contemporary media mob adopts a form of lynch law in the global village. Paedophilia becomes the modern equivalent of witchcraft, a subject on which it becomes legitimate to abandon all rational thought, all respect for legal process, all human empathy, all belief in redemption, all sense of proportion. New Statesman.

Noodles are still top of the pots after 21 years. It is despised by chefs but has fed a generation of students. And now the Pot Noodle's cult culinary status has been recognised – 21 years after it was introduced to larders across the country. Express.

The clues are all in the headline. The headline will tell you whether there is a story or not. The clearest clue is the presence of the word 'may'. Any headline using the word 'may' can safely be avoided. Miles Kington in the Independent.

Let's Get Real About Risk. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will die this year, deaths that can be prevented. Millions will get sick with preventable illnesses. Billions of dollars and countless hours of human effort will be wasted unnecessarily – all because we are afraid of the wrong things … Some conservatives have given "rational risk policy" and regulatory reform a bad name … Equally inflexible consumer groups and environmentalists resist rationality because the more fearful something sounds, the more it helps them advance their agenda. But injecting rationality into the process is nothing more than good sense, in everyone's interest. It's time to create a vehicle to produce credible, reliable science to help develop policymaking that looks beyond our fears to what will do the most good. Washington Post.

Take a chance. It is a strange paradox that in industrialised countries we live longer and healthier lives than ever before, yet we feel less safe. We shudder at the slightest risk to our well-being. Newspapers regularly run scare stories about new technologies or unsafe food, confident that they will whip up public concern. It seems that nothing short of a life completely free of risk will satisfy us. New Scientist.

Quick-fix diets can wreck your marriage. Women who go on diets risk wrecking their marriages, it was claimed yesterday. Researchers have found that women who try to shed a few pounds are unwittingly damaging their closest relationships, because their husbands find it difficult to understand and cannot accept the sudden change in lifestyle. Independent.

"There is a sense in which all our ailments and particularly our modern chronic disorders are reflections of design limitations, delayed trade offs, and nature-nurture mismatches. They are part of the natural scheme of things even if we would like to believe that we have been sculptured to perfection." Mel Greaves – Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy.

Apple a day may be a bit of a fight. Some children will find that when they return to school this autumn the snacks are rather different as the Government launches a scheme to study whether their eating habits can be changed with fruit. If, as some suspect, the apples are used only as playground ammunition, the plan to provide daily fruit for all children in state nurseries, and four, five and six-year-olds at primary schools by 2004, may well be modified. .

 Hershey's ordered to pay obese Americans $135 billion … "Let this verdict send a clear message to Big Chocolate," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Andrew Garsten, addressing reporters following the historic ruling. "If you knowingly sell products that cause obesity, you will pay" … The company was also charged with artificially "spiking" their products with such substances as peanuts, crisped rice, and caramel to increase consumer appeal. The Onion.

Getting sheepish on cloning. "As soon as the concept of cloning human embryos was given the green light, the religious right started foaming at the mouth … [but] the biologists making these breakthroughs are only motivated by a desire to save human lives … People who find the whole idea of cloning human embryos distasteful would probably prefer to put Alzheimer's and cancer to the back of their minds as well. This is a huge leap forward and the churches' reaction was depressing in its predictability. Now I understand why they were always against the cloning of Dolly. We don't need any more sheep when we already have everyone on the religious right bleating the same old objections." John O'Farrell in the Guardian.

Dieting may harm girls' IQs. A British study has found that one in four schoolgirls studied are damaging their IQs by dieting and depriving themselves of iron. "We were surprised that a very small drop in iron levels caused a fall in IQ," explained Dr. Michael Nelson, study author and senior lecturer in nutrition at King's College, London. Reuters.

Most food allergies are imagined, says agency. Food allergy is becoming more common but most of those who believe they are affected are misled, says a report published by the Government Food Standards Agency. Independent.

More evidence that drinking is good for you. Middle-aged men, who are constantly being told to eat better, drink less and exercise more, got a piece of heartening news – the occasional alcoholic drink can keep them sharp in old age. The report, published in the American Journal of Public Health, said men who had up to one alcoholic drink a day while middle aged did better on mental tests after they turned 70 than men who drank more or who did not drink at all. Reuters.