SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – June 2002

For President Bush, fat is a federalist issue. It turns out that President George Bush is prepared to confront at least one big issue. Last week, he delayed making a speech about his vision for the Middle East and failed to respond to suggestions that the right of habeas corpus had effectively been suspended. Instead, he launched a War on Obesity. Independent.

'Fields of Gold': Science fiction. The Science Media Centre was accused of ugly tactics by 'The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger when it criticised his anti-GM TV drama, 'Fields of Gold'. The centre's director, Fiona Fox, was not impressed. "It's a fairly safe bet that if the authors of Fields of Gold, the drama about GM crops screened on BBC 1, are asked to produce a sequel to their "conspiracy thriller", they will write in a new role for a sinister, biotech-funded media centre. The real-life Science Media Centre (SMC) found itself cast in its own conspiracy by the drama's authors - Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, and his co-author and Guardian colleague Ronan Bennett - after a row about the plausibility of the science in the anti-GM storyline. In a series of newspaper articles and television interviews, the writers described the new SMC as a "lobby group" for big biotech companies, and accused the centre of orchestrating an ugly, secret campaign to discredit the programme and "dump on" The Guardian and the BBC. The truth about the SMC and its role in this story is less sinister." Independent.

No evidence of link between MMR and autism, doctors find. An analysis of 2,000 research studies concluded yesterday that there is no evidence that the triple MMR jab or the single measles vaccine is linked to autism in children or inflammatory bowel disease. Doctors who carried out the most extensive review of all the scientific literature to date said they could reassure parents about the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Independent
Full text available from Clinical Evidence

Health hoaxes online. The internet is being used to spread hoax health scares around the world, according to an investigation by Health Which? It found examples on web sites or sent by e-mail. Anti-perspirants were the subject of one particular internet scare quoted in the magazine, when messages were circulated warning people the sprays trap toxins in the lymph nodes and cause breast cancer. Scotsman.

"For a real GM plot, look no further than the greens. Fields of Gold, the BBC drama on Saturday and Sunday night about genetically modified crops, was an accurate portrayal of one thing: what goes on inside the skulls of Guardian-BBC types … As drama, the piece was merely pathetic; the dialogue was better in the latest Star Wars film … As propaganda, the programme played so casually with truth that even Stephen Byers would have blanched. And make no mistake: propaganda is what it was. In the final scenes, the actors gave up any pretence of staying in character; they just mouthed the slogans of the green and anti-capitalist movements like platform speakers at a rally." Matt Ridley in the Telegraph.

Scientists infuriated by influence of protesters. Britain is in danger of being left behind in the race to develop new medical treatments because of the influence of protesters against genetic modification, the UK's leading scientific body said yesterday. Pressure groups are drowning out the debate over the future direction of GM research by exaggerating the suffering to animals and minimising the benefits to society, the Royal Society said. Independent.

The power of the press in smokers' attempts to quit. The print and television media heralded bupropion as a wonder drug when it was released in 2000. Not surprisingly, after the announcement of reimbursement for bupropion by the NHS, smokers queued up in waiting rooms, expecting their tobacco addiction to vanish with this new pill. The public enthusiasm changed abruptly in February 2001, when a London newspaper reporter published a series of articles that profiled a few dramatic reports of deaths in smokers using bupropion.5 Other newspapers and BBC's Healthcheck programme picked up the stories, and soon all of Europe heard about these deaths. Predictably, the number of people receiving prescriptions for bupropion declined from 29% to 21.5% from April to September 2001 … The report from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence sends a clear message about the efficacy and safety of nicotine replacement and bupropion in treating tobacco dependence … Clinicians should give clear messages to their patients that it is much safer to use either of these drugs to help their attempts to quit than to continue smoking. Unfortunately, much damage has been done. BMJ.

Research claims 'exaggerated'. Medical journals have been accused of hyping up the findings of the research that they publish. Journalists too have been criticised for writing stories based on preliminary findings that often do not stand up to further scrutiny. BBC.

Scientists dismiss farming's organic revolution. Professor Michael Wilson, chief executive of the government-backed Horticultural Research Unit, said: 'The view of molecular scientists and biochemists is that the pro-organic lobby support their message with scare stories designed to scare the public and promote their products. 'To senior academic colleagues, that is crossing the line into unethical behaviour. If you stick to the science, organic farms produce lower yields and more pests and there is no evidence to substantiate their claims.' Observer.

Why children can be too clean for their own good. Obsessive cleanliness in the home can increase the risk of asthma and eczema in young children, a study has found. The findings lend support to the fashionable "hygiene hypothesis", which holds that parents who provide a sterile environment spare their children the challenges that their immune system needs to develop properly. More dirt is required. Times

Prepare for the big chill. A new ice age is due now, says Andrew Kenny, but you won’t hear it from the Greens, who like to play on Western guilt about consumerism to make us believe in global warming . Spectator.

Wrong thoughts about right food. Dr. Steven Bratman has seen the quest for healthy eating take a sour turn from dietary vigilance to dangerous obsession. Bratman's own extremes in dietary purity peaked in the 1970s when he was living on an organic farm in New York. He disdained to eat any vegetable that had been plucked from the ground more than 15 minutes earlier, and chewed each mouthful at least 50 times. He lectured friends on the evils of processed food and once feared a piece of pasteurized cheese would give him pneumonia. "To be that obsessed with eating healthy food is to be really out of balance," he said in an interview from his home in Fort Collins. CNN.

Children 'unhappy with their bodies'. Children as young as seven believe they are too fat, and researchers warn they are at risk of developing eating disorders. A study found almost half of girls and a third of boys aged between seven and 12 wanted to be thinner. It is believed they are influenced by images in the media of very thin celebrities such as Gerry Halliwell and Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart. BBC.

 Put alternative medicine back in its box. The failings of contemporary medical practice are best confronted from the rational basis of scientific medicine, not by a retreat into the mystical traditions of alternative health…The elevation of intuition and instinct over reason, and the revival of ancient forms of mysticism, do indeed indicate a profound existential crisis in contemporary society. At a moment when there is little optimism about the prospects for social progress, even the past achievements of humanity are put in question…In the twentieth century, upper-class reactionaries and their followers provided the natural base for conservationist and environmentalist causes. They also patronised mystical cults such as theosophy and alternative healing systems such as homeopathy. One of the curiosities of the past 30 years is that many of these views have been taken up by middle-class activists, often disillusioned radicals, who have played a key role in giving them the mainstream popularity they have recently come to enjoy. Michael Fitzpatrick, Spiked!