Ben Goldacre on the Daily Mail

“You will be familiar with the Daily Mail’s ongoing project to divide all the inanimate objects in the world into the ones that either cause or prevent cancer.”

- Ben Goldacre, writing in the Guardian

This week’s Bad Science column points to a particularly crass example of a science story which builds a headline and main body on a false pretence, leaving to nearly the very last paragraph (number 19 in this case) the “get out of jail free” card indicating that the entire premise of the story is flawed. The story in question purports to claim that a new paper has linked a bizarre diet to a 40% decrease in cancer – and leaves to the end a specialist to point out that that’s not what the paper says at all. So the Mail can have its cake (a sensational headline) and eat it, too (falling back on the disclaimer near the end).

So far so unsurprising. What’s interesting about Goldacre’s article is its précis of research studies, some using cunning eye-tracking software, suggesting that most readers of newspapers are unlikely to make it to paragraph 19 of any story. So putting the truth in a punchline at the end is not a good way to disseminate accurate facts to your readers.