The idea for this blog came to me when I was reading an article about the Daily Mail being completely useless (a regular read I know). Basically the have managed to set a new record for the most inaccurate interpretations of research findings. There is a whole scale system, its pretty awesome actually, but that is a completely different tangent that I shall not be exploring at the point, which makes me conclude that the media should not be allowed to interpret research findings, and I’m gonna tell you why…
The article* clearly highlights the dangers of misinterpretation of data, exploring the real research behind daily mail headlines such as ‘Just one can of diet fizzy drink can increase risk of heart attack or stroke. Articles such as this can create mass panic over many people’s current habits, when actually the research conducted shows that drinking excessive amounts of fizzy drink can lead to increase risk of heart attack. Showing here that the media are capable of putting the worldwide panic by presenting false conclusions to the world.
Well you may be thinking okay, but to be fair people should probably be careful about fizzy drink consumption anyway, it can’t be that much of a big deal, and you may be right and this is the daily mail, nearly everyone realises that they have a tendency to exaggerate, right? However, this isn’t the only issue of media misinterpretation.
In 2006 Wright, Bradley, Sheldon and Lilford** looked into an episode for BBC’s Panaroma, where they programme tarnished various surgeons reputations by making allegations of neglect. All of the information that started this from a report that looked at the patients of 138 various Yorkshire surgeons, finding that one particular surgeon had a post-surgery life expectancy 5 years shorter than average. However, after the programme was aired further analysis of the report was done, it found that the 5 years was not significantly different from the other surgeons, and therefore was due to chance. This example clearly shows the media should not be allowed to interpret findings, because they have managed to ruin one mans career, because they didn’t look closely enough at the report they based a television programme on.
Looking at the evidence, a clear case for not letting media interpret research findings is beginning to form. However, in the western world there will always be an issue over freedom of speech. There have been varying debate over the years to what extend people/the media are allowed freedom of speech. In fact a Danish newspaper provoked this exact argument in 2006*** when it printed a controversial cartoon. The conclusion of this argument was that free speech should be allowed, but in the nature of offensive material caution should be taken and people should engage in self-censorship. So if the media have been given the freedom of speech over something as controversial as an insulting cartoon, then surely just passing on the findings of a research paper must be allowed, even if those ideas are incorrect.
So; to conclude, I feel that there are many errors presented in the media that should be avoided, but according to the western ideal of free speech then there is nothing that can be done to change this.