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One or two points about that first Observer article, because that blame-the-bloggers not-pology is so annoying.

One, Stephen Pritchard wrote yesterday, truculently,

that concern should have been in the article, but because it was absent doesn’t mean that the paper was promoting the treatment, as some have suggested (“pimping” it, as one science writer so crudely tweeted).

No, the fact that the concern was absent doesn’t mean that the paper was promoting the treatment, but all the same, the paper (via the article) was to some extent promoting the treatment. Bainbridge called it “a pioneering treatment” when it’s a trial rather than a treatment, and “pioneering” makes it sound new and potentially promising as opposed to more than 30 years old and so far not a success. Bainbridge made it sound more promising than it is. How is that not promoting the treatment?

And the paper (via the article) was soliciting donations. At the end of the article it says “HOW YOU CAN HELP,” and gives a url at which you can donate.

So it wasn’t just a human-interest story. It was also a how-you-can-help story that solicited funds, with no hint that the ultimate recipient of the funds might not be reliable – so it really was like a story about the royal family of Nigeria needing help with a transfer of funds.


  1. roger says

    The article was written by someone desperate to raise money for what he thought was the only possible hope for a niece he loves. You can’t blame him for not raising questions.
    You can blame The Observer for publishing it without thinking.

  2. says

    Right. I don’t blame him. But an editor should have spotted those items. That’s part of their job – fact checking; confirming; noticing emotive words and attempting to look behind them.

    Maybe the word “pioneering” was all it took – maybe they assumed that meant “new and potentially hopeful” as opposed to “far from new and so far a dead end.” If so they screwed up and should just say so.

  3. John-Henry Beck says

    I like the analysis. Quacks need to be called out. And newspapers shouldn’t be off the hook for lousy reporting just because they want to throw out some warm fuzzy fluff to fill the paper without actually putting effort in to it.

  4. csrster says

    Also The Observer has form. They were still pushing the MMR scare long after the other “serious” newspapers had dropped it.

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