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The Forum > Article Comments > BMJ punks journalists for a Christmas laugh > Comments

BMJ punks journalists for a Christmas laugh : Comments

By Michael Slezak, published 5/1/2010

Christmas cheer is all well and good, but itís not clear that journals should mislead journalists and the public in its name.

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Of course they should! Pull the p*ss out of the news media until it hurts. Recent times are littered with clever hoaxes that are published under Shock! Horror! Outrage! headlines as truth by news outlets that have lost the concept of the public good.

In the rush to sell advertising space tabloid horse poo is dished up as our staple news.

Let em wallow in it and keep dishing up stuff that makes them look foolish. You can bet no reputable journalist would have touched the Santa story without either checking or at least running a story that was openly skeptical.
Posted by Baxter Sin, Tuesday, 5 January 2010 3:11:53 PM
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" ... journalists should not be expected to research the material presented in peer-reviewed journals. Journalists ought to trust the journals - doing otherwise is, in general, to overstep their role. The information presented in peer-reviewed journals makes up the body of scientific knowledge and journalists are within their rights to assume that those journals are a trustworthy (but fallible) source of information."

Well, it will all seem funnier by April 1, when Santa is back somewhere near the North Pole.

Not so with the casualty figures for Iraq. I refer you to www.iraqmortality.org, a site that notes the 2006 controversy about the impact of the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq. BMJ, as it happens, kept an arms-length from that dialogue. see:
http://tinyurl.com/bmj-report-of-Lancet-article

for a link to BMJ 2006;333:821 (21 October), doi:10.1136/bmj.333.7573.821-a

That 2006 article, by Owen Dyer of London, states

"More than half a million Iraqi people, about one in 40 of the country's population, have died from violent causes since the March 2003 invasion, a study in the Lancet says."

GWB made a characteristic pronunciamento shortly after the Lancet article's publication and mainstream press coverage.

The ensuing debate grew increasingly acrimonious, tortuous and politicised.
See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancet_surveys_of_Iraq_War_casualties
for more than you will ever need to know about scientific nit-picking (at times with a blunt ax).

At least a lot of children in Iraq have been spared the antics of that drunken old slob, chasing midnight around the globe, barnstorming whimsically from one rooftop to the next like Mr Toad on steroids, gutzing himself on over 650,000 plates of cookies and glasses of cows milk, then heading off to Dubai to outrage the Imams by putting Christmas presents under every Christmas tree in the glitzy district of that affluent middle-east haven.

Thank heaven Santa is not political!
Posted by Sir Vivor, Tuesday, 5 January 2010 3:11:59 PM
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Journalists are supposed to *always* check on stories, rather than just cut and paste press releases. The extent to which they do not is shameful. The open season this represents is irresistable for political and commercial interests, yet it only gets criticised when someone with nothing to gain just takes the piss.

Notice that the much-maligned ABC's "media Watch" is about the only show to routinely question journalism by press-release, as exemplified in the "unbiased" commercial media.

Rusty.
Posted by Rusty Catheter, Tuesday, 5 January 2010 5:31:45 PM
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Hi agree with the other posters, it is the journalists responsibility to check their sources. If references were given, then they could easily be checked within 5 minutes. I think this may qualify as a study showing the low quality of many journalists. Perhaps we should redefine what a 'journalist' actually is, somebody who actually contributes to the information available, leaving the other recyclers of the news with a less respected (and paid) position of 'news communicator' or something similar.
Posted by Stezza, Tuesday, 5 January 2010 5:50:31 PM
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I think the BMJ has stepped over the mark on this one. As you say, there is a level of assumed trust in 'reputable' journals like the BMJ. It's one thing to do the odd silly season story at Christmas, but to quote fictional studies, even in jest, is not a good thing for a journal that is supposedly committed to scientific rigour and opposed to dodgy research. This sort of thing might seem like a joke, but it undermines the credibility of journals when they want to make a serious point. It is bad in two ways because it makes the BMJ look like it is supporting the "political correctness gone too far" trend, and then admits it made it all up.
It's time the medical journals scaled back these silly Christmas/New Year stories.
Posted by mutikonka, Tuesday, 5 January 2010 6:32:07 PM
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I absolutely agree with the above comments: journalists should check their facts and rewriting press releases is bad. In fact, I spend a lot of my time pointing out how bad journalism can be when journalists do so in my blog and in various publications.

But it is not (in most cases) the role of journalists to question information presented in peer reviewed journals. There is an expectation that that information has gone through the appropriate process and is thus trustworthy, even if fallible.

Admittedly, any journalist with the slightest sense of humour that read the actual article would have realised it was a joke, but there is no guarantee that they would have. And it is going beyond their station to question the information by checking the references etc.

To make the point, imagine journalists your average reporter questioning the methods of studies published in Nature or Science. While that might be within the skill set of some journalists, it is not their job and should not be expected of them. By expecting journalists to check the references of research reported in BMJ, you are expecting them to overstep the role and their abilities.
Posted by Michael Slezak, Tuesday, 5 January 2010 6:43:44 PM
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