Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Science reporting can be highly problematic, since science journalists often do not have even basic knowledge of their area. As Dr Ben Goldacre highlights in his book Bad Science, this level of ignorance leads journalists to simply rewrite press releases from universities and research institutes. Emma Innes of the Daily Mail has written an article on research into e-cigarettes, which are vaporisers – usually delivering nicotine to their users. A derived article has appeared in the New Zealand Herald. Present research by Dr Burstyn suggests that e-cigarettes are much safer than cigarettes, but since e-cigarettes have been recently released, long-term impacts of use are currently unknown. The article states:
They are marketed as being healthier than conventional cigarettes, but new research suggests people who smoke electronic cigarettes could still be inhaling a host of dangerous chemicals. People who smoke e-cigarettes may inhale higher concentrations of nicotine and of other toxins, say U.S researchers. Nicotine is both addictive and, in large quantities, toxic – and some of the other chemicals found in e-cigarettes are believed to be carcinogenic. Researchers at New York University found that due to the ‘frequency of puffing’ and ‘depth of inhalation’ e-cigarette smokers absorb higher levels of harmful chemicals than those who smoke traditional cigarettes.
Despite the supreme imprecision of these claims, a reader may conclude from these four paragraphs, and the loud headline, that this research had actually been conducted. This is simply not true. New York University researchers have announced in a press release that such research will take place in the future, believing that vapers might be harmed more than cigarette smokers, due to differing patterns of use. Elise Bloom’s statement says:
Since the initial interaction of nicotine from e-cigs with the human body occurs first in the oral cavity, Saxena and Li will collect saliva and oral mucosa from College of Dentistry patients who are e-cig users to determine the relative abundance of oral bacteria and changes in DNA in these patients in order to compare them with the effects found among conventional cigarette smokers.
Poor journalism on matters of science will be normal when most of these journalists are not themselves trained in science. However, this is a new gutter, gurgling and gaggling beneath the old one. It should be possible for journalists, regardless of their scientific training, to differentiate between the published results of completed research and the announced proposal of prospective research.
Dick Puddlecote: Daily Mail reports results of a study which hasn’t started yet
Christopher Snowdon (Velvet Glove, Iron Fist): The Daily Mail: beneath the gutter press