How Joanna Blythman got it wrong, part 1

In the aftermath of the sacking of Professor David Nutt by Alan Johnson, the journalist Joanna Blythman wrote a comment piece for the Sunday Herald attacking Nutt and the scientific community who had rallied to his support. The Blythman article is in my view such a sprawling collection of inaccuracy, dogma, scientific illiteracy and frankly ad hominem abuse that it perfectly exempifies many of the huge problems inherent in science journalism today. This sort of problem is discussed regularly by, among others, Ben Goldacre at Bad Science. Blythman’s article has prompted me to start this blog, partly as a case study and partly out of disgust that such tendentious nonsense could be published by an apparently serious newspaper.

My aim with this blog is to place posts here exploring aspects of the Blythman editorial to highlight the errors it contains. Obviously this means that the blog will be fairly short-lived. On the other hand some other anti-scientific claptrap may well have come along by then and I may want to rant about that. We’ll see.

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5 Responses to “How Joanna Blythman got it wrong, part 1”

  1. How Joanna Blythman got it wrong, part 3 « Quant suff Says:

    […] Joanna Blythman got it wrong, part 3 By quantsuff As before, throw six to start if you want to know what I think I’m doing […]

  2. Ghizlane Says:

    Hi Quantsuff!

    First things first (sorry it comes a little late), I think this is a great initiative just as I thought when I first found out about Ben Goldacre Website.

    If I shall compare treating the issues of science journalism to a human body (just a metaphor), then this is how I see it:

    The doctor have to treat the symptoms but must find the source of the problem as well; these two ways of dealing with the problem are not to be looked at in a hierarchic way such as: the symptoms are not of the same importance as the source itself. Indeed, if the doctor doesn’t treat the symptoms he may end up loosing the patient (an uncontrolled fever could lead to death for instance); if the doctor doesn’t find the source, the patient may end up dead as well, even if he continuous treating the symptoms as they appear.

    So one of the great things about Ben’s Site is that he is working on both sides of the problem; though it may seem that the symptoms, so far, are taking most of the space in there. Ben is addressing each emerging question related to Bad Science as it appears, but is also trying to build a theory about it. I think you get my point.

    For a reason or the other (and maybe you have already noticed), you are going to realize that most of my posts focusing on the second way of dealing with this matter; maybe it’s because the way my brain functions; I am just more dragged to see the whole structure and try to figure out the logic behind apparent things and problems. You can easily see that if you go through all my posts so far: here and in Ben’s blog.

    So if it’s Ok with you, I will continue posting: most of the time comments regarding the logic of the problems you may propose. Please don’t take it as negligence or dismissal to details you may give in each part.

    • quantsuff Says:

      Hi Ghizlane,
      Thank you very much for you comments. I will work on how I can address both aspects as you outline them.

      My site/rant/diatribe will probably be a short-lived affair, and really isn’t to be thought of as anything approaching Ben’s opus. But obviously I should aspire to the same integrity.

      So if it’s Ok with you, I will continue posting: most of the time comments regarding the logic of the problems you may propose.

      Oh please!

  3. Dan Says:

    Her rant about folic acid demonstrates to me she had not even taken the couple of minutes it took me to find the results of the study highlighting a possible link with childhood asthma. Their results indicate a link, but with folic acid supplementation in late pregnancy, and the authors re-iterate its value in early pregnancy to reduce the risk of spinal bifida. Sadly I think the majority who read her drivel will also not bother to find the research results.

    • quantsuff Says:

      Hi Dan,
      This is absolutely true. It is my plan to look at the very poor interpretation of the folic acid study in a future post. As you pint out, nobody who had read the whole study — or even just the whole press report — could justifiably have deployed it in the way she has done.

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