What Would Richard Dawkins think? Channel 4 continue to embarass themselves with their dodgy autism statistics

Apologies for the slight lull in your usual Patrick Holford coverage – we’re waiting to see what emerges from Teesside’s unfortunate decision to offer him a Visiting Professor post – but I thought an update on Channel 4’s apparent use of the Observer’s dodgy autism figures would be worthwhile. Channel 4 have used the incorrect 1 in 58 figure for autism prevalence on their website and in their programming (this information is still on their website, uncorrected). I contacted them on 14/8/07 to correct this, and called today to check what was happening about correcting their error: Channel 4’s response can pretty much be paraphrased as ‘computer says no’.

Apparently there is no way to contact Channel 4’s ‘web team’ except by filling in an online form (which I did, more than a week ago). I’m told that my correction will have been logged and passed onto the team behind the More4 programme, as well as the web team. However, the programme-makers may or may not choose to contact me, and there’s no way of knowing whether they have realised what they got wrong or will do anything different in the future (let alone run any kind of correction to their inaccurate claim). Anyway – as things stand – Channel 4 have had more than a week to correct a basic (frankly rather silly) factual error on their website, and haven’t. Did someone mention journalistic credibility?

To add to the irony, Channel 4 recently ran an excellent Richard Dawkins documentary on The Enemies of Reason (which criticised, among other things, unjustified scare stories about a link between autism and MMR). I wonder how Dawkins would feel about Channel 4’s failure to promptly correct a basic factual error in such a sensitive area?

Calling Channel 4 ‘enemies of reason’ would probably be a bit strong. However, with apologies to Monty Python, if they’re not enemies of reason then they are very silly girls and boys.



Filed under autism, Channel 4

3 responses to “What Would Richard Dawkins think? Channel 4 continue to embarass themselves with their dodgy autism statistics

  1. Anna

    I emailed channel 4 using the form you mentioned to complain about TAPL and her constant use of the word “bacterias”, pointing out that considering her first (only..) degree is in linguistics she’d know that bacteria is plural.
    They took a dog’s age to get back to me (after having sent one of those “Your opinion is important to us” pacifiers). The upshot was that they would “mention” it to the production team as they appreciated that factual correctness was important.
    I think it’s fair to say that Channel 4’s definition of “factual” and “correct” is slightly different from most other peoples.
    Keep up the good work though!

  2. Thanks Anna. Re. definitions of “factual”, I was disappointed to see that Channel 4 appears to class McKeith’s You Are What You Eat as “factual”. So, yes, a somewhat unusual definition of ‘factual’ appears to be in play here.

  3. Pingback: 1 in 58 Have Autism Redux: I Blame The Observer « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

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