Nick Davies’ corruscating Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media was warmly received by some readers and commended by various commentators who welcomed his pitiless assessment of the parlous state of journalism. Other readers have produced a measured disagreement along the lines of “Yes. But not us and you’ve overstated your case“. Still more indulged in faux outrage and managed to publish their over-wrought reviews in newspapers where they happy-slapped some of Davies’ arguments; or criticised Davis in radio interviews and blog pieces. Others appear to be genuinely angry and say so when interviewed: Kamal Ahmed is one example.
Davies explores the phenomenon of churnalism and the recyling of falsehoods and PR releases. Davies argues for the unremarkable truism that mainstream media is concerned with cutting costs and generating advertising revenue rather than acting as the knowledge intermediary and truth-checker that is commonly portrayed as the leading driver for journalism.
Which is all rather bleak and very dire. So, we’d like to take an opportunity to commend Medical News Today for taking swift action when they recognised that a churnalism lapse had given undue authority to a press release: New National Statistics On Drug Addict Treatment – Why The Treatment Isn’t Effective. Keen-eyed readers browsed the fairly unexceptional opening paragraphs that quoted recent drug treatment figures, numbers exiting from addiction services etc. but, lulled as they were, they were startled to read a promotional piece for
Visiting Professor Patrick Holford and his latest book in which the man of countless specialities (e.g., diabetes, autism, schizophrenia, infertility, allergy, depression) re-brands himself as an addiction expert.
Patrick Holford Director of Food for the Brain and co-author of a new book How to Quit Without Feeling S**t which reveals a new treatment to help addicts, says, “Of course, it’s good news that more people are receiving treatment for addiction but the stark fact is that current treatment approaches are remarkably ineffective with less than one in ten drug or alcohol free at the end of treatment, which usually lasts for up to 12 weeks. The reason is that addictive substances hijack the brain creating persisting symptoms such as craving, anxiety, insomnia, depression and fatigue. If you scramble your brains with drugs and alcohol, counselling and support, however useful, will not unscramble your brains. However, the brain can be programmed away from addiction by giving a diet high in essential fats and vitamins, and low in sugar, together with specific amino acids that help make the brain’s own ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters. Yet the vital role of nutritional therapy is completely ignored in most addiction treatment. Recent research shows that specific amino acid supplements help dramatically reduce abstinence symptoms. In a small pilot project in one treatment centre 21 out of 23 people with alcohol and/or drug addiction were clean or sober at the end of a year.
If you are wondering if we have left out the part where Holford presents the evidence, rather than anecdotes, for these startling assertions, we haven’t. If you’re wondering if a press release is rather too cramped to reproduce the evidence, Lee attended an entire seminar about Holford’s book and there is currently no published evidence available for scrutiny. ‘Don’t do the book tour before the evidence for what is in your book’ might be the contemporary version of the aphorism, ‘don’t put your cart before the horse’.
Readers wondered what had happened: they dispatched emails to Medical News Today. Editor Christian Nordqvist checked into the objections and responded by pulling the press release and investigating further. Apparently, the press release looked uncannily as if it had been issued by the NHS’ National Treatment Agency, which is in the habit of releasing national statistics for drug addiction and had recently distributed a press release on the topic of New national statistics reveal more drug addicts in treatment – and they are staying the course.
It was unfortunate that the hapless churnalist was mistaken as to the source and likely authority of the press release (although possibly understandable): however, Christian Nordqvist is to be commended for a rapid and responsible response to the reader enquiries.
Many people in the UK are affected by addiction, whether it is personal, that of a family member, friend, or colleague. Addiction treatment services have inadequate resources and too many people are desperate for help that isn’t readily available on the NHS. However, that is no reason to accept a counsel of despair that standard interventions are ineffective and that, by default, self-laudatory, unproven alternatives must be “worth a go”. If Holford and his co-authors had sufficient evidence to support their claims then their press releases would be so distinctive that there would be no risk of accidental confusion as to the issuer. If there is proof of those success rates, why hide your USP?