The Independent confuses algal DHA with fish oil

In an Indepedendent article arguing that science journalism “standards are pretty high”, Jeremy Laurance discusses Goldacre’s critique of Denis Campbell’s recent Observer piece on DHA and children’s concentration. Laurance describes a trial which

showed that the fish oil “enhanced the function of those brain regions that are involved in paying attention”, as revealed by a brain scanner.

However, as Goldacre noted

It wasn’t a study of fish oil…but of omega-3 fatty acids derived from algae

Nom, algae.

Laurance argues that

while raging rightly at the scientific illiteracy of the media, [Goldacre] might reflect when naming young, eager reporters starting out on their careers that most don’t enjoy, as he does, the luxury of time [and] bloggers willing and able to do his spadework for him (one pointed out the flaws in Campbell’s report on The Guardian website five days before Goldacre’s column appeared)

Laurance might reflect that fact-checking does not necessarily take that long: this post, for example, has taken me under 20 minutes from seeing the link to Laurance’s column to typing the last word of this post. If media science coverage from experienced, professional journalists is so poor that an amateur with a quarter of an hour to kill before heading to bed can highlight clear errors, there certainly is a real need for reflection.


Filed under patrick holford

2 responses to “The Independent confuses algal DHA with fish oil

  1. As usual, a bloggist (in this case a fine one of course) trumps teh meeja – when will they learn…?!

    nice post :-)

  2. I was particularly interested by this bit:

    “reporters are messengers – their job is to tell, as accurately as they can, what has been said, with the benefit of such insight as their experience allows them to bring, not to second guess whether what is said is right.”

    Now this is exactly what Nick Davies was attacking in Flat Earth News – the idea that reporters are just there to relay press releases to the public. As he pointed out, if this is their role, they are hardly very useful (I can read press releases myself); and it didn’t use to be. At least some journalists were (and a few still are) investigators into the truth.

    But assuming that Laurance does speak for most modern reporters (report being the operative word), it means that we bloggers are not being smug when we claim to do things better than the meeja – they are not even trying any more.

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