Laughing Gas Will somebody please explain to the Daily Mail that overdose does not mean the same as to put a plastic bag over your headI’ve taken a break from debunking Daily Mail articles for a while, not because they have improved but simply because I don’t have the will to read them or the time to keep up with them. Due to popular demand however,  I’ve done a brief swipe at their latest overblown, factually devoid, celerbrity inspired piece of trash.

From the Daily Mail’s recent article on laughing gas (Nitrous Oxide):

“An overdose can be fatal… The International Centre For Drug Policy charts deaths in the UK from volatile substance misuse, including the gas. Their most recent report, from 2010, notes that ‘in 2008 there were two deaths (three in 2007) associated with the inhalation of nitrous oxide, which had been obtained for non-medical purposes’. Finding more up-to-date figures is problematic, as the report is not currently active because of Department Of Health belt-tightening”

Never-mind more recent figures, lets just actually read the rest of the sentence..

‘In 2008 there were two deaths (four in 2007) associated with the inhalation of anaestheticagents. Both cases involved nitrous oxide, supplied for non-medical use as cylinders or as caplets designed to be employed with cream-whipping devices, and were the result of asphyxiation where the nitrous oxide had been inhaled using a plastic bag over the head.

I won’t go in to the rest of the unsubstantiated claims that the Daily Mail makes, such as that Nitrous Oxide causes strokes and chronic depression. Suffice to say that the drug is contained in every emergency ambulance and doctors surgery in the country and is deemed safe enough to be considered a first port of call emergency anaesthetic and is even provided for hours on end to women in Labour.

The Daily Mail does note one solitary useful point, that taking the gas straight from a cannister (i.e. without a balloon) can cause the lungs to freeze but this valuable information is buried so far in the sea of nonsense that readers will probably presume the Daily Mail made that up to. Which is precisely the problem with scaremongering nonsense such as this.

If you’d like to know more about Nitrous Oxide I’ve pasted the facts below directly from the BNF1. If you use laughing gas regularly, particularly if you are a vegetarian, take note of the fact that the drug depletes B-vitamins and get yourself a bottle.

Nitrous oxide is used for maintenance of anaesthesia and, in sub-anaesthetic concentrations, for analgesia. For anaesthesia, nitrous oxide is commonly used in a concentration of 50 to 66% in oxygen as part of a balanced technique in association with other inhalational or intravenous agents. Nitrous oxide is unsatisfactory as a sole anaesthetic owing to lack of potency, but is useful as part of a combination of drugs since it allows a significant reduction in dosage.

For analgesia (without loss of consciousness), a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen containing 50% of each gas (Entonox®, Equanox®) is used. Self-administration using a demand valve is popular in obstetric practice, for changing painful dressings, as an aid to postoperative physiotherapy, and in emergency ambulances.

Nitrous oxide may have a deleterious effect if used in patients with an air-containing closed space since nitrous oxide diffuses into such a space with a resulting increase in pressure. This effect may be dangerous in the presence of a pneumothorax, which may enlarge to compromise respiration, or in the presence of intracranial air after head injury.

Hypoxia can occur immediately following the administration of nitrous oxide; additional oxygen should always be given for several minutes after stopping the flow of nitrous oxide.

Exposure of patients to nitrous oxide for prolonged periods, either by continuous or by intermittent administration, may result in megaloblastic anaemia owing to interference with the action of vitamin B12; neurological toxic effects can occur without preceding overt haematological changes. For the same reason, exposure of theatre staff to nitrous oxide should be minimised. Depression of white cell formation may also occur.

Assessment of plasma-vitamin B12 concentration should be considered in those at risk of deficiency, including the elderly, those who have a poor or vegetarian diet, and those with a history of anaemia. Nitrous oxide should not be given continuously for longer than 24 hours or more frequently than every 4 days without close supervision and haematological monitoring.


British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (2009). British National Formulary BMJ Publishing Group, 58th ed

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A paper published today in the journal Neuron describes how the mainstream media (specifically the Daily TelegraphTimesDaily MailSunMirror  and the Guardian) have tackled the topic of neuroscience over the past decade. The paper is a damning indictment of how the press use neuroscience as a tool with which to “portray themselves as dispassionate” whilst preaching their trademark prejudices. The paper describes how the Telegraph used research to wrongly “assert that productive female participation in both the labor market and family life is neurobiologically impossible”, while the Daily Mail miscellaneously linked “women to irrationality” (amongst countless other crimes) and the Times absurdly squealed “are gays dopamine junkies?”. The paper lists a labyrinth of logical fallacies which the media use to misrepresent neuroscience, repeatedly highlighting a tendency for:

“overextensions of research, with implications drawn far outside the original research context. This overextrapolation of research was not limited to idle speculation but sometimes extended to calls for concrete applications.”

The paper assessed the contents of nearly 3,000 articles involving neuroscience over the past decade to see which topics came up most. It’s not hard to see how the data is skewed by the media’s recent obsessions such as fish oil and narcotics. I’ve tossed the figures in to Manyeyes to make the information a little easier to digest:

Subjects Addressed within Media Coverage of Neuroscience

The paper concludes that the media has used neuroscience research “applied out of context to create dramatic headlines, push thinly disguised ideological arguments, or support particular policy agendas”. Fighting this tidal wave is the precise reason that I started this blog. For regular readers none of this will come as a surprise. I’ve previously described how the media has misrepresented everything from social networking and love to vaccination, drugs, and cognitive enhancement. I must admit that I find this issue so distressing that I have been left with the unfortunate tenancy to generally rant on the topic uncontrollably.

If you wish to receive updates on my debunking of popular reporting of neuroscience you can follow me on twitter or using one of the subscription options in the sidebar.


O’Connor, C., Rees, G., & Joffe, H. (2012). Neuroscience in the Public Sphere Neuron, 74 (2), 220-226 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.04.004 (PDF)

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Update 15/05/2012: The PCC have finally replied, helpfully acknowledging that the Daily Mail’s correction was incorrect, yet somehow concluding that the error was “not significantly misleading”, they therefore plan to do nothing about it.

Press Complaints Commission’s decision in the case of

Williams v Daily Mail

The complainant considered that an article, which reported a recent study by the University of Bristol into the effect of CP55940 on the brains of rats, was a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. In addition, the newspaper’s published clarification of 4 April in relation to the article was not sufficient to address his concerns: the content of the statement was in itself inaccurate.


The terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) state that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. The complainant considered that that the article had inaccurately reported the study, suggesting that it demonstrated a causal link between cannabis use and the development of serious mental illness, when this had not been the study’s aim or outcome.


The study had looked at the effect that CP55940 had on the brains of rats. CP55940, a synthetic cannabinoid analogue of THC, mimicked the effects of naturally occurring THC, which was one of the psychoactive compounds found in cannabis. The study had found that the effect of CP55940 on rats was similar to the cognitive dysfunction seen in schizophrenia patients.


The complainant said it was fundamentally misleading to present a study that looked at the effect of a synthetic cannabinoid on the brains of rats as evidence that cannabis could lead to schizophrenia. The Commission agreed that the article’s reference to researchers “look[ing] in detail at the changes in the brains of cannabis users” had the potential to be misleading. However, it had to have regard for the fact that the article had made clear – including in a headline reference – that the study had been conducted on rats. In addition, the article had included comments from Dr Matt Jones, the lead author of the study, who expressly drew conclusions from the research about the effects of cannabis on the brain of human users. The researchers who conducted the study considered that it had implications for humans; the Commission considered that the newspaper had been entitled to report their conclusions in this regard to its readers.


The main concern for the Commission was that the headline to the piece had gone further and claimed that cannabis can cause schizophrenia. The Commission has previously ruled that headlines should be considered within the context of the article as a whole, as due to space restraints, they can only represent a limited summary of a potentially complex set of facts. However, in this instance, it did not consider that the body to the piece sufficiently clarified or substantiated the headline. The study had not found a causal link between smoking cannabis and the development of schizophrenia. Accordingly, the Commission established a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code. The Commission considered that the newspaper’s clarification and amendment to its online article was appropriate. It was satisfied that this course of action was sufficient to remedy the original breach.


The Commission acknowledged the complainant’s position regarding the accuracy of the statement. However, it did not consider that the reference to “the active ingredient in cannabis” could be said to raise a further breach of Clause 1. The study had used CP55940, which the complainant accepted was an artificial compound of THC, an active ingredient in cannabis. Given the artificial compound was used in the study to mimic the effects of THC, the reference to it as the active ingredient in cannabis was not significantly misleading. The Commission accepted that it would have been preferable to refer to the compound as “one of” the active ingredients in cannabis. However, it did not consider that readers would be significantly misled in this regard.


The complainant had raised concerns regarding the article’s reference that rats had been given cannabis “in a similar dose to a person smoking a joint”. The Commission had contacted the author of the study who had made clear that he did not wish to formally pursue the matter. Without the involvement of the researchers behind the study, the Commission was not in a sufficiently informed position to rule on the accuracy, or otherwise, of the dosage claim. In this instance, the Commission declined to make a ruling under the terms of the Code.


Reference No. 114998

Yesterday, the Daily Mail published a “correction” for an article published in October last year. I wrote in January that this is something I didn’t expect ever to see because “the Daily Mail’s editor Paul Dacre also happens to be chairman of the Press Complaints Commission Editors’ Code of Practice Committee”

mendacious correction An incorrect correction in the Daily Mail

The correction issued yesterday

After a protracted six month long campaign to the PCC by two complainants (1) (2), we have finally received a correction and the correction is wrong. The study did not use cannabis or any chemical present in cannabis.

I have filed a complaint with the PCC regarding the correction (PDF). I suggest you do the same (it only takes thirty seconds).

Daily Mail PCC Complaint An incorrect correction in the Daily MailReference:

Kucewicz MT, Tricklebank MD, Bogacz R, & Jones MW (2011). Dysfunctional prefrontal cortical network activity and interactions following cannabinoid receptor activation. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31 (43), 15560-8 PMID: 22031901 (PDF).

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Last night the Daily Mail took ten awards at the news industry’s annual exercise of public masturbation, the “Press Awards“. The awards included “Website of the Year”, “The Best of Humour Award” and Newspaper of the Year”. This is a pretty astounding turnaround only two months after the Daily Mail was awarded the Orwellian Prize for Journalistic Misrepresentation by Oxford University Neuroscientist Dorothy Bishop (nomination by yours truly).

To celebrate the award, I’ve created a commemorative edition of today’s Mail Online. You can create one for yourself, every time you click refresh using the Daily Mail Headline Scrambler browser plug-in. Once installed, the Mail Online website will be forever transformed from an endless stream of vile bigotry in to an endless stream of satirical vile bigotry, making it the perfect April fools day prank to play on your Daily Mail reading co-workers.

Daily Mail Newspaper of the year Daily Mail Win Newspaper of the Year at the Press Awards: I Call Bullshit

 If you think those computer generated headlines are misrepresentative, consider this message the Mail Online tweeted yesterday:


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Update 27/02/2012: The Daily Mail article has now been updated to include a source. The research was apparently done by TGI Fridays, yes the restaurant chain (I asked for a source not a sauce). I managed to get a press release with lots of information about the restaurant’s “rich food and beverage heritage”, their “juicy burgers”, “tender ribs” and “hearty steaks” but no methods or data, their PR firm say I can have a copy of the research when they’ve finished it. Hmmm

Update: After numerous emails and delaying tactics I am still awaiting a response.

 I was just beginning to think that I might get through a day without seeing a horrendous Daily Mail Article when someone sends me this. Don’t bother reading that. This time the Daily Mail have excelled themselves. The normal formula [study finds shock-horror-finding to support misogynistic, bigoted viewpoint] is adhered to. Normally we can expect at least a vague hint at the source, the nationality of the lead researchers or perhaps the country their conference was held in. This time, not even a clue, just “according to a study”.

Sourceless crap According to a study.. Oh I give up

Seeing as last time I reviewed a Daily Mail science article, the study was completely misreported  (no really, the highlighted areas are all false), I’d like to know where the aforementioned study came from.
Daily Mail Just One Joint According to a study.. Oh I give up
Without a source article… I give up.

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