I’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 edFollow Neurobonkers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
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”.
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.
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).Follow Neurobonkers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
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.
If you think those computer generated headlines are misrepresentative, consider this message the Mail Online tweeted yesterday:
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) March 20, 2012
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Last month, Mail Online was declared the most read news source in the world. We should celebrate this with some of the things that the Daily Mail lack: wit, humour and a first class bit of script. The script locally (i.e. your browser only – nothing criminal) hijacks the Daily Mail’s frontpage and injects it with randomised headlines. The script will remain installed until you remove it from the extensions menu (under options). Every single time the Daily Mail website is loaded you (or your unsuspecting Daily Mail enthusiast) will see the day’s Daily Mail homepage as normal except with randomly scrambled headlines. The result is a unique, computer generated satirical masterpiece, every single time you press refresh. The script is otherwise invisible and will work with Chrome or Firefox (sorry IE users).
The script doesn’t require any programming knowledge at all. If your target is using chrome it’s a one-click operation. If you’re using Firefox you’ll need to install Greasemonkey first (also a one-click installation). After you run the script you’re free to leave the scene, shutdown the computer and wait until your target loads the dailymail.co.uk all by themselves. You can refresh a hundred times and you’ll still be laughing (or crying).
PS: Hashtag #OccupyMailOnline
If you’re worried about running an unknown script, read the code for yourself in a text reader, it’s comedy gold.
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Neurobonkers is not responsible for what happens when you use this script or the consequences when your friend, coworker, or (if you’re very brave), boss finds out.
Check out my article in the New Journalist. I have decided to publish this piece with TNJ because they aspire to work under the three principles that the Daily Mail lack so severely, “accuracy, honesty and integrity”. See you after the jump.
Update (03/03/2012): More evidence that the Daily Mail can ruin your life from Thursday’s Daily Mail letters page:
Africa America Bad Science BCI Brain Computer Interfacing breaking news Cannabis Censorship Cocaine Copyright Counterfeit Drugs Daily Fail DailyFail daily mail Daily Mail Demolition Squad Drugs EEG Emotiv Fake Drugs FMRI Health Hoax Independent Misinformation Music Neuroscience Open Science Procrastination Psychology Rat Brain Robot Review Satire Science sex Skepticism Statistics Student Loans Crisis Susan Greenfield Synaesthesia Technology The confederacy of dunces Video walking War on Drugs Wikileaks
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