Surely something that we should all be afraid of. The telegraph tones it down somewhat with "Four Portuguese Man (sic) O' War see in British Waters". Of course, the Telegraph has perhaps more reason to be muted, it published a similar story in Aug 2007 (Beachgoers warned as Man O' war hits shores) and indeed the Mirror published an article in 2004 on How Global Warming is Killing Our Wildlife (via WormDigest) containing the line:
Last year [i.e. 2003] there were several sightings of Great White sharks and shoals of deadly Portuguese man o' war jellyfish in Devon and Cornwall. And a giant jellyfish dubbed the Blob terrified bathers at Weymouth, Dorset
So perhaps the screaming front line on the Mirror is somewhat overdone.
As it turns out, I've pretty much given up on reading newspapers. I was almost at this stage before reading Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, and it has just cemented my realisation that the chaff outweighs the wheat in most, if not all, the printed media.
Anecdotally, the Daily Telegraph seems to be the one that has fallen from the the greatest height, at least from a science point of view.
Recently we have had such critical-thinking journalism such as Leslie Thomas' "Gentle Summer Detox" which lampooned itself by providing a detox plan which included alcohol -
Only in moderation and only the best-quality organic wine
If it isn't clear why this statement should have you rolling round the floor laughing, then without any hint of irony, let me direct you to The Telegraph's article on "Debunking of Detox" based on Sense About Science's article here.
However, this is just nitpicking - the real quack bonanza in the article comes here:
The resident homoeopath, Katie Jermine, quizzed me about my diet, stress levels and lifestyle. She then strapped on a wristband and plugged me into an electronic device called the Quantum QXCI, which scanned my system for vitamins, minerals, food intolerances, toxicity, organ function, hormone balance, parasites, digestive disorders and stress levels.
WOW! What a machine! Look what it can do - it can scan your system for parasites and toxicity - surely such a system would be used ubiquitously at immigration control to ensure people entering a country don't have TB or malaria. Needless, to say, it doesn't take a genius to realise that this is lies and bunkum. The Quantum QXCI has had a proper analysis by Dr Ben Goldacre in his Guardian column Bad Science here.
Perhaps the paper is only providing what its readers are asking for - for instance, (you may need to switch off your irony-meter) in the article Doctor's Diary on 7th July 08, (James Le Fanu on the latest health stories hitting the headlines), we hear of an unsympathetic GP telling Mrs W J from Hampshire that a miniscule glass splinter from a greenhouse pain that remains in her finger is "trivial". Darn Allopathy. Come to rescue homeopaths - surely you can save Mrs W J from her life-devastation - step up 'Joanne':
Mrs HJ - Try the homeopathic remedy Silica ( sometimes known as silicea ) 6c potency. I had the minute tip of a needle left in the back of my hand after surgery. I used magnesium sulphate paste under a plaster at the same time taking silica. Dissolve 2 tablets under the tongue at 2hourly intervals for 6 hours ie 8am/10am/12am. Same evening before bed 2 more only. For the following week 1 tablet only morning and night. Keep using the magnesium sulphate dressing.You may need to continue for 10 days(silica is very slow&deep in action). It may come to a head with pus which needs bathing in hot water and expelling. Good luck!
PS: Change your doctor!
Sure. You need to do it for 10 days - I wonder what would happen to the splinter if you did nothing for ten days? Regardless, here we have sound medical homeopathic advice in the column in Doctor's Diary.
There is an interesting article on the Telegraph and its new way of ensuring hits are highest on its site rather than other dead-tree media from LoveHowlMuse blog (sometimes NSFW) entitled How Google is changing language - and how the Telegraph lost its soul setting out a similar phenomenon to what Charlie Brooker ranted about in the Guardian a few weeks back - basically that by including key words that are buzz words for Google, you can get zillions of hits on your site. Brilliant. Obviously, those hits may stay on your site for zero seconds when they realise they haven't got what they wanted, but the numbers are there to show potential advertising-space buyers of the huge audience that the website gets.
The next logical step is to start actually printing a few articles containing the buzz topics/words which do get the internet masses swarming through - and staying on the site. And so in between the articles of Thatcherophilic political comment, we get (historically) non-Telegraphic articles such as "Alien Stole My Brain" and "The Tree Man who grew roots", or one where even the Telegraph realised its own boundaries and subsequently removed it, "World's Largest Fake Breasts Record" which was here but has been kept for posterity at Digg here.
Well, we all make mistakes. But there are mistakes and there are mistakes - the idea being that when a mistake is made, there should be fallbacks and safeguards to stop them becoming gargantuan hee-haws. A recent Advertising Standards Authority jurisdiction highlighted one of these 'mistakes'. A title like "Lower your blood pressure with our free spring water" should not be on the front page of any newspaper, least of all a supposedly quality broadsheet. High blood pressure is not to be messed with or taken lightly, and I don't think you need to have much medical knowledge to realise that spring water isn't going to lower it.
Nonetheless, inside the paper the advert continued:
the first spring water developed especially to tackle the growing problem of high blood pressure ... 120/80, named after the optimum blood pressure level, is the first spring water in the UK to contain dairy peptides, which are derived from milk protein and clinically proven to be effective in the lowering and management of blood pressure
Works With Water (the company providing this miracle product) said
Works with Water said the headline on the article inside the newspaper should have stated "Free spring water for every reader to help lower your blood pressure" to be consistent with the main editorial copy, but the word "help" was omitted due to a proofing error for which they accepted full responsibility. They said they were not responsible for the front page flash or content, which were down to the Telegraph's editorial discretion at the time of going to print
Ah yes, the weasel-wording which allows adverts to hugely overstate their products without actually saying so - see also "may", "help", reduce", "some".
The Telegraph were alerted to this on the day of publication (which to be fair to the CAP, is pretty good standards) and responded.
The Telegraph said they had been alerted to the problematic wording by CAP on the day the ad appeared and had immediately halted the promotion. They said the procedures they had in place to prevent such occurrences had not been properly followed, and the relevant personnel had been reminded of their obligations to the CAP Code. They said every effort would be made to avoid a similar occurrence in future
So a mistake was made, the safeguards failed and the Telegraph ended up printing on its front page that spring water can lower blood pressure. That's not the silly season, that's the dangerously silly season.