Click images for more details



Recent comments
Recent posts
Currently discussing

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace
« DECC changes its mind | Main | The myth of green jobs »

Bad journalism

I did a quick follow up on that 2008 malaria prediction:

The UK is to be hit by regular malaria outbreaks, fatal heatwaves and contaminated drinking water within five years because of global warming, the Government has warned the NHS.

I checked this out in the original report, which is here. Remarkably, the authors put the malaria story thus:

Reappraisal of the evidence suggests that outbreaks of malaria in the UK are likely to remain rare, though Health Authorities need to remain alert to the possibility of outbreaks of malaria in other European countries and to the possibility that more effective vectors (different species of mosquito) may arrive in the UK.

Oh blimey, I said to myself, it's the PR people on the loose again, so I looked up the press release, which put the story as follows:

While malaria outbreaks in Britain are likely to remain rare and easily controlled, health authorities need to remain alert to the possibility of larger outbreaks in continental Europe and the emergence of more deadly European strains of mosquitoes in wetland areas of Britain .

How this story developed into one about the UK being hit by regular malaria outbreaks is therefore one that only the author of the Telegraph piece - political correspondent Rosa Prince - can answer.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments (32)

This is how, "send reinforcements, we are going to advance" turned into " Send three and forpence, we are going to a dance"
Probably an urban myth but it makes the point.

Sep 2, 2011 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Funny how the 'misinterpretation' of GW stories is always in the Alarmist direction.

Sep 2, 2011 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

It is telling that to get to the facts we have to dispense with the media reports and check them for ourselves. Good catch BH.

Sep 2, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterAutonomous Mind

I have had a long struggle with the HPA re its reporting of HIV statistics. Often the headlines swerve around many of the issues, concentrating often after one headline on minutiae. You can see the annual press release here and some tables for the recent reports further below. As with anything you get fed what they want to feed you. If you ask the wrong questions then the AdHoms flow, sound familiar?

Press release:


And the latest one that is hitting the press just now is here.

Sep 2, 2011 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterCamp David

I think this needs to be put in perspective. Remember I was a reporter for much of my life. The headline and opening paragraph has to catch the reader or you've lost him. Different 50 or 60 years ago when all press reporting was a bit turgid and anyway where else did you go for news.
The end result is that you're allowed a wee bit of latitude in a headline and you'll find the same sort of trend towards the "alarmist" end of the spectrum there and in the opening paragraph in other spheres apart from climate. (Not saying that's right; it's just what is.)
The onus is on the reporter and the sub then to get the rest of the story accurate and honest and make sure that the reader is brought back down to earth again. In x years time you'll find the same thing being said (yet again!!) about the awful effects of global cooling should that situation recur.
That said, I would not have used the word 'regular' in that opener. It's not correct and it's not necessary since the opener is scary enough without using it.

Sep 2, 2011 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

As I have just commented on AutonomousMind's latest post (with examples) Rosa Prince has 'previous'. Another to watch is Melissa Kite, who 'flies' a few.....

Sep 2, 2011 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterWitteringWitney

I suppose we can be thankful that the origional research paper was not commissioned by a charity and considered to be confidential ...

Sep 2, 2011 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

But why let the truth get in the way of a good story ??

Sep 2, 2011 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin B

There is a new petition on the government website:

I would urge everyone to sign.

Take seriously the risk of more extreme winters

Following a succession of cold winters and cool summers (like the notorious BBQ summer), we now have corroboration by the CERN physics institute of the work of Svensmark and others which clearly indicates a link between climate and solar activity. Other scientists suggest that the recent drop in solar activity may herald a new Maunder minimum which was a period of low solar activity, few sunspots and extremely cold weather. In light of this evidence, we ask the government to ensure it is prepared for a sustained period of extreme cold and ask it to urgently undertake research to understand the effects of solar activity.

Sep 2, 2011 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Haseler

Sorry, I should have put in a link to the petition:

Sep 2, 2011 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Haseler

Having read all 4 IPCC technical summaries reports, & the meaningless SPMs, & reports/commentaries by Prof Paul Reiter (IPCC ex-reviewer) of the Pasteur Institute, probably the world's leading specialist on malaria & vector borne diseases, I was later interested to read of how the RSPB are crowing with delight at their achievements of reintroducing (previously drained/reclaimed) wetland areas along various parts of the UK coastline! The one area where malaria bearing mosquitos are likely to inhabit are wetlands, ideal breeding grounds! Indeed, the Houses of Parliament are founded on a former malarial swamp, as are the Capitol buildings in Washington, DC! It apparently has little or no connection with temperature!

Holland was only declared malaria free in 1970 by WHO (Good old DDT :-)). The worst known case of outbreak/death was in Archangel, Russia, well inside the Arctic circle in the 1920s/30s!

Sep 2, 2011 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Surely Ms Prince is merely following the lead provided by the IPCC, whereby relative moderation from scientists in working group reports is turned into near certainty of doom in the Exaggeration For Policymakers?

Sep 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

Great find your Grace. There's an earlier sentence about malaria in the press release:

There is even a very slight chance that malaria could return to the South of England during the next 50-100 years, although outbreaks of this disease are likely to be rare and involve a small number of people.

So 'very slight chance' became 'The UK is to be hit' (beyond doubt), 'during the next 50-100 years' became 'within the next five years' and 'likely to be rare and involve a small number of people' became 'regular malaria outbreaks'. Bob Ward must have been delighted.

No, I apologise. Bob Ward never stops stressing how seriously he takes accuracy in reporting and he certainly has an eagle eye for any deviation he perceives in the direction of lessening the fear the general population may have over AGW. So clearly Bob Ward must have spotted this and issued a correction and a stern dressing-down of the errant Rosa Prince. It's surely simply a matter of googling to find it. In fact I'm so sure of the result I'm not even going to bother doing that and I'm sure you feel the same way. Well done Bob.

Sorry to revert to an ancient analogy from software but when I began my career as a trainee analyst programmer for Price Waterhouse in 1980 it was common to hear the phrase "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." Before long, having gained experience of some IBM operating systems as well as rivals from DEC and others, I found myself saying to a colleague that it was my ambition to be the first person to fire someone for buying IBM.

The problem we face is that someone like Rosa Prince has I'm sure imbibed this truth: "Nobody ever got fired for exaggerating the threat of global warming." In fact, the exaggeration is exactly how you 'buy' the story. It comes to you in one form, cast round with caveats from scientists, economists and health professionals who have not lost all their professional integrity, and you show your commitment to the cause by 'adding value'. You buy IBM and they reward you by guaranteeing your career until a happy retirement.

Except look what happened to IBM. Go on, Daily Telegraph, make our day.

Sep 2, 2011 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

To be fair to Rosa Prince, she does insert these caveats towards the end of the piece, after an hysterical opening paragraph, which does not represent the rest of the article. Editors do like a striking headline, and 'not much risk of malaria in the UK' simply won't do.

Sep 2, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

How this story developed into one about the UK being hit by regular malaria outbreaks is therefore one that only the author of the Telegraph piece - political correspondent Rosa Prince - can answer.

Bish, to ask your question, is to answer it - 'political correspondent'

Sep 2, 2011 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

Chinese whispers - we were warned about that at school. Looks like these people are still in short pants - metaphorically speaking.

Sep 2, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Sadly The Telegraph has long been infested with ultra-greenism. Which is odd for a supposedly Conservative nestles the collectivist party line on this topic firmly in its bosom.

Apart from Rosa, we have Loopy Louise Gray (Environment Correspondent). She is never one to stoop so low as to ask questions when regurgitating a Greenpeace press release verbatim with just a gushingly adoring top and tail from herself will do. Sometimes she likes this wheeze so much that barely six months go by before she 'writes' the same story all over again..either her memory is failing or she is not clever enough to work out that people will notice her auto-plagiarism.

And leading the pack in Geoffrey Lean - the oldest environmentalist in the world. But age does not prevent him from leaping on every green bandwagon and lecturing us all on our sins.

There was some light relief earlier this week when it seemed as if Louise had been sent to Siberia. But, to the eternal discredit of the Editor it seems she was just there to write about some enviro story or other and he had foolishly provided her with a return ticket.

Sep 2, 2011 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterStirling English

I don’t recall any occasion when an author has stated that the media has “over sensationalised” their findings. I wonder why? Could it possibly be that they quite like the notoriety, that they are prepared to sell their souls to get it into the MSM, knowing it will receive this kind of treatment?

It would be beneficial for all if authors were to stand up to be counted.

Sep 2, 2011 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Sterling English

I hope that return ticket was not on an aircraft. Think how hypocritical that would be by Louise, when there is a perfectly good railway line

Sep 2, 2011 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley


The era of Political Correctness is dying a slow death. Unfortunately it will not be replaced by an era of "Common Sense Correctness"

Perhaps "Economic Correctness", spout rubbish, lose your job?

Sep 2, 2011 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Alan the Brit, I also wondered about the wisdom of the flooding of formerly drained wetlands. The mosquitos that carry various diseases (Malaria is not the sole nasty) breed in wetlands regardless of temperature and are not at all fussy about the nobility of purpose of the newly reconstituted wetland. I suspect that the law of unintended consequences may bite the RSPB on its smug corporate backside.

Sep 2, 2011 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Alan the Brit

Thoughful comment. And that wetland initiative? That most certainly exacerbates the malarial risk. This snippet of Romney Marsh history is from a local forum site -

'From 1564 the health of the marsh population suffered from malaria, then known as ague or marsh fever, which caused high mortality rates until the 1730s, although it remained a major problem until the completion of the Royal Military Canal in 1806, which greatly improved the drainage of the area, reduced its importance.

With five indigenous mosquitoes capable of being hosts for the malarial parasite it is only the Anopheles atroparvus species which breeds (at present) in sufficient numbers here to act as an efficient vector. However, P. vivax likes brackish waters and with the recreation the old coastal wetlands coming into favour, this could expand the future malarial parasite host reserve still further. Therefore, together with this and the average temperatures in England increasing again, it may be possible to see English Malaria successfully re-establish in the marshes once more.'

Those tidal wetlands are exactly what they are introducing. All around the greater marsh area there is no shortage of mosquitoes all year round (or croaking frogs!), but they are slower to react and easier to swat below about 3degC (the mosquitoes). At the moment, thankfully, non malarial.

Sep 2, 2011 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Pharos, thanks for that detailed explanation.

Can you explain to me why mozzies (are they mozzies?) love the Highlands and Islands of Scotland?

Sep 2, 2011 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Alan the Brit, Pharos:

It was only in studying the story of DDT at the turn of the year that I was reminded that Oliver Cromwell died of the 'ague' ie malaria. It's not about temperature - as Paul Reiter has pointed out many times, Rosa could have picked it up in Siberia in the recent past - it is about public health, drainage and the like (and nowadays indoor spraying of DDT as a vital first step to get on top once transmission of the pathogen has reached epidemic proportions). The increase in air travel to and from places in Africa in which this killer is out of control is another factor.

Half a billion infected every year. Not a bad thing to reflect on from time to time. Compared to that, the negative effects of AGW (or of AGW mitigation, at this stage, with the evil exception of biofuels I suppose) are still very small indeed.

Sep 2, 2011 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

golf charley

Try Newfoundland and Labrador then!

Sep 2, 2011 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

We all appear to have missed "World Mosquito Day":


Hands up those who knew about that or even this:

About Malaria No More UK

Malaria No More UK is an innovative charity, committed to ending suffering and death caused by malaria, a preventable and treatable disease. The charity is part of the global Roll Back Malaria Partnership aiming to reduce malaria deaths to near zero by 2015.

Some target.

I suppose it is is the old story again, good news does not sell newspapers.

Sep 2, 2011 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Yes, I knew about Malaria No More. When I arrived there in June I typed DDT into the search box and found myself staring at this:

Search Results
Not Found

Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn't here.

This is typical of the current interlinked campaigns, from Christian Aid to Roll Back Malaria to Comic Relief. And yet almost every leader in Africa, from Desmond Tutu to the health ministers in many very different countries, believes that Africa needs to be free to use DDT in its cheapest possible form (which is now isn't, due to monopoly manufacture) to reduce deaths from malaria, which hit the very young more than any other group.

So why is DDT not even able to be mentioned? Sure, it's believed in the West to have some downsides. But to ignore it completely in these well-funded campaigns feels something like mockery of the very poor who are dying from malaria in their thousands every day.

Best not to get me started.

Sep 2, 2011 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

From the article:

"The report says outbreaks of malaria in the UK are possible, although likely to remain "rare".

However, across Europe malaria may become common, meaning hospitals should prepare to treat holidaymakers returning from continental weekend breaks, in addition to those who have travelled from more exotic destinations."

The quote you feature includes "the government has warned." So what's your problem with the article? The writer has paraphrased the government warning, and gone to the original report and also cited it. She's the one who reveals that the government warning isn't consistent with the report findings.

Sep 2, 2011 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMarkB

@Mike Haseler
Signature added and vote confirmed

Sep 2, 2011 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Interesting post by Mike Jackson, In a nutshell, why I don't read the mainstream media much any more. I simply do not believe what I am reading. I know that there's no way around it, exaggeration puts bums on seats, but it also eats credibility, and I rather suspect a major shift in how news is reported and delivered in the next decade as exposure of this exaggeration by blogs and other sources occurs. Traditional media will be smashed and decentalised blog-like model will take over, is my guess.

Sep 3, 2011 at 8:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterben

Comes under the same heading as: 'Wind farm could power 15000 homes'....
Yeah, right - provided that the wind at that location blew at precisely 45 knots for 24 hours a day, seven days a week....

Sep 3, 2011 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Ben, you're right.
I look on in some shame at what my erstwhile colleagues get up to. My only excuse is that I never worked for anything other than a local paper and you got the facts right or your balls handed to you on a plate!
But the only times I had "good story" from the guys in the pub was when we'd put a grabbing headline on it. If it doesn't catch the eye, people don't read it. The more important the story the more you have to force them into getting beyond the first paragraph and these days shock and awe is the quickest way!

Sep 5, 2011 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>