The Guardian Misses The Point

AsthmaGate at the Guardian seems to be gathering pace. Regretably Tim Lusher still does not appear to see the problem.

He posted this comment on the Lay Scientist post on the subject:

I’m the deputy editor of G2, the print section in which this piece originally appeared.

I agree that a more helpful piece about asthma would carry comment from a body such as Asthma UK, as @Clairehp5 suggests. Unfortunately, this column (The Inside Track) has a first-person voice so it inevitably only takes one view. This column was cleared billed as about osteopathy, not asthma.

Ben Katz claims osteopathy “can help” asthma – he doesn’t say “treat” or “cure”. Readers would thus be perfectly justified in taking the same view of its merits as @carlalanesbats does at the top of these comments. The Guardian is not suggesting asthma sufferers only consult osteopaths for advice and treatment.

Two weeks ago ago, this column was about how to paddle safely (wear flip-flops to avoid treading on poisonous weever fish). It is not intended to be a complete guide to health issues.

Where to start? Yes a first person voiced article will have only one view but that is not a license to publish dangerous crap. And the online version is clearly billed as being about asthma – plus the content is in fact about asthma so the billing is irrelevent. On this matter he tweeted the following to Ben Goldacre:

@bengoldacre Hi Ben, I’ve posted a comment on Martin’s blogpost. Summary: 1st person col, so not rounded advice. http://bit.ly/mrZiJ9

He is defending the fact that the column is “unbalanced” but tyhe criticism is that the claims are “unevidenced”. Worryingly, he does not appear to see the difference.

Claims to “help” an ailment are common weasel words employed by the alt-med brigade; they usually employ them in adverts because they know that the Advertising Standards Authority would come down on them like a ton of bricks if they made outright claims to cure.

As for his last paragraph, the last person to die from a weever fish sting did so some time before World War II. According to this 5.4 million people in the UK receive treatment for asthma and in 2009 1,131 people were killed by the ailment – a fact trivialised by his silly throw-away comment. He then has the gall to tell one critic to “get perspective” via twitter.

He told another critic that:

timlusher @vertigowooyay And now I must move on and make the next G2. I can’t devote any more time to this

All I can say is, given the amount of fact-checking involved, making the next G2 shouldn’t have taken up too much of his time.

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8 Responses to “The Guardian Misses The Point”

  1. josephinejones Says:

    Great post JQH & thanks for the link.

    From my experience though, I think if this was within their remit, the ASA would come down on it ‘like a ton of bricks’ whichever choice of verb the advertiser decided to use. Osteopathy doesn’t ‘help’ asthma any more than it can ‘treat’ or ‘cure’ it. I think Lusher made himself appear naive by (among other things) using the ‘weasel word’ argument.

  2. Nick Nakorn Says:

    Moreover, ‘alternative’ and ‘complementary’ therapies do harm when they displace evidence-based treatments and prevent people from taking action that might actually work – I know readers here already know this but perhaps Tim Lusher will read this and start to appreciate the damage he is doing by promoting bogus treatments.

  3. Dorothy Bishop Says:

    It’s so depressing that Tim Lusher just doesn’t get it. There are those of us who are into evidence-based medicine who can readily dismiss unevidenced claims from an osteopath, but there are thousands of readers who don’t have any background in science who will take seriously a piece like this because it appears in a reputable newspaper. Tim doesn’t seem to grasp that he has responsibility as a gatekeeper not to give the Guardian’s seal of approval to ineffective and expensive treatments for serious illness. At best he’ll lead his readers to lose money on something that doesn’t work and at worse he’ll kill them. He’s not required to be a medical expert but he has a responsibility to check with authoritative agencies and not just do an advertorial for any plausible-sounding quack whom he happens upon.

  4. Dave Says:

    It is time to complain to the Guardian Reader’s Editor, the one who takes up complaints by readers.

  5. josephinejones Says:

    Dave – this has already gone to the PCC. I have complained to them and to the Guardian directly (as well as the ASA in case it could be deemed to be an ‘advertorial’).

    The PCC contact I have been given is away until 27th June. The Readers’ Editor is also away until ‘later in the month’. Someone else from the Readers’ Editor office told me that as I had already gone to the PCC, I have to correspond through the PCC in future. I don’t know where this leaves JQH (and the other complainants: I am aware of three more), who did not go to the PCC.

    Meanwhile, the article is still online, uncorrected. I said in my complaints that I believe it was in breach of the CAP (ASA) Code for substantiation and PCC Editors’ Code on Accuracy.

    I think the way this has been handled by the Guardian so far is appalling.

  6. josephinejones Says:

    I’ve finally had a reasonable and considered response from the Guardian and have agreed to drop my PCC complaint providing they agree to my demands.

    I’ve blogged our correspondence:

    http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/the-guardian-are-finally-set-to-resolve-my-complaint/

  7. A Fourth Year of Steam « Letting Off Steam Says:

    [...] for osteopathy, claiming it could treat asthma I complained about it as did others but Tim Lusher completely missed the point and got rather stroppy about criticism. Incidently the post about my complaint got the highest ever [...]

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