Daily Archives:August 29th, 2009

Getting to the bottom of news reports

Traditional hospital gowns are being phased out in NHS wards across Britain after patients complained that the garments left their bottoms exposed, says this article.

A pleased patient is quoted as saying:

I for one will be glad to see the back of them.

Note, though, that this is another (like this) somewhat over-enthusiastic Telegraph headline: it says the gowns are being ‘axed’ and ‘phased out in wards across Britain’. Well, yes, Southampton is getting rid of them, and the manufacturer of the alternative gowns says that another couple of hospitals have bought some as well. I’m not sure that this really represents a dramatic trend sweeping across the nation…

Exercise makes you fat

So said the headlines in the Telegraph a few days ago. (Interestingly, in the online version the big banner headline becomes the web page title, and so is much less visible at the top of your browser window.)

Fortunately, the article is much more moderate than the headline. Journalists often make many mistakes, but they often don’t write the headlines, and editors are much more concerned with sales figures than with accuracy. Creeping tabloidism has been infecting almost all of our broadsheets for many years, but how many readers will register that the article doesn’t really back up the headline imprinted in their memory?

Ben Goldacre has found himself a nice niche dissing – I believe that is the mot du jour – such reports after examining the evidence. Here’s his response to this one.

Eight and a half minutes to orbit

It’s 25 years since we started seeing footage of the space shuttle taking off – during which time the whole World Wide Web thing has happened – but it still makes for impressive viewing.

This is a pretty high quality video clip (on my broadband connection at least). Plug some good speakers or headphones in, turn up the volume, and watch as those rockets kick in. It’s hard not to be impressed at what man hath wrought.


The tragedy is, of course, that it took a cold war to get us to the moon, and nothing has quite lived up to that – it’s the rash but inspirational decisions that can perhaps only be made in wartime that often lead to mankind’s greatest achievements.

Will it take another war to get us beyond orbit once again?

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser