'Facebook causes cancer'? Here is your reward

June 17, 2010

A University of Oxford academic is setting up an award to recognise misrepresentations of research in the press.

Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford, announced the Orwellian Prize for Journalistic Misrepresentation on her blog earlier this month.

The prize will be awarded every January to the most inaccurate report in an English-language national newspaper of a piece of academic work. Points will be awarded by a panel of judges for each mistake, with those in headlines and standfirsts scoring the most.

Professor Bishop said she was inclined to give the award to the offending newspaper rather than the reporter because headlines and standfirsts are not normally written by them. She said the prize would be a certificate and a statuette, and called for design suggestions.

There will also be a £50 prize for the winner's nominator. Nominations must be submitted to Professor Bishop's blog.

She nominates a recent article by The Observer's Denis Campbell, which falsely reported that omega-3 fish oil supplements boost children's concentration. The article, now removed from the newspaper's website, was the subject of controversy last week after science writer and doctor Ben Goldacre criticised it in his Bad Science newspaper column.

The Independent's Jeremy Laurance criticised Dr Goldacre for "pistol-whipping" Mr Campbell and pointed out that staffing cuts had left newspaper journalists under a lot of time pressure.

But Professor Bishop dismissed the argument: "I see it as important to get the facts right, as people act on what they hear, assuming newspapers are reliable sources."


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