How to Fool a Health and Science Journalist About Health Fraud? Give the Story to Tom Chivers of UK’s The Telegraph newspaper

Hey, wanna good laugh?  Its always the oldest and best known and loved tricks which work on the greenest of newbies. 

Q) How to keep a moron occupied?  A) Give him a sheet of paper with “please turn over” written on both sides.

Q) Hey Tom, d’ya know how to keep a moron in suspense for seven days?  A) We’ll tell ya next week. 

Q) How to get a journalist to write a crap story?  A) Give it to Tom Chivers headed “BMJ” or “Department of Health”.

Maybe its time bloggers took down a peg or two some of the mainstream journalists who take themselves “oh-so-seriously” as important opinion formers in the mainstream media but churn out a daily diet of junk stories about health and science, in the delusion they are behaving with the due care of a professional.

In his piece on Friday in the Telegraph’s print edition entitled “Why weren’t we told Tamiflu didn’t work” Tom wrote one of the sucky type of pieces many of the health and science journalists are writing about right now: how dreadful it is that the UK Government spent US$600 billion stockpiling the near useless snake-oil flu treatment, Tamiflu, supplied by drug giant Roche’s roaches to lighten the wallets of British tax-payers. We emphasise many because it is not just Tom. 

Tom goes on in his piece about how everyone was fooled.  Strangely for an opinion piece he nowhere mentions it looks like yet another massive drug industry fraud, with Roche holding back 20 or so scientific studies showing Tamiflu is a crap drug which is worthless.  Why so shy Tom?  This was a drug which was supposed to save millions from dying horrible deaths in a swine flu pandemic which only later turned out to be a fake, hyped by Professor David Salisbury’s World Health Organisation Committee and started by one of his subcommittee members alleged to have also been solely responsible for starting and financially benefiting from the previous SARS and Bird Flu scams. 

Tom also has not questioned why Inspector Plodder of New Scotland Yard has not been called in to investigate this as a potential fraud. Maybe that has something to do with Government and establishment figures in the medical professions not wanting to upset the freebies and other benefits streaming out of drug companies like Roche and GSK.  [And it was UK£600 million not billion – and if you had not noticed our deliberate error, then look at how easy it is for journalists like Tom to fool you by not checking his facts and getting it wrong.  £600m is roughly US$840m.]

Actually, Tom really believes that what Roche’s roaches did is legal quoting totally uncritically his journalistic colleague Dr Ben Goldacre: “Roche broke no law by withholding vital information on how well its drug works“.  Yeah, well Ben, they don’t break the law breathing either, but its the laws they did break we are interested in, thanks all the same, like potential fraud worth US$840m. A drug was sold on the basis it worked but it was not as safe as it should have been and did not work as it should have and Roche had the data showing that when they were selling the drug and withheld it when people wanted to check and whilst the UK Government was still buying the drug.

Tom, what are you?  Because “journalist” does not come close, does it? Be honest with yourself, it just does not cut it.

The reason Roche got away with this fraudulent behaviour is because one too many “professional” “health” and “science” “journalists” like Tom let them [and a company Tom also wrote about withholding trial data for its flu drug Relenza, is GSK].  These journalists don’t do the job their readers need them to.  Too many journalists lap up the spilt cream dropped for them by the media relations staff of health departments, medical associations, journals and drug companies without looking too carefully, maybe just in case no one in future spills a bit of cream for them, if they did look carefully.

In short, people like Tom let down the people, their readers who buy newpapers, papers filled daily with misleading scribblings and rants.  People like Tom look like they don’t – look that is.  Its not convenient if they and their editors just want to fill the column inches with seeming reliable news, and won’t care too much because tomorrow its wrapping your fish and chip supper and they need to pay their mortgages.

Now what we want to focus on today, is what Tom opened up with in his piece on Friday, because it seems to us over here at CHS that if he were really a professional and if he were really a journalist and not play-acting, he might have looked and then should have known the truth instead of regurgitating crap.  And in this case it looks like that includes crap the BBC also regurgitated on their website without checking.  Children who might have aspired to important jobs, like being an engine-driver, may end up instead in the dumbed-down dead-end journalism is rapidly becoming.

Tom wrote:

Flu is actually a pretty nasty disease.  People say they’ve got ‘the flu’ when they’ve only got a cold, but a genuine bout of influenza knocks you off your feet for several days and is a major killer of the elderly: an outbreak in 2011 killed about 600 people.”

This is crap.  But Tom does not realise it is crap because he has not checked his facts.  And were he a professional journalist, he would have known from plenty of information published over many years that would have ensured he had the information easily to hand to make sure he did not write crap every time a flu story comes up.  Some people get flu and some never do.  Some who get it are asymptomatic and some have symptoms.  But that is not the main reason why it is crap.

Tom should also have known to be more careful and that the UK Department of Health and Health Protection Agency for years were hyping the flu stats, just like the US Centers for Disease Control [CDC] does.  In short if Tom were professional he would have known The UK Department of Health lied about flu deaths.  Why should he have known?  Because they were caught.  But they were not just caught lying but were caught telling a very very big one.  Huge.  CHS covered it here: UK Fakes Flu Death Numbers  So if CHS knew, then Tom should have and he should have been very sceptical of any Government figures, even sensible-looking figures.

The UK Department of Health claimed 12,000 annual flu deaths when the average was 33.  If a Boeing or Airbus passenger plane fell out of the sky killing 300, the way the figures were worked out, those would be counted as flu deaths.  For comparison, the US CDC claimed 36,000 flu deaths annually. 

It was in fact enormous enough to be a major British news story but Tom did not cover it and neither did most if not all of the other “health” and “science” writers who describe themselves as “professional” and “journalists“.  And if Tom had covered it, then he might not have written the crap we quote above and we might not have been able to describe what he writes as crap [but don’t hold your breath as Tom never was a journalist we have ever rated and just have not paid enough attention to the quality of his other scribbles. That is something which may need attention in future].

As recently as 2012 even the UK’s Press Association were as competent as Tom writing “Around 4,700 people die every year in England after getting flu, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.: British Press Association Publishes Known-To-Be-False UK Government Flu Death Figures – In A Story To Promote Known-To-Be-Ineffective ‘Flu Vaccines To UK Elderly.

Oh, but Tom only wrote there were 600 deaths and not 12,000 or even 4,700. So what is wrong with that?  Plenty.  As you will see above the average in previous years was 33 flu deaths.  And with around 600,000 to 700,000 deaths from everything every year, 33 deaths is small beer and nothing to get worked up about [unless you are a close relative of the deceased, which is also a very small number in the big scheme of life].

But is it worse, because had Tom checked up he should have made clear that the vast majority of people are not at risk, but he wrote “Flu is actually a pretty nasty disease. People say they’ve got ‘the flu’ when they’ve only got a cold, but .. genuine … influenza ….. is a major killer ….. in 2011 killed about 600 people.”  Tom wrote as if anyone getting a bout of flu could die and that is totally false and misleading, but he did not qualify it. 

That is Tom’s crap.  But the consumate professional he is, Tom did not stop with just that crap.  There is more.

Tom failed to mention, to put the risk into perspective, that around 600,000 to 700,000 people die every year in the UK and many more from fires, road accidents, other chronic conditions than from flu. In short, Tom failed to make clear the problem for ordinary healthy people is so miniscule as to be practically an irrelevance compared to all the other risks people face every day.

And the 6oo deaths Tom Chivers claimed in winter 2010/2011 were not of deaths caused by flu.  They were deaths with laboratory confirmed influenza, which is claimed as contributing to the death, but not as being the cause.  Moreover, as that shows, the highest mortality in this 600 deaths was not in healthy people at all.  It was in patients with underlying chronic conditions, namely immunosuppression followed by patients with underlying liver disease and patients with neurological disease: Surveillance of influenza and other respiratory viruses in the UK 2010-2011 report HPA. 

In short, most deaths were in people who could have died from anything at any time, and it was not claimed that it was the flu that killed them.

So its not just one bit of crap from Tom.  Nope, Tom has served up a real triple chocolate triple decker crap cookie sandwich and all in one short supposedly newsy science and health comment piece.  The Telegraph used to be such a good paper too.

In our view Tom’s piece on Friday makes him look like one of the new school journalists, who is delighted to be given “opinion-former” stories on a plate, to make him look important and informed so he can churn them out with abandon and with the minimum of thought and care, to fill his daily quota of column inches.  And judging from his photo, he looks like he has recently left school, and to us writes as if that was before he should have sat his GCSE exams [but make your own mind up – that is author bias just us employing dramatic licence].

And sniffy Broadsheet journalists are happy to let their journalism colleagues at the Daily Mail be denigrated, when they are just as guilty and all the Daily Mail do is report on a peer reviewed journal news release on the latest published journal study which one week claims green berry juice cures flatulence, another week boredom and another that is does nothing.  They all do it to one degree or another, but the Daily Mail outsells them by a million copies or three daily, which is not a sniffy matter.

Tom writing in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper in his own words claims to write mainly on science.  “Claims” you should focus on but worth noting as well is what Tom thinks the word “mainly” means and also what Tom seems to think qualifies as “science“.  Tom’s judgement needs to be questioned, as does also his fact-checking and professionalism.  [Tom’s pieces are also inset with an “I’m an oh-so-important-journalist” photo, that cracks us up here.]

Poor old Tom is not just a journalist.  Tom is an Editor!!  Thankfully not “The” editor, [not yet at least, but the way mainstream journalism is going, you won’t have to hold your breath too long for that].  Fortunately many reliable sites are now on the web for you to read and are making up for the shortcomings of some who make up the not-so-professional mainstream media].  Actually Tom is “Comment Editor“, which is in the second division of online – a bit like being a Second Assistant Tea Stirrer’s Mate, so let’s not worry you too much.

Interestingly, someone else has Tom down as #50 in the 100 worst people on twitter and someone else wrote [our emphasis] “I’ve re-read an old column by Tom Chivers, the Telegraph’s assistant comment editor (a job title I would not have thought existed)“.

If we look like we are being a bit hard on Tom, be wise to this: it is not simply a mistake by a conscientious professional journalist but a failure of a journalist in doing the basics and getting basic facts right.  And just remember this: if it were you, he and his media mates would rip you apart in print unforgivingly like the press do to people daily.

Tom Chivers misled all his readers. Grow up Tom and be a professional or get a job driving a van.