THE BLOG

The Daily Mail Has a Serious Drug Problem and We Need to Help

15/10/2014 12:33 BST | Updated 14/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The Daily Mail is locked in the grips of a severe drug dependency. They can't seem to feed their habit enough and rely on drugs for clickbait to fuel their incessant need for a fix. With their drug problem comes the inevitability of delusion, psychosis, and obsessional tendency that rivals even the most amped-up caricature of an addict. I believe it's time to stage an intervention and help the Mail come to terms with its problems.

The Mail, the last bastion of scientific reporting, launched a front page spread that detailed the most definitive proof to date that cannabis is harmful - this in turn provided ample fodder to prop up their ideological position that cannabis must remain under criminal sanction for its possession. This was the front page that echoed across all the media outlets, trumpeted using the Mail's tune.

It won't surprise many of us that this was simply another Daily Mail fabrication. They took Professor Wayne Hall's literature review, which can be seen here, and turned it into a "20 year study". Hall's review is a useful indicator, but even the Professor himself admits that this is far from being definitive, a claim that he is right to shy away from. When the author of the review tries to dissociate from the Mail's handling, then I guess we've entered the realms of a farce. It's almost as if the Mail's science department is run by a disgruntled Beaker from the Muppets, and carries about as much validity.

The Mail's story has had a long list of debunks, most of which won't be read by the number of people that latched on to the original mawkish headlines, but you know your science is a little ropey when the NHS has to intervene.

Edward Fox of Release and Talking Drugs also put out two rather splendid take-downs of the UK press and the "embarrassing" incident. If that wasn't enough, Professor Wayne Hall took to BBC 5 Live to clear things up and went on record as supporting decriminalisation of cannabis, which was in stark contrast to the Mail's position which clearly misrepresented Hall's review as a way to prop up their increasingly marginalised view that cannabis should retain criminal penalties. You could say that the whole episode is beyond parody, but The Guardian put out a satirical piece that highlighted how just one Daily Mail can cause an irreparable amount of damage to an unsuspecting reader. The Telegraph decided to go that little bit further down the David Brent scale of cringe and declared that cannabis is just as addictive as heroin. There's yet to be a face-palm invented that can cope.

The Daily Mail is an award winning paper for its scientific journalism. In 2011, Paul Dacre was awarded the Orwellian Prize for Journalistic Misinterpretation, a prize given to him by Oxford neuroscientist Professor Dorothy Bishop. The prestigious award was given to the Mail for their now infamous "Just One Cannabis Joint Can Bring on Schizophrenia". The article contained a rather amusing amount of factual errors, which are highlighted here:

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Comparison between original article and highlighted errors

At the time, Paul Dacre was the Chair of the Press Complaints Commission. Despite having less credibility than their horoscopes, the "Just One Joint" piece remains online and essentially without amendment. This case highlights how the Mail actually is allowed to fabricate and make stories up without any reprisal. The latest and "definitive" piece on cannabis is as flawed as their 2011 award winning article, and yet it remains in the public mind, unbidden and unchecked. We run the very real risk of scientific illiteracy. Would there be any other section of news where we'd allow trash to go unchallenged? Would conclusive proof of Elvis riding a unicorn go under the BS detector in such an easy manner as the Mail's drugs reporting? I doubt it.

It's fairly clear that the Daily Mail does have a rather large drug problem. It's not just the addiction, it's not even the delusion, but they have a habit of relapse. In August 2013, the Mail put out a report on the risks to a teenage mind that uses cannabis - all very inconspicuous and self-evident. It's fundamentally regarded that any substance on a teenage brain is certainly not recommended. In February 2014 the Mail then put out another piece that backs up their 6 month old assertion about cannabis and the teenage brain. What is strange, and gives a more than an indication that scientific reporting may not be the primary motive for the Mail, is the subtle fact that they recycled the same original study. The Mail reported on the same study, 6 months apart, using different bylines. Why would any credible news organisation do this?

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Same study recycled

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Oh, and by the way, it's pretty much a habit of the NHS now to debunk the Daily Mail. Citing another piece from April 15th 2014, the NHS put out an address of the Mail's reporting and concluded, in a polite bedside manner...

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"... a case could be made that the media has overstated the implications of the research"

In truth and cutting through the froth, we can hazard a guess what's going on. In the most recent case of Mail drug dependency they also append good old fashioned ad hominem by listing a number of public figures that support drug law reform in a spotlight in the eyes style accusation. Using the inflated material to justify an attack on serious reform dialogue is nothing short of total desperation. It seems that Mail and its staff writers are last to grasp that the harms of drugs provide the best reasons to reform and regulate. Not sparing the horses, the Mail also chose to attack a newly released documentary called The Culture High. Yes, this is where it gets personal: I admit, I am an Associate Producer for this film and an onscreen contributor.

The Culture High received attention after Sir Richard Branson launched the trailer, and the documentary premiered at Raindance Film Festival. We now enter a twilight zone of irony. Despite the Mail's claims that the film states that cannabis is harmless throughout, which of course is not the case, what actually is addressed is the fact the media, and especially the Daily Mail, has become a dinosaur in its invidious conduct. The old stalwarts of dusty journalism rely on a reader to do no investigation and to digest the risible headlines along with their cornflakes and legal coffee hit. We are in a different world of free-flowing information. We are able to fact check, and a blogger with a twitter account can carry as much weight as the institutionalised media. Astute readers will notice a difference in this blog that I write to that of the Daily Mail's reporting: links. To give credence to your words by linking to sources is an absolute must. Link it or it didn't happen. The most recent round of the Mail's faux outrage could have been abated if they simply linked to primary source. I'm often reminded of this film clip of the not so invisible man, this is what the Mail has now become: convinced of their own magical abilities despite conscious patrons having to humour the farce.

In 2011, Dr. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science and Bad Pharma proposed that all scientific reporting should link to primary sources. The Daily Mail has long been laughed at, but the joke now runs thin. The one thing that we can take from the Daily Mail's reporting is that we can no longer leave it to go unchecked; it's time we helped the Mail with their science and drug problem by insisting that primary source linking appears so that we can usher in an age of journalistic accountability. I asked Dr. Goldacre for comment, and I feel it's only right that I allow Ben the last word:

"People are right to be sceptical about what they read in newspapers. Many journalists are no more reliable than anyone else online. The era of blind faith is long gone. Journalists need to earn our trust by showing their working, and linking to primary sources. Bloggers have led the way here, if only because they've had to: it's sad to see professional media being left behind."