Happy May to all

Holy crap, it’s May. Anyone know where April went? I could have sworn I’d left it here somewhere. But ’tis the season of renewal; birds are singing, trees are in bloom and the UN is starting to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. I love that the U.S. – the same country that developed and is now selling the ‘bunker-buster’ bomb – is critical of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs. Bush points to their activities as an example of the failure of the treaty.
Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

Maybe if Bob Geldof wrote a song. . .
The Canadian Press put a story out on the wire yesterday about last year’s legislation aimed at providing cheap drugs to Africa. Apparently the Jean Chretien Pledge to Africa Act (yes, its real name) has not led to a single drug being exported to Africa yet. Technicalities and a lack of interest among pharmaceutical companies in doing humanitarian work (I know, I’m as shocked as you) are to blame, according to the story, which you can find here.
Despite many CanWest papers getting the story, including the Montreal Gazette and Edmonton Journal, the National Post and Ottawa Citizen took a pass on the story, as did the Globe and Mail.
How they can ignore this story is beyond me, especially given that it was written and sent to them by CP. Normally they’re all over wire stories. I guess the Globe figured it met its Africa quota with Stephanie Nolen’s Uganda piece (a good story, by the way, it’s here). And CanWest heavy-hitters passing up a chance to bash the Chretien legacy, that goes against everything I know to be true.
It’s not like this is a small story. The original CP story (papers often chop the copy, so depending on which paper you read, your story may differ) quoted Tony Parmar from Doctors Without Borders; the president of the generic drug association; an Industry Canada spokesperson; Stephen Lewis, the UN’s envoy on AIDS in Africa, and Liberal Senator Jim Munson. Munson and Lewis are media darlings who get covered for almost everything they do, and DWB is certainly a high-ranking source on international affairs.

By popular demand, a medical ‘story’
When I first started Megalomedia, I was asked to keep an eye out for bogus medical stories. I’m wary of most health stories printed these days, especially those that cite “studies” without giving much detail about who funded the studies. Today’s story on transcedental meditation is a perfect example.
As reported in today’s Ottawa Citizen (page A8, but there’s an above the masthead teaser as well), “Transcedental meditation found to extend life: Study.” That’s the actual headline. The story also ran in CanWest bretheren Vancouver Sun, Victoria Times-Colonist, Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Province. It reports that a recent study showed transcendtal meditation, made popular by the Beatles in their most strung-out phase, can lower stress and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Pretty impressive stuff eh? Who did the study?
“. . . says lead author Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Center of Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa.”
That word, Maharishi, that looks familiar, where have I seen that? For the answer, let’s turn to the paragraph immediately following the attribution above.
“Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought [TM] to the West in the 1960s.”
That’s right, the study that found TM can extend your life was done by a university founded by the founder of TM. Compare these websites, the official transcendental meditation website here and the university’s website here.
Look similar at all?
The story itself actually goes on to explain that “the team checked death records alone, meaning they don’t have personal information on whether people in the mediation group changed their lifestyle to lower their risk of getting sick” and that “Dr. Schneider cautioned larger and longer studies are needed.”
But why let context get in the way of a sensational headline and lead?

And finally, I want to share this with people. It’s not Canadian media stuff, but I think it fits the bill for a Megalomedia posting. FOXNews has reporters in Iraq, this is the sort of report they see fit to file. Go to www.foxnews.com and click on “Only on Fox” in the right-hand sidebar. Then select “Bon Appetit.”
Pay special attention to the obligatory but glossed-over reference to the Haliburton scandal and weep for the state of the media.


  1. A very quick primer to evaluating science stories and the relevance you should place on them in the media:

    -Check to see if the only sources used are authors of the study or supporting doctors and local people with the same condition. This is the formula for a medical story and drug companies know this. Pharmaceutical companies will often send medical journalists quotes and personal stories localized to big cities for reporters to use. I’m serious. They have doctors on their payroll whose job it is to hang their name to company statements.

    -If a story doesn’t mention it was tested on people, you can assume it was tested on animals. Which means you should ignore it and come back in five years once clinical trials are over. 98% of these CANCER CURING DRUGS will have been shown to have zero effect on humans, or kill more people than they help. That’s not a bad thing – it’s why we do testing in stages. It’s the way medical progress works. But “NEW DRUG THERAPY SHOWS STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN RAT CARCINOMAS; CLINICAL TRIALS IN HUMANS SCHEDULED TO BEGIN IN TWO YEARS” does not a snappy headline make.

    -Any story about eating or drinking certain things being good or bad for extending your life should be recast as the following: EVERYTHING IS OKAY IN MODERATION. TOO MUCH OF ANYTHING WILL PROBABLY HURT YOU IN THE LONG RUN.

    That’s pretty much everything I can think of right now. Maybe more later.

  2. Anyone notice how last Friday’s edition of Dose screamed a headline about not giving in to Turn Off TV week? Inside they stressed how they were NoT promoting any kind of propaganda…but you know something? They seriously were! Isn’t it owned by CanWest, which also happens to own Global and a slew of other tv stations? hmmm… -S

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