Archive for category Media
The following is taken in part from Episode 46 of our podcast ‘Skeptics with a K’, give or take the odd addition.
A generation of children ‘turn their backs on sport’ – so said the BBC recently. And they weren’t alone, with similar stories gracing the pages of the Daily Mail, The Independent and pretty much every other media outlet going. But I’ll focus on the BBC, because I respect them most. Moving on with the story:
A generation of British children are turning their backs on sport and physical activity, a survey suggests.
The poll for British Triathlon and Tata Steel suggests 10% cannot ride a bike and 15% cannot swim.
Connoisseurs of my PR takedowns in the past will spot the brand names right there in paragraph two – British Triathlon and Tata Steel. The latter are a steelworking giant who sponsor the Tata Kids Of Steel – a community programme to drive kids into exercise, and in particular into the swimming, bike-riding and running that constitutes the triathlon, as promoted by British Triathlon.
Now, it’s worth pointing out at this point – just because the British Triathlon federation and its corporate sponsor Tata Steel have a vested interest in telling the world that children are no longer riding bicycles and swimming and generally triathlonning, it doesn’t mean the survey involved here is dodgy. But it does mean we should be treading a little carefully, and we should certainly be examining the claims being made perhaps a little more skeptically than if an entirely independent body were making the same claims.
As a brief aside at this point, it’s worth pointing out that the first thing I thought when I glanced over this story was ‘who are Tata Steel’ and ‘what have they got to do with sports’ – questions which were soon answered with a mild Google. These big businesses aren’t stupid, and I’d speculate that for every pound spent on this sports initiative, a corporate sponsor would see two pounds or more come back to them in either goodwill, reputational benefit, or convenient blind-eyes to some of the inevitably murkier elements of a large-scale industrial business.
Anyway, back to the BBC, and the story we’re being cautiously skeptical about, and here come the statistics Read the rest of this entry »
So, it’s 2011 (Happy New Year, by the way). It is. I know, I know, 2010 has only just finished and now we’ve a whole other year to deal with, but that’s the way cyclical progression works I suppose.
Anyway, not a long article from me today, more of another attempt at a spot of PR predicting. If it comes off, I’ll tell you how I knew, but for now I’m going to be all Mystic Meg and cryptic. So here goes:
Within the next 2-3 weeks, I predict:
- We’ll see articles in the Daily Mail (or Mail on Sunday) and a few other outlets all trumping up the wonder of a company called Connection Personal Trainer or IWantRealResults.com, or both.
- The article(s) will run with or refer to the point that many people are engaging in new diets as part of their New Year’s Resolutions, and weight loss is a concern to them.
- The article(s) will potentially have a celebrity angle, around the topic of personal trainers, probably pushing the notion that they’re now not just for the rich but for the everyday man too.
- The article(s) will potentially include a case study of someone who has lost weight with the programme, or someone who wants to lose weight and is starting it.
I think that’s enough to be going on for the moment. Now, let’s see if I’m right…
(Also, I’m toying with renaming my Bad PR stuff to Bad News, because it’s snappier. Just so you know).
You’re all used to me finding a news story and tracking it back to the company who sponsored it, by now, I’m sure. Today I’m feeling a little adventurous, and so instead I’ve written the news story myself, based around surveys I’ve seen lately. This may not come off, but if it does – remember where you heard it first!
One in four British men would rather kiss goodbye to their girlfriend than their teams chances of a cup win.
A recent survey of 1000 UK fellas revealed that a quarter of men put footy above nookie, with more than one in five confessing they’d rather be dumped than have their team be dumped out of the cup.
To make matters worse, almost a third of men would choose football over their partner.
These startling results were revealed after research was carried out by betting exchange company FictionalBetExchangeCompany ahead of the third round of the FA Cup this weekend (8th January 2011).
Stevenage Borough fan Joe Bloggs, whose team of minnows play premier league giants Newcastle United this weekend, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings: “I’ve followed Stevenage all my life, and this weekend is the most exciting weekend of the year for me.
I love my girlfriend, but girls come and go – your team is yours for life. I’d give up sex for a year if it meant that Stevenage won the cup this season.”
Elsewhere in the survey, it was revealed that we’re happier risking our lives on the road than risking a fiver on a flutter. More than 1 in 5 of us avoid crossing the road on a red light, while 1 in 6 of us claimed to avoid gambling. FictionalBetExchangeCompany spokesman Bob Bobson said, “This just goes to show how bad we are at judging risk. People cross the road on red lights on a daily basis, but it’s surprising how many people won’t put five pounds on a football match.
Gambling can be a fun, exciting addition to a sporting event, and with the great rates we offer at FictionalBetExchangeCompany it’s easier than ever to have a little flutter on the big match”
The above, I stress again, is my entirely-made-up account of where I think the survey might go. If you see it in the news, let me know!
For those of you who are curious, here’s the source questions in the survey which inspired me: http://yfrog.com/h4yxsunj and http://yfrog.com/h2vsxfj. Of course, I could be completely wrong – one of the practices of these kinds of stories is to tailor a survey around the result you want (‘footie-mad men prefer cup success to girls‘) and then get the data to back up your conclusion.
However, sometimes the data entirely contradicts what you predicted – so you simply mine that data for interesting angles, and go with that instead. So if you see a ‘loved-up guys would give up the cup for their girl’ story, that counts too… after all, this is PR, and an angle is an angle, so long as the company’s name gets in the papers.
On top of that, there are a couple of hooks which I’ve taken a bit of a gamble on – given the mention of the FA Cup, it would make sense for the story to come out in January, around the time of the FA Cup 3rd round. I picked a Stevenage fan, as they’re the smallest team playing a relatively-big Premiership team that weekend, and so they’re amongst the most newsworthy, especially in a story about the magic of the cup. And I’ve thrown sex in there, for the hell of it.
The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.
You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.
The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.
If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.
We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
Getting a PR-fluff-piece into the news is easy, as I’ve shown before – take a survey, manufacture a surprising result (through data-mining, biased sampling or leading questions), and push it out with a shocking headline and a sexy angle. Easy. Here’s the first three paragraphs from an example in the Daily Express, print edition, the other week:
“One in five women would forgive their man for a one-night stand as long as it meant nothing to them.
The figures emerged in a report which also revealed that eight out of 10 Britons couldn’t care less if their partner became involved with someone else, as long as they didn’t have sex.
Despite nine out of 10 women claiming they would dump a man who had regular sex with someone else, millions would forgive indiscretions over the phone or by text, although half of girls still say they would show their partner the door if he kissed another woman.” – Source: Daily Express, 29/09/2010
Prime example, then – sexy angle, backed up with a nice, traditional ‘men cheat, ladies – deal with it’ undertone more in keeping with an episode of the Sopranos than with what most of us would experience in our lives, I’d imagine. On top of that, we have a flurry of statistics, including the up-scaled extrapolation of what ‘millions’ believe, based on the sample data. You’ve five seconds to guess what company appears in the next paragraph, having commissioned the survey. It’s a classic. Read the rest of this entry »
In light of the recommendation by Dr Margaret Somerville to end support for homeopathy on the NHS in Scotland, the 10:23 Campaign reiterate our stance that NHS support for this disproven quackery must be withdrawn immediately.
Speaking in response to an investigation by the BBC, which included the exposure of three homeopaths willing to treat patients with ineffective homeopathic ‘alternatives’ to the life-saving MMR vaccine, Dr Somerville described a “settled, clear and unambiguous clinical opinion” that homeopathy should not be used in the NHS and advised support be ended immediately – advice which has been taken on board by the NHS Highland, who opted to cease funding for the treatments today.
Michael Marshall, speaking on behalf of the 10:23 Campaign, today offered support for Dr Somerville’s statement:
“It’s immensely encouraging to see the Director of Public Health for the NHS Highland making so categorical and clear a statement, and to see the board follow through with decisive action. The evidence for the use of homeopathy is at best poor, and at worst non-existent. While belief may exist amongst practitioners that further studies are needed, such studies should be undertaken at their expense, rather than supporting the ineffective therapy with funding from taxpayer’s money in the meantime.
Speaking of the revelations in the BBC investigation, Mr Marshall continued:
“That the BBC found homeopaths willing to partake in some highly dubious and downright dangerous practices is little surprise to those of us familiar with the system of homeopathy. While homeopathic treatments themselves are often harmless – indeed, they’re chemically indistinguishable from simple sugar pills – the associated anti-scientific philosophy is often a breeding ground for poor health information and anti-vaccination propaganda.
This isn’t the first time such dangerous advice given by homeopaths has been exposed – a previous BBC investigation revealed homeopaths willing to offer ineffective replacements for anti-malarial drugs, and our own investigations have found countless tales of other homeopaths willing to offer treatments for AIDS, cancer and all manner of genuinely serious illnesses, based on no proof of efficacy and no reason to believe homeopathy to be useful.
This investigation didn’t reveal merely three rotten apples in an otherwise sound barrel, it exposed symptoms of a rotten system – teaching anti-science and actively promoting dangerous health information. It’s for these reasons that we applaud Dr Somerville, and all who similarly campaign for sense to triuph over nonsense, and it’s for these reasons that we strongly applaud the action from the NHS Highland and urge other areas of the NHS to follow suit”.