Comment »Posted on Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 6:45 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Health & Medicine

Browsing the major news outlets this morning, as I tend to do, my gaze fell across the BBC’s “Most Read” list. “Oral sex linked to throat cancer” proclaimed the headline. Could be a story in this, I thought, until I clicked through and realised the article was from 10th May 2007. Old news.

Stories from years gone by sometimes crop up on the “Most Read” list when they get linked to by big sites, and of course appearing on the list means a story is more likely to get read, self-perpetuating it up the charts. This story about a Sudanese man forced to marry a goat crops up more often than you’d expect.

If it’s old news, why am I bothering to post about it? It’s actually pretty funny. Popping along to the Daily Mail I noticed that they were also running the story, the difference being the date – 8th April 2009.

Reading the article, it’s obvious what has happened. Someone at the paper obviously noticed the story’s popularity on the BBC’s site, and realising that it ticked two key Daily Mail boxes, sex and cancer, simply copied it. Compare the following two paragraphs, first the BBC:

HPV infection was found to be a much stronger risk factor than tobacco or alcohol use, the Johns Hopkins University study of 300 people found.

The New England Journal of Medicine study said the risk was almost nine times higher for people who reported oral sex with more than six partners.

And then the Daily Mail:

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University has revealed that the HPV virus poses a greater risk in contracting cancer than smoking or alcohol.

The American study of 300 people also found that that those with more than six partners were almost nine times at greater risk of contracting the disease.

The Daily Mail reporter has rewritten the wording enough to avoid it being a blatant rip off, without noticing that the story is actually ancient, in news terms. If any further evidence was needed, they even use the BBC’s quote:

Study author Dr Gypsyamber D’Souza told the BBC: ‘It is important for health care providers to know that people without the traditional risk factors of tobacco and alcohol use can nevertheless be at risk of oropharyngeal cancer.’

If you wanted proof that even the big boys sometimes stoop to copying off each other, you’ve got it. I’m not sure how they even made this mistake to be honest. You can immediatly tell that the BBC story isn’t fresh because it uses their older, narrower web design. The Daily Mail strikes again.


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