I am offering a prize each year for an article in an English-language national newspaper that has the most inaccurate report of a piece of academic work.
The prize will consist of a certificate and statuette and I would welcome suggestions for the design of both of these
The prize will be awarded in January of each year.
1. The article must purport to report results of academic research, and judgement will be based on a points scoring system, as follows:
* Factual error in the title: 3 points
* Factual error in a subtitle: 2 points
* Factual error in the body of the article: 1 point
2. Factual errors must be ones that can be judged against publicly available documents – i.e. not just opinions or reports of interviews.
3. Nominations must be posted on this blog. The nomination should contain:
* Web addresses for both the nominated article and the academic source that is misrepresented.
* Name and email contact of the nominator. Anonymous nominations are not allowed
* A scored copy of the article, as illustrated below
If a nominated article is not available electronically, then the nominator should provide a list of the points used to score the article, and retain a photocopy of the article, which should be provided to the judges on request.
4. If there is more than one plausible candidate for the prize, then additional criteria will be used, such as:
* The seriousness of the error, e.g. could it damage vulnerable groups?
* Relevant undisclosed vested interests by journalist or his/her newspaper
* The ratio of accurate to inaccurate content
* The presence of irrelevant but misleading content
* The size of the readership
and mitigating circumstances, such as
* Whether there was a misleading press release from the academic's institution
* Whether a scientist colluded in 'talking up' the findings and going beyond data
Nominators are encouraged to comment on these points also, but final judgement will be made by a panel of judges.
Illustrative example of nomination:
The following article is a strong contender for the prize in 2010, and illustrates the scoring system.
Inaccurate sections shown in square brackets with N points in round brackets.
Nominated article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/30/fish-oil-supplement-concentration
Misrepresented source article: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/91/4/1060
Nominator: DVM Bishop, email@example.com
[Fish oil](3) helps schoolchildren [to concentrate](3)
US academics discover [high doses of omega-3 fish oil](2) combat [hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder](2)
* Denis Campbell
* The Observer, Sunday 30 May 2010
Children [can learn better at school](1) by taking [omega-3 fish oil supplements](1) which [boost their concentration](1), scientists say.
Boys aged eight to 11 who were given doses [once or twice a day](1) of docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid known as DHA, showed [big improvements in their performance during tasks involving attention](1).
Dr Robert McNamara, of the University of Cincinnati, who led the team of American researchers, said their findings could help pupils to study more effectively and potentially help to tackle both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is important because a lack of DHA has been implicated in ADHD and other similar conditions, with poor maternal diet sometimes blamed for the child's deficiency.
ADHD affects an estimated 4%-8% of Britons and can seriously impair a child's education because they have trouble concentrating and are often disruptive in class. A lack of DHA has also been associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
"We found that, if you take DHA, you can enhance the function of those brain regions that are involved in paying attention, so it helps people concentrate," said McNamara. "The benefit is that it may represent an intervention that will help children or adults with attention impairments."
The researchers gave 33 US schoolboys 400mg or 1,200mg doses of DHA or a placebo every day for eight weeks. [Those who had received the high doses did much better in mental tasks involving mathematical challenges](1). Brain scans showed that functional activity in their frontal cortex – which controls memory, attention and the ability to plan – increased significantly.
The results, and fact that many people eat too little fish to get enough DHA through their diet, meant it could help all children to improve their learning, added McNamara. "The primary benefit is to treat ADHD and depression, but it could also help people with their memory, learning and attention," he said.