Fukushima and the harm of inaccurate reporting

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The World Health Organisation has released a preliminary report into the health impacts of Fukushima. The main conclusion of the report was that there may be a small increase in cancer in the region around Fukushima. In general media headlines did a reasonable job reflecting this, with words such as “slight,” “little” and “small”appearing in most of them, as a google news search shows:


A noteable exception however was The Guardian, which choose something rather more alarming:


“Cancer risk 70% higher for females in Fukushima area, says WHO.” A quick look at the text shows that the 70% refers to female infants, and thyroid cancers. Now, it should be clear to anyone that infants are a subset of women and thyroid cancer is a subset of cancer. I sent a short tweet to The Guardian’s environment team and their environment web editor Adam Vaughan to see if I could get the headline corrected, and proceeded to defend it.



Quite astonishingly Vaughan saw nothing wrong with the headline:

A rather remarkable admission that totally misleading lines are acceptable. Vaughan then suggested that I contact the reader’s editor, re-iterated that the headline was accurate, and then blocked me on Twitter.

This is the kind of behaviour and reporting you expect from someone like James Delingpole, not a reporter at a supposedly serious newspaper such as The Guardian. Consider if a woman who had lived in Fukushima in March 2011, and had been exposed to radiation in March 2011 read this headline. She would probably respond with an understandable amount of fear, and all because of irresponsible journalism. The headline and Vaughan’s response to criticism are both fundamentally unethical and a sad reflection of how ideology can trump human decency.

People affected by the Fukushima disaster deserve accurate information, and not shameful alarmism, which in itself may cause serious health impacts.