Reviews Press

Why newspapers cannot ignore maverick claims

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 29 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:294
  1. Jeremy Laurance, health editor, Independent (

    But journalists are more critical than some scientists make out

    What are newspapers for? Why do people buy them? It would have been helpful if the Royal Society had paused to consider these questions before issuing its ill judged appeal last week to newspaper editors to curb their coverage of claims by maverick scientists.

    Its open letter on cloning was prompted by newspaper headlines of Panos Zavos's claims to have transferred the first cloned human embryo into a woman's womb. As the letter pointed out, this is not the first cloning claim and it will not be the last. The Italian specialist Severino Antinori and the Raelian cult have made similar claims in the past, raising the hopes of infertile couples and giving the impression that fertility specialists are engaged in a race to create the first human clone.

    The Royal Society's letter concluded with an appeal to editors to consider waiting in future “until real evidence appears before providing these individuals with such a prominent platform.” But what is “real” evidence? And what should be the media's role in assessing it? In a comment on the open letter, one of its signatories, Professor Chris Higgins, director of …

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