Intended for healthcare professionals

Medicine And The Media

Plague or pure hype?

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 07 June 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1700
  1. Fiona Godlee
  1. BMJ

    Newspapers recently gave great prominence to a story that a “ME plague” was sweeping through Britain's schools, Fiona Godlee looks behind the hype

    Of the many words–such as “breakthrough” and “cure”–that should alert newspaper readers to a science story being hyped, “plague” must be high on the list. The word suggests a deadly contagious epidemic. So, when the Guardian's front page on 22 May carried the headline “Schools swept by ME plague,” readers may well have been sceptical. The first sentence of the story should have made them more so: according to the Guardian, “The largest study ever made of … ME … shows it is responsible for 51% of long term sickness absence among schoolchildren.” To “show” anything with certainty requires a study of exceptional rigour. And though the study was large, rigorous it was not.

    The authors of the study, Jane Colby, a former headmistress, herself recovering from myalgic encephalomyelitis …

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