Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Media watch

Given the choice, I'd have the miracle pill story

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 03 May 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:932
  1. Ben Goldacre, doctor and writer, London
  1. ben{at}

    Complex problems have depressingly complex causes, and the solutions are often taxing and unsatisfactory

    Looking at popular culture, it seems there's something very attractive about simple biomedical explanations—and solutions—for complex social and psychological problems.

    Four weeks ago the BMJ published a large randomised controlled trial, with a positive result: it showed that one treatment for children at high risk of developing conduct disorder could significantly improve antisocial behaviour (BMJ 2007:334:678-82). It was a well conducted trial, at multiple sites, with a novel result, on a subject specifically called for by NICE, and it even had a compelling cost effectiveness analysis.

    Was this miracle pill reported as front page news in the Daily Mail, natural home of miracle cures and sinister hidden scares? Was it followed up on the health pages, with an accompanying photo feature, describing one child's miraculous recovery, and an interview with a relieved mum with whom we could all identify?

    No. In fact, this story was completely ignored by the entire British news media, despite their preoccupation with both antisocial behaviour and miracle cures, for …

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