Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Bad press for doctors: 21 year survey of three national newspapers

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 06 October 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:782

Rapid Response:

People cannot compute (more) good minus (less) bad =good

Dear Sir,

Nazia Ali and colleagues1 conclude that doctors have not really been
receiving bad press now compared with 20 years ago. This is not supported
by their data. Hidden in their statistics is the mistaken assumption that
the public can compute the daily or weekly ratio of good/bad+neutral
articles. On the contrary, human psychology works on the principle that it
only takes one bad apple to tarnish the whole batch – and unfortunately,
bad press can leave a stronger and lasting impression that is difficult
and sometimes impossible to erase. The public impressions created by the
sheer volume of bad press - almost 5 "bad" articles per week compared to a
similar number in a month 20 years ago cannot be neutralised by a
proportionately higher good press. The conclusion should be "Yes - doctors
are now under the media microscope and are receiving more bad press than
ever". As regards trust in doctors, we find the statistic that every 9th
patient being distrustful (89% trust doctors) more frightening than

Yours sincerely,

Jayant S Vaidya* and Sucheta J Vaidya**

*Dept of Surgery, University College London,
67-73 Riding House St, London W1W7EJ

**Dept of Paediatrics, Royal Marsden Hospital,
Downs Road, Sutton Surrey SM25PT


1. Ali NY, Lo TYS, Auvache VL, White PD. Bad press for doctors: 21
year survey of three national newspapers. BMJ 2001:323:282-783

Competing interests: No competing interests

31 October 2001
Jayant Vaidya
Hon Lecturer/Specialist Registrar
Sucheta Vaidya
University College London