Saturday, 14 November 2015

Pining for the newsmagazine programmes

Massey statistics lecturer Adam Smith dissects 3D's infotainment piece on the dangers of Gardasil vaccination.
3D's 22-minute piece, entitled Cause or coincidence, focused on four unfortunate young women with crippling diseases, and two who had died. They, like thousands of other girls in NZ, have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which reduces the risk of cervical cancer. The majority of the piece is taken up with Paula Penfold interviewing the girls and their families.
It was shocking and sad, in more ways than one. When asked, some of the girls and parents were convinced that the vaccine was the cause, though some weren't. Either way, as much as we feel for them, they are not qualified to make that judgement. Regardless, Paula Penfold seemed very intent on obtaining these emotive sound bites.
The science, on the other hand, barely got a mention.
Even if TV3 were intent on ignoring the science, why not provide some balance by interviewing families grieving for those lost to cervical cancer? How about mentioning the thousands of non-vaccinated girls with the same diseases as those in the story?
I urge the New Zealand public, when deciding on what to believe and whether to vaccinate your children, to place greater weight on the scientific evidence. The evidence here is quite clear, and it comes from literally over a million cases. In the face of it, a few emotive, cherry-picked anecdotes should not persuade you.
Cause or coincidence? TV3's story barely establishes coincidence. It certainly doesn't show correlation. The idea of cause is laughable.
If this is the quality of so-called investigative journalism on TV3, we're better off without it and we should let it die. The sad reality is that this shoddy journalism will likely result in some avoidable cases of cervical cancer, which may lead to the same fate.
You could maybe pin it on a declining media market and newsmagazine programmes having to go for anything that'll draw ratings, but it doesn't seem that new a phenomenon. Campbell Live's pieces on legal highs were every bit as educational as this 3D one.

The original programme is here.

3D's Twitter feed is interesting too:

Well I guess that makes it balanced.

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